What do we do in food security, nutrition and livelihoods?

The Red Cross Red Crescent food, nutrition and livelihoods activities vary greatly depending on the context. Spanning from relief, recovery, and rehabilitation to development the activities intend to combat both transient and chronic food and nutrition insecurity.

Responses to disaster

In the aftermath of disasters, the Red Cross Red Crescent seeks to save lives with immediate response activities but at the same time integrating risk reduction measures in order to build resilience of affected communities from day one. Linking the relief, recovery, rehabilitation, and development phase in the aftermath of disasters in a way that they flow into one another is thereby in the centre of the Red Cross Red Crescent’s twin-track approach.

Rapid response interventions include food distribution, seeds and tools distribution as well as cash and voucher distribution. However, as it is very important to protect and/or restore people`s livelihoods, interventions such as de-stocking and restocking of livestock, terracing, erosion control and income-generating activities are also part of the RCRC’s activities in all three phases to address food and nutrition security, depending on the context, the type of disaster, and the capacity of National Societies and volunteers. 

Preparedness and risk reduction with long-term programmes

Chronic food insecurity and malnutrition remains a key obstacle in the development agenda, and the millennium development goals are far from being reached in most of the developing countries. According to the FAO, there are currently almost 870 million people chronically undernourished. This represents 12.5 percent of the world’s population, or one in eight people, of which nearly 852 million live in developing countries .

In order to improve chronic food insecurity and malnutrition, the IFRC and its member National Societies have been employing sustainable integrated solutions. National Societies support communities where necessary and try to find context specific solutions to the problems of the affected community with community-based initiatives for improving the availability, accessibility and utilization of food. They also foster awareness raising and knowledge enhancement on food, nutrition and livelihoods to improve the living conditions of food insecure and malnourished communities. Factors such as recurrent droughts, conflicts, chronic poverty, HIV/AIDS and its impact on labour forces, unemployment, lack of agricultural infrastructure, water scarcity, pest invasion or environmental degradation and the impact of climate change are thereby taken into consideration while developing the projects and programmes.

In many parts of the world, these long-term food security activities are related to vulnerabil­ity and disaster risk reduction and resilience building. Currently 53 National Societies have contributed to valuable diversified interventions in support of the food security sector3.

In Africa, a large number of National Societies are engaged in various initiatives to improve food and nutrition security. To date they are engaged in small, medium and large-scale food security programmes and projects which are focusing on building resilience in 29 African countries. In the Americas 7 governments are working with their National Society and the IFRC in implementing small-scale food security programmes where high rates of poverty have resulted in hunger and severe malnutrition among the popu­lations. The IFRC’s Latin America and Caribbean office has developed a food security and livelihoods strate­gic plan to further explore possibilities of scaling up National Societies’ engagements. In Asia Pacific there are currently 12 countries engaged in livelihoods and nutrition activities. Here, a diverse range in the types of livelihoods activities supported by NSs exists.



The IFRC has been engaged in preparedness and risk reduction activities and in building the local capacity for food and nutrition security and livelihoods for decades.

For the first time vulnerability reduction programming was conducted as a response to the Africa famine of the mid 1980s. This continued during the 1990s with an agenda that promotes ”prevention is better than cure” and is still at the heart of IFRC programming.

Today, there is a particular commitment in a core group of African National Societies who first developed a five year food security strategic framework   in 2008 for integrated community based programming. The framework has since been updated and efforts for a new framework, covering the period of 2013-2017 is presently underway. The five year strategic framework 2008-2012 laid the basis for enhancing the involvement of African National Societies, Partner National Societies and the IFRC`s secretariat in the food security, nutrition and livelihoods agenda. Guided by the Ouagadougou Declaration and the Algiers Plan of Action  the commitment aims to reduce food insecurity in communities vulnerable to disasters and/or other hazards. Similar interests are being developed in the Asia Pacific and the America Zone.

In 2009, the IFRC has also launched an historic, long-term and cross-border initiative to support chronically vulnerable people living along the Zambezi river basin in seven countries. The Zambezi River Basin Initiative – a joint programme between the Angolan, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe Red Cross Societies – is targeting more than 600,000 people living in villages and towns along the river basin over at least the next eight years. A similar initiative has been launched in the Senegal River Basin. The Senegal Basin Initiative includes Senegal, Mauritania, Mali and Guinea.

2. FAO, 2012a. `The State of Food Insecurity in the World. Economic growth is necessary but not sufficient to accelerate reduction of hunger and malnutrition` [online]. Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/i3027e/i3027e.pdf [Accessed 23.11.2012].

3. National Societies from the following countries are currently involved in food, nutrition and livelihoods programming:

*Africa: Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Bangladesh, China, Cooks Islands, DPR Korea, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Timor Leste, 
Latin America and Caribbean:
Bolivia, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
Algeria, Egypt

Additional case studies


Policy Food security and nutrition policy Strategy Strategy 2020 Community preparedness and risk...