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Donor lessons on linking emergency and development funding in urban programming

Summary of article1

Food Insecurity Lessons in Kenya

Location: urban Kenya

What we know: The urban population in Kenya is disproportionately affected by food insecurity and malnutrition that has been exacerbated by the global food crisis.

What this article adds: It shares a bilateral donor’s experience. Cash for work and urban agriculture projects in informal settlements in Kenya had short term impact. Donors need to link humanitarian and development funding to extend gains of ‘emergency’ projects. Stronger communication between development and humanitarian officers within donor country teams and around pooled funding is needed.

The urban population in Kenya is disproportionately affected by food insecurity and malnutrition with almost half the total food poor in Kenya (43% or over 4 million people) living in informal settlements. With food insecurity exacerbated by the global food crisis, the Emergency Response Fund (ERF) called for proposals to address this problem in Nairobi’s informal settlements. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) is one of two donors to this fund, contributing US$1.7 million since June 2009, An evaluation of Sida’s humanitarian assistance (2010-14) by Development Initiatives generated a ‘lesson learning’ article summarised here.

Project overview

Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI) responded to the ERF call with a proposal to provide emergency livelihood assistance in Mathare and Huruma settlements (Nairobi). This project was subsequently evaluated by Development Initiatives. The project had two components: Cash for Work (CFW) and urban agriculture.

COOPI targeted the project at particularly vulnerable households using the following criteria:

The CFW scheme selected vulnerable households to receive 720 Ksh (approximately US$10) in exchange for working two days per month to clear garbage (with people taking turns to work each week so that the project assisted around 1,400 households). The money increased their food purchasing power and benefited the local economy (particularly food kiosks), while the work improved the hygiene situation in the settlements.

Due to the extreme shortage of land, the urban agriculture component involved the innovative approach of assisting people to grow vegetables in sacks. It provided 1,000 households with a sack, high quality soil mix (to ensure successful harvests) and 43 seedlings of kale (sukuma wiki), spinach, spring onion and capsicum. The spring onion and capsicum act as natural pest control. It also provided farming tools and materials to fence off plots of land where the beneficiaries kept their sacks, to prevent goats and other animals that forage in the settlements from eating the plants. The participating households could harvest vegetables twice a week.


The project was a pilot with humanitarian assistance from the ERF, which provides funding for 6 months, after which COOPI hoped to secure longer-term funding to continue its activities. However the main challenge proved to be failure of a donor or the government to provide longer term development funding. Thus the project ended in January 2010, when the food market was still very volatile.

As a result, the project impact was very short-term. For example, a woman started a small business selling porridge with the cash that she earned. As long as others were earning money as well, they were able to buy the porridge but once the project ended, they could not afford it anymore and her business failed. Although the CFW approach was intended to meet basic needs, COOPI had hoped that people would also be able to start saving money. However, project beneficiaries used the money they earned for essentials such as food, uniforms and school fees and had no money left once the project ended. As a result, when interviewed, they were desperately hoping that it would resume. Finally, although a few people occasionally used the boots, gloves and other equipment that COOPI provided to clear garbage, these efforts were ad hoc and garbage once again piled up in the settlements.

Lessons learned: a donor’s perspective

Without the ERF’s willingness to fund projects that address the chronic problem of food insecurity in Nairobi’s informal settlements, the COOPI project would never have been implemented. In this respect, the Kenya ERF is different to ERFs in other countries (which take a much more limited approach to what constitutes ‘humanitarian’ aid), and is in line with Sida’s goal (stated in its humanitarian strategy) to support longer-term approaches.

The project itself was successful and a focus group discussion with project beneficiaries showed that it made an important contribution to their lives since they receive little or no other form of assistance. By the end of the project, 1,400 households had earned US$50 each to meet their immediate basic needs. COOPI worked with the Cooperative Bank of Kenya to help 1,000 of these households to open bank accounts and obtain ATM cards to withdraw their cash as needed. For most, this was their first opportunity to access banking services, including savings and micro-loans. The rest were unable to do so often because they did not have suitable identification documents and, in these cases, the bank allowed COOPI to make payments at their branch on Saturday so that beneficiaries faced less risk of being robbed.

COOPI’s efforts to provide good quality soil and protect the farming sacks from animals, ensured success for the 1,000 households involved in the agriculture component and enabled them to continue producing vegetables after the end of the project.

In addition to tangible benefits, the project helped unemployed and vulnerable people feel that they could have a job and earn money, which boosted their self-esteem and also made use of their latent social capital. The project involved the community more widely and many thousands more than the direct beneficiaries were made aware of the link between their nutrition and the unsanitary conditions in which they live.

Although Urban development and addressing the problems of urban informal settlements in Kenya is a priority in Sida’s country strategy for development assistance and Sida funded the COOPI project through the ERF, the agency missed the opportunity to link its humanitarian and development funding by using its development budget to continue to support a project that was already underway and benefiting participants. There are ‘good practice’ examples of Sida making such links (e.g. in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)) that should be shared.

Other ways in which Sida can avoid similar missed opportunities in future include:

Show footnotes

1This is a summary of a ‘Learning from Experience’ article written by Development Initiatives as part of the evaluation of Sida’s humanitarian assistance (2010:4).

2An independent organisation focused on analysis and use of data for the elimination of extreme poverty. See

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Reference this page

Donor lessons on linking emergency and development funding in urban programming. Field Exchange 46: Special focus on urban food security & nutrition, September 2013. p67.



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