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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

Food security - livelihoods standard 1: Primary production

Primary production mechanisms are protected and supported.

Key actions (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)

Key indicators (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)

Guidance notes

  1. Viability of primary production: To be viable, food production strategies must have a reasonable chance of developing adequately and succeeding (see Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS) in References and further reading). This may be influenced by a wide range of factors including:
    • access to sufficient natural resources (farmland, pasture, fodder, water, rivers, lakes, coastal waters, etc.). The ecological balance should not be endangered, e.g. by over-exploitation of marginal lands, over-fishing or pollution of water, especially in peri-urban areas
    • levels of skills and capacities, which may be limited where populations are seriously affected by disease or where education and training may be barred to some groups
    • labour availability in relation to existing patterns of production and the timing of key agricultural and aquaculture activities
    • availability and access to the inputs needed for agricultural and aquaculture production.                                                                          
    • The pre-disaster level of production may not have been a good one and attempting to return to it could contradict ‘do no harm’ (see ).
  2. Technological development: ‘New’ technologies may include improved crop varieties, livestock or fish-stock species, new tools, fertilisers or innovative management practices. As far as possible, food production activities should build on or strengthen existing patterns and/or be linked with national development plans. New technologies should only be introduced after a disaster if they have previously been tested in the local area and are known to be adapted and acceptable to beneficiaries. When introduced, new technologies should be accompanied by appropriate community consultations, provision of information, training and other relevant support. Wherever possible this should be done in coordination with private and public extension providers and input suppliers to ensure ongoing support and accessibility to the technology in the future and, critically, commercial viability. 
  3. Improving choice: Interventions that offer producers greater choice include cash or credit in lieu of (or to complement) productive inputs, and seed and livestock fairs using vouchers that provide farmers with the opportunity to select seed or livestock of the varieties and species of their choice. Support to production should assess potential implications for nutrition, including access to nutritient-rich food through own production or through cash generated by this production. The provision of animal fodder during drought can provide a more direct human nutrition benefit to pastoralists than the provision of food transfers to people. The feasibility of transferring cash to households in order to provide access to production inputs should be based on availability of goods locally, access to markets and availability of a safe and affordable transfer mechanism.
  4. Timeliness and acceptability: Examples of production inputs include seeds, tools, fertiliser, livestock, fishing equipment, hunting implements, loans and credit facilities, market information and transport facilities. An alternative to in-kind inputs is to provide cash or vouchers to enable people to purchase inputs of their choice. The provision of agricultural inputs and veterinary services must be timed to coincide with the relevant agricultural and animal husbandry seasons. For example, provision of seeds and tools must precede the planting season and emergency destocking of livestock during drought should take place before excess livestock mortality occurs, while restocking should start when recovery is well assured, e.g. following the next rains.
  5. Seeds: Priority should be given to seed of crops and varieties that are already in local use, so that farmers can use their own criteria to establish quality. Crops on offer should be those of highest priority for the upcoming season. Specific varieties should be approved by farmers and local agricultural experts. Minimally, seeds should be adapted to the local agro-ecology and to farmers’ own management condition, be disease resistant and be chosen with consideration of future climate change scenarios such as floods or droughts and sea-level rise. Seeds originating from outside the region need to be adequately tested for quality and checked for appropriateness to local conditions. Farmers should be given access to a range of crops and varieties in any seed-related intervention so that they themselves can strategise about what is best for their particular farming system. Hybrid seeds may be appropriate where farmers are familiar with them and have experience in growing them. This can only be determined through consultation with the population. When seeds are provided free of charge, and farmers grow maize, farmers may prefer hybrid seeds to local varieties because these are otherwise costly to purchase. Government policies regarding hybrid seeds should also be complied with before distribution. Genetically modified (GMO) seeds should not be distributed unless they have been approved by the local authorities. In such cases, farmers should also be aware that the aid contains GMO seed.
  6. Impact on rural livelihoods: Primary food production may not be viable if there is a shortage of vital natural resources (and may not be viable for the long term if they were on the decline before the disaster) or lack of access for certain populations (e.g. landless people). Promoting production that requires increased (or changed) access to locally available natural resources may heighten tensions within the local population, which in turn can restrict access to water and other essential needs. Care should be taken when providing resources, whether in-kind or cash, that these do not increase security risks for recipients or create conflict (see Food security – livelihoods standard 2 and Food security – cash and voucher transfers standard 1). Also, the free provision of inputs may disturb traditional mechanisms for social support and redistribution while pushing the private sector out of business and jeopardising future access to inputs.
  7. Local purchase of inputs: Inputs and services for food production, such as veterinary services and seed, should be obtained through existing local legal and verifiable supply systems where possible. To support the local private sector, mechanisms such as cash or vouchers should be used, linking primary producers directly to suppliers. In designing such systems to enable local purchase, availability of appropriate inputs and suppliers’ ability to increase supply should be considered, given the risk of inflation (e.g. raising prices of scarce items) and quality of inputs. Direct provision of imported inputs should only be undertaken when local alternatives are not feasible.
  8. Monitoring usage: Indicators of the process and outputs from food production, processing and distribution may be estimated, e.g. area planted, quantity of seed planted per hectare, yield and number of livestock offspring. It is important to determine how producers use the inputs (i.e. verifying that seeds are indeed planted and that tools, fertilisers, nets and fishing gear are used as intended) or how cash is spent on inputs. The quality of the inputs should also be reviewed in terms of their performance, their acceptability and the preferences of producers. Important for evaluation is consideration of how the project has affected food available to the household, e.g. household food stocks, the quantity and quality of food consumed or the amount of food traded or given away. Where the project aims to increase production of a specific food type, such as animal or fish products or protein-rich legumes, the households’ use of these products should be investigated.