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Development of Kenya Food Security Coordination System (KFSCS)

by Robin Wheeler

Robin Wheeler has been WFP's Regional Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) Officer for the Horn of Africa based in Nairobi since October 1998. He was the USAID/FEWS Country Representative in Ethiopia (1996-98) and Niger (1991-93), and held positions with USAID as a government advisor in Guinea (1994-95) and an emergency coordinator in Niger (1991).

While Kenya is one of the more developed countries in Africa, it has lagged far behind most in development of a national early warning system and coordination in the food security sector. As late as 1998, the Government of Kenya (GoK) had two donor funded early warning/food security projects - Arid Lands Resource Management Programme (ALRMP) and Drought Preparedness, Intervention and Recovery Project (DPIRP) - covering the ten almost exclusively pastoral districts in Northern and Eastern Kenya. However, the GoK had little capacity for comprehensive early warning or coordination of food security activities in other areas of the country. In addition, within the central government, it was very unclear as to who/which structure had responsibility for early warning and food security coordination and analysis.

Registration R. Wheeler

Outside of the GoK, a plethora of international organisations (donors, UN agencies and NGOs) were independently conducting their own early warning and food security data collection and analysis. The result of these activities and systems was:

  1. a large amount of inconsistent and sometimes misleading information that was confusing to decision makers;
  2. the development of parallel systems - one in the GoK and others among international organisations - for implementing food security related emergency and mitigation activities.

This situation was unacceptable to donors and many others who felt that as a result of the poor coordination, the effectiveness of interventions was limited and financial and other resources were not being used efficiently.

Formation of the Kenya Food Security Steering Group

In late 1998, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the GoK in agreement with donors and other partners decided to change the function and structure of an existing WFP-chaired, semi-monthly forum to share information on emergency interventions to make it much more systematic, efficient and action-oriented. It was also decided to broaden the forum's scope to include early warning and comprehensive food security situation updates and analysis. To this end, the members of the revitalised forum, which became the Kenya Food Security Meeting (KFSM), agreed to create and nominate members for a steering group. This steering group first called the Kenya Food Security Information Steering Group and later renamed the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) at the request of the GoK, led the effort to develop a systematic, comprehensive and multiagency early warning, food security status monitoring and assessment system for Kenya.

Distribution R. Wheeler

The KFSM meets monthly, includes representatives from over 50 different organisations (GoK departments, UN agencies, donors and NGOs) and is open to all organisations with an interest in food security. The KFSSG is a subset of the KFSM and currently includes representatives from three GoK departments, three UN agencies, three NGOs and two donors. Membership of the KFSSG is restricted to organisations which have demonstrated a clear commitment to a collaborative approach and which possess technical, policy or administrative capability in the area of food security and drought management. The GoK requested the name and scope change of the KFSSG (from KFSISG) because it was extremely happy with the progress made and felt that the mandate of the KFSSG should be to coordinate more than just the information system.

Formation and Role of Geographic Review Teams

The other structures that were created early on in this process were the Geographical Review Teams (GRTs). The GRTs ensure that up-to-date early warning and food security status monitoring data and reports covering the entire country are available to the KFSM and KFSSG on a monthly basis. They provide an opportunity for organisations that may have relevant data for a small area (such as NGOs) to furnish and discuss that information in a geographically specific group that ensures it is considered in the production of the situation report for the larger zone. This alleviates the necessity of having every local organisation present at the KFSM and endless reports at the KFSM on organisational specific assessments, activities and initiatives. There are five GRTs that cover different administrativelivelihood zones - northwestern pastoral, northeastern pastoral, agro-pastoral, marginal agricultural and high-potential/dairy districts - across the country. The GRTs have a focal point and are composed of organisations with capacity and/or interest in activities in the zone covered by the GRT. They are charged with collecting and analysing all relevant data, developing a consensus among the members of the GRT, putting together a situation report based on this consensus position and presenting that report at the KFSM. They also have responsibility for reporting on the major interventions, reviewing proposals for funding for activities and providing recommendations for action and/or interventions still needed in their zone.

