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Food incentive interventions in post-conflict Afghanistan

By Mark Myatt

The recently dominant models for UN and NGO interventions in Afghanistan have been food for work (FFW), food for asset creation (FoodAC), and food for education (FFE). FFW programmes concentrate on projects that require large numbers of unskilled labourers and low levels of capital input. This fits well with the objective of delivering relief food, with large quantities of food being delivered at reasonable cost during a period of reduced demand for labour. Targeting may be assumed to be reasonably efficient, with wealthier households less likely to participate than poorer households. However, some vulnerable groups such as households with few or no adult male members, nomads, and minority ethnic groups may be unable to benefit from such programmes. The focus on delivering food, rather than on the quality or utility of the work being done, has led to a concentration on road building schemes rather than on smaller, community-based projects such as the construction of schools, health posts, improved access to potable water, or the rehabilitation or extension of irrigation schemes.

FoodAC interventions are designed to address this problem and may be able to effect physical improvement in the education and health infrastructure but it is unlikely that such improvements can be fully exploited without continued support. There is the additional problem of a lack of trained staff to work in new and existing schools and health-posts. At present there is a local excess of internally displaced educated persons such as engineers, teachers, and university lecturers in the Northern Alliance strongholds. These people could be trained to fill these posts as well as to train other staff but little effort has been made to utilise this potentially valuable resource.

FFE has focused on distribution of relief food and the limited social aim of increasing female access to education using an incentive ration. There is little doubt that this has succeeded in increasing the number of students attending school. Increased school attendance is not, however, synonymous with improved access to education. Schools are overcrowded and understaffed. Pupil to teacher contact time has been reduced as many schools implement shift systems to accommodate increased student numbers and mixed sex student cohorts. The FFE model pays the students' families but neglects the payment of teachers and ancillary staff who, if complaints by local officials are to be believed, have abandoned their posts to work in FFW programmes. FFE, therefore, has been superficially effective as a means of supporting education but has, on closer inspection, degraded the performance of an already impoverished system. Concentration on food delivery and a narrow definition of what constitutes education has led to interventions such as community-based literacy and basic skills tuition being neglected.

In addition to counter-productivities arising from an unimaginative pursuit of narrow objectives, there remain questions about the ability of the WFP managed supply lines to meet the needs of existing programmes. One international NGO has already felt the need to establish alternative supply lines in order to meet the requirements of their existing programmes.

Agricultural assessments made by the WFP and by NGOs indicate that rainfed agriculture has failed with yields so low and of such poor quality that many farmers have already lost their seed stocks or will be unable to survive the winter without consuming seed stock. Given the current security situation, already stretched and degraded supply lines, and the need to distribute food before the onset of winter, it is unlikely that sufficient seed will be distributed in time. This will lead to production shortfalls in the 2002 harvest. Food deficit is, therefore, likely to continue until at least summer 2003. This projected deficit means that interventions in which food is used as an incentive for participation will remain relevant until at least that time.

Post-conflict reconstruction will be a very different job from simply delivering food. Careful attention must be paid to designing and implementing interventions that are capable of meeting broader aims. FFW and FoodAC may be suitable vehicles to deliver infrastructure improvements but they cannot address the problem of the ongoing support required to make effective and sustained use of such improvements. UNOs and NGOs with a humanitarian or emergency focus are shy of committing to long term expenditure. One solution might be to use food incentive interventions to implement programmes that may be sustained with low levels of input, can be financed and managed locally, and do not rely on highly trained staff. This could mean, for example, village health posts staffed by community health workers delivering EPI, MCH, health promotion, and basic health care rather than district hospitals, or communitybased literacy programmes run out of primary schools rather than secondary schools.

The essential basis of any intervention that uses food incentives is the ability to deliver food. Serious attention must be paid to this. Supply lines should be built so that they can compensate for contingencies such as border closures and security scares. A diversity of sources and supply lines managed by more than one large supplier may be necessary to achieve this.

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Mark Myatt (2001). Food incentive interventions in post-conflict Afghanistan. Field Exchange 14, November 2001. p1. www.ennonline.net/fex/14/incentive

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