Agriculture and Emergency Response
CRS’ first commitment is to respond immediately to emergencies throughout the world when they occur, with lifesaving interventions and a plan for recovery; we invest 30% to 40% of our resources in emergencies. Agriculture is a key part of our relief and recovery strategy. Postdisaster agricultural interventions are required to repair lost lands and broken systems caused by natural and man-made calamities. CRS works on physical repairs, social and market support, and increasingly on local policy reform to build back better structures and systems.
In the past ten years, the need to respond to emergencies caused by volatile weather has steadily increased, consistent with research findings that link carbon emissions with climate change. If current trends continue, severe weather events such as droughts and floods will become dominant drivers of our emergency program response, as will conflicts arising from increased competition for natural resources. Of all the problems we face, climate-related change will pose the greatest challenge to the poor in developing countries. Vulnerable communities will require new strategies to live with increased risk. They will need systematic approaches and long-term planning to adapt livelihoods practices to anticipate and mitigate the effects of disaster.
Providing basic essentials to farmers to revitalize farming is a critical part of our emergency response strategy. Increasingly, our staff are employing rapid methods to evaluate access to agricultural inputs and market functionality, so that we can intervene in ways that support local skills, input supply, and marketing structures.
The types of interventions depend on the acuteness and scale of the problem, the time frame, and other factors. Among the strategies CRS employs in its responses to emergencies are local procurement of food, the use of food vouchers to link consumers with local producers and traders, and also the use of cash transfers to boost purchasing power where market functionality and conditions permit.
Vouchers: A flexible alternative
In response to any disaster that destroys crops, it is imperative to provide farmers with new seed to plant, so that the local food supply can recover as rapidly as possible. Distribution of imported seeds is not always an appropriate response, as often seed is available locally but the poor are simply unable to access or purchase it. As part of our shift towards more market-friendly interventions, since 2000 CRS has provided vulnerable farmers with vouchers, or coupons that they can trade in to local vendors at special “fairs” for good, locally-produced seed. Such vouchers enable poor farmers a choice of seeds, and the system boosts the local economy as well.
Depending on the context, vouchers can be provided for food, cash, shelter, blankets, soap, and other relief items. Some examples of CRS emergency voucher programs:
Burkina Faso Emergency Relief Package. Following devastating floods in 2007, CRS/Burkina Faso stepped in to organized “livelihoods fairs.” Hundreds of vendors participated in these events, which helped some 10,000 people obtain construction materials (cement, metal roofing, tar), grain (rice, corn), cooking utensils, clothing and other necessities (mosquito nets, blankets, mats).
Kenya Rapid Assistance Program. In response to a severe drought in 2005, which left almost 3.5 million people reliant on aid for their survival, CRS targeted four drought-affected regions to provide vouchers that could be exchanged for food or non-food items in local shops. Pregnant and lactating women, as well as households with malnourished children under five, received vouchers. Health workers educated the women collecting vouchers on nutrition, hygiene and child immunization. The program aimed to meet basic needs immediately, and impact surveys found that 97% of voucher expenditures were made on food.