Outcomes of Improved Co-ordination

Distribution R. Wheeler

The creation of this Kenya Food Security Coordination System (KFSCS) greatly facilitated the development of important joint initiatives. Multi-agency food security assessments became the norm, and coordinated field assessments are conducted on a regular basis. WFP and the NGOs agreed to transport GoK food aid as well as that from WFP. The GoK has made substantial pledges to WFP EMOPs (Emergency Operations) and the GoK has agreed that all the food is placed in a single pipeline. The KFSCS agreed that the Community Based Targeting Distribution system (CBTD) should be used for the EMOP and the GoK made the CBTD system the law of the land. As a result, the previous ineffective and sometimes corrupt targeting and distribution system administered by GoK District Commissioners was shelved and the much more effective, grass-roots based CBTD system run by elected, gender-balanced relief committees was adopted and implemented throughout the country. A series of missions have indicated that the KFSCS and CBTD initiative combined have revolutionised food aid targeting and distribution in Kenya and ensured that vulnerable populations in all areas covered by the EMOP have received adequate food. In addition, a large number of Kenyans like the new systems and feel empowered by it.

A Model for Co-ordination in Other Sectors

In May-June 2000, the UN system was required to produce a Consolidated Appeal (CAP) for Kenya covering the July-December 2000 period. The food sector was well coordinated so that WFP, the GoK and their partners had already reached agreement on what resources were required and the numbers that would go into the CAP. However, there had been little consensus developed on needed interventions in other sectors. Therefore, at the request of the UN agencies concerned with these other sectors and the GoK, the KFSCS was used and multi-agency Sectoral Groups for Agriculture and Livestock, Health and Nutrition and Water and Sanitation were created within the system to meet and develop consensus reports and numbers for the CAP for these sectors. The result was that the UN CAP and GoK appeal were exactly the same and donors generally responded very well, funding many previously unfunded initiatives. Following completion of the CAP it was decided that these Sectoral Groups should be maintained and strengthened, so that the same kind of consensus that existed in the food sector could be extended to other emergency interventions and preparation of documents like the next CAPs would be facilitated. As such, these Sectoral Groups now provide technical backstopping and set standards within their respective sectors for data collection, analysis, assessments, surveys and interventions.

The UN System in Kenya in conjunction with the KFSCS produced another consensus-based CAP for the January-June 2001 period in December 2000. The background analysis and contingency scenarios in that document were derived from a Kenya Food Security Situation Report produced by the KFSSG during that same month. The information contained in this document came from the KFSSG members, GRTs and Sectoral Groups.

Lessons Learned

Key principles

In terms of lessons learned, the major principles used in creating the KFSCS, which led to its success and may be transferable to other countries are:

  1. Development of a forum (the KFSM in Kenya) and a system that enables all interested and relevant institutions to have input into the development of the system, have access to the same complete early warning and food security information and collaborate and coordinate their activities in the sector;
  2. Creation of a steering committee for the system, with dedicated members, which drives it and ensures that it continues to develop in a positive way;
  3. Establishment of GRTs which ensure that relevant field information is brought into the system on a very regular basis and institutions, such as NGOs, which cover small geographical areas, but may have very detailed and relevant information, have input, yet do not take large amounts of time giving independent reports at the country-wide forum;
  4. Creation of sector groups that ensure that technical detail is considered, but not in the larger forum, and that the relevant group of technical people are involved in the discussions and decision making required in the sector;
  5. Involvement in the system of government or in cases where government is lacking, other authorities on the ground; and
  6. A willingness by all involved to think broadly and go beyond the immediate needs of their individual agency working towards getting the overall tasks done in the most effective and efficient way possible, using the principle of comparative advantage.

