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FNS-REPRO event in Wageningen advances efforts to build resilient food systems in the Horn of Africa

The FNS-REPRO programme’s international partners are collaborating to build resilient food systems in the Horn of Africa region, with a focus on protracted crises contexts. In September 2022, its partners held a high-level learning and expert consultation event in Wageningen, the Netherlands, to discuss emerging outcomes and lessons learned in the programme's implementation. Attendees found the event to be particularly valuable for the project, which aims to build resilient food systems for improved food and nutrition outcomes.

A combination of factors including conflicts and insecurity, weather extremes (in particular droughts) and economic shocks (including the COVID-19 pandemic) have had an extremely negative impact on food security in Sudan, South Sudan and Somaliland. Addressing challenges as complex as these requires a food systems approach that brings diverse partners together to collaborate on food system transformation to improve food system resilience and food and nutrition security.

The Food and Nutrition Security Resilience Programme (FNS-REPRO) is designed to do just that. The programme is a collaborative effort between the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation (WCDI), part of Wageningen University & Research (WUR), the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), NGOs, actors in the private sector and local universities, institutions and governments from the Greater Horn of Africa.

Fostering relationships

In September 2022, stakeholders gathered in Wageningen for a week-long event. Being able to welcome colleagues from partner universities in Sudan, South Sudan and Somaliland, as well as other key stakeholders, here in the Netherlands, was “unique,” says Gerrit-Jan van Uffelen, programme leader of the FNS-REPRO programme at WCDI. “Developing long term partnerships in which learning and building capacities together to support the transformation of food systems is essential and an event like this in the Netherlands fosters relationships, networking and a shared vision.”

“During the event, I felt what you call ‘inclusiveness’,” says Abdirizak Aden, President of Nugaal University in Somaliland. “Everybody was consulted and included so their thoughts were heard, and we were able to represent the needs of our local communities. It was very important to learn about the perspectives and points of view of other parties.”

Salah Jubarah, Dean of the College of Natural Resources and Environmental Studies at the University of Juba in South Sudan, emphasises the strong partnership between his institution and WCDI since the programme’s founding. “Our visit to the Netherlands has strengthened this partnership even more,” he notes.

Jubarah also expresses his enthusiasm for the visit to Dutch seed companies, which was part of the event’s programme. “It was an eye opener to see how development can be guided by science.”

Eelke Boerema, an advisor of the FNS-REPRO programme at WCDI, notes that the event provided a great opportunity for FNS-REPRO partners to take stock of their progress. “It was great to get together for a week and hear different perspectives on what the project should entail and where we are going. We also looked at the main challenges we still need to address and discussed how we can work together to tackle them.”

Co-creating an adaptive design

Following the event, key takeaways from the learning exchange were discussed in an extensive report. One of the main lessons learned is that programmes like FNS-REPRO can only succeed if they consist of a transdisciplinary team. Boerema from WCDI adds that a bottom-up approach is critical to the programme’s success. “The project really needs to be co-created,” he explains. “It’s not enough to rely solely on high-level managers from a few organisations to design a project: you need to work with partners based in the countries that are affected by these crises. They have a much better understanding of local problems, contexts and knowledge than foreign intervenors.”

Bettie Atyam, a conflict-sensitive programming specialist at the FAO, emphasises that it was helpful to have Dutch private sector parties join in on discussions on investing in fragile and conflict-affected areas. “For me, these conversations underlined that involvement of the private sector in promoting sustainable peace is possible,” she says.

Another key insight that was discussed was the need for the programme’s design to be adaptive to changing circumstances, explains Boerema. “When the drought in Somaliland hit, for example, we knew our investments in local kitchen gardens were basically lost, and that the drought was an urgent situation that required humanitarian assistance. Due to the programme’s flexible design, we were able to provide humanitarian assistance by reallocating funds that were actually meant for other activities.”

Working together on a longer-term strategy

The FNS-REPRO programme will run until March 2024. Gerrit-Jan van Uffelen expresses his desire for the programme’s partners to develop a longer-term strategy. “Food crises are deepening and broadening,” he explains. “Today, more people are suffering from hunger than ever before. To build resilient food systems for crises like these, we need to strengthen longer-term partnerships and work together.”

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