At a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) workshop on civil society engagement held in Crystal City, Virginia last week, NCBA CLUSA COO Amy Coughenour highlighted the organization’s civil society work in its Yaajeende Food Security Program in Senegal, one of Feed the Future’s (FTF) flagship projects.
The workshop session, entitled “Inclusive Development: How Civil Society Organizations Can Make a Difference in Addressing Gender, Age and Socio-economic Inequalities,” served as a training for some of USAID’s key staff on how to effectively engage civil society in FTF programming at the local level.
Framed around the idea of inclusivity, the session emphasized civil society’s role in engaging all groups of people involved in agricultural work—men, women, youth, farmers, rural households and other stakeholders throughout the value chain. In this context, Coughenour explained NCBA CLUSA’s strategy for involving civil society in FTF programs—