Tanzania has already used these principles gleaned from the Kenya example to begin creating its own food security coordination system, while southern Sudan and Uganda have both expressed interest and are about to begin efforts to create similar systems based on these principles.

In the longer term, it is certainly hoped that the GoK will develop a national early warning system with long-term capacity and extensive coverage of the country as well as national structures with a clear mandate for coordination in the food security sector. However, the support and involvement of the international community throughout this process will be necessary, and the development and operations of the KFSCS have filled a dangerous vacuum that existed and would have prevented an adequate response to the devastating drought that has crippled Kenya during the last three years.

Remaining Challenges

The experience in development and operation of the KFSCS has been largely positive, but it has not been without its difficulties and challenges. While the analysis and dissemination of food security information is now generally well coordinated at the national level, relevant, up-to-date, monthly food security information is still lacking from some areas of the country. This is particularly true for the marginal agricultural and agro-pastoral areas of Kenya and can be attributed to poor NGO coverage of many of these areas, and sometimes an inability or unwillingness by some field-based projects and NGOs to contribute regularly to the system.

The involvement/participation of organisations within the KFSCS is completely voluntary. During the current emergency, strong participation in the system by a myriad of organisations has at least been partially driven by a healthy dose of vested interest, since donors tied much of their emergency funding to participation in the KFSCS. As we hopefully move from an emergency to recovery and back to a developmental phase in Kenya in the next year or so, it will be a challenge to ensure adequate involvement by key organisations in the different structures of the KFSCS and maintain the momentum of the last two years.

The KFSSG and its sub-groups have accomplished a great deal over the last two years, but its efficiency and effectiveness have been hampered by the lack of any permanent or seconded staff. All members of the KFSSG, and for that matter the KFSCS, have fulltime jobs with their respective agencies, and KFSSG activities are additional to their already full workloads. Until the KFSSG has at least a permanent secretariat and preferably at least one technical advisor, it will be limited by the ability and willingness of its members and organisations to continue working overtime to achieve global objectives in addition to their own organisational objectives. In the longer run it is unlikely that the KFSCS will be sustainable without some permanent staff. The KFSSG has recognised this and has proposed that, to begin with, two staff from the GoK be seconded to the KFSSG to act as its secretariat.

While most agencies in the food security sector are enthusiastic members of the KFSCS, some organisations insist on continuing to perform independent assessments with non-standard methodologies and, particularly in the non-food sector, intervening in a un-coordinated way. This makes their assessment findings difficult to compare with data from the KFSCS, and can lead to different results and confusion about the real situation on the ground as well as unnecessary duplication and interventions with over-lapping purposes.

With strong support from WFP and the GoK, the KFSCS extended its coordination to food aid targeting, logistics and distributions at all levels in areas covered by the WFP Emergency Operation (EMOP). During February 2001 this involved 22 districts and 86 percent of the land area of Kenya. As noted above, the GoK has provided a large portion of the maize for this operation through pledges to the WFP EMOP. However, the GoK has also continued food aid distributions on its own in 'pockets' of approximately 23 other districts in Kenya, not covered by the EMOP and until recently, not part of the monthly KFSSG/Food Aid Estimates Sub-Group (FAS) review of needed allocations. In coordination with its partners, the GoK has recently tried to rectify the continuation of a dual food aid targeting system by bringing information on these allocations/distributions to the attention of the FAS, and asking that global food aid targeting in the 'GoK provided-for districts' be performed in the same way it is for EMOP districts. The GoK has also been attempting, with varying degrees of success, to implement CBTD in these areas. In addition, the January 2001 Food Security Assessments in Kenya, coordinated by the KFSCS, covered 15 EMOP districts, and, at the request of the GoK, the five districts receiving the most food aid from the GoK.


* Education sub-group only in place since January 2001.


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Reference this page

Robin Wheeler (). Development of Kenya Food Security Coordination System (KFSCS). Field Exchange 12, April 2001. p27.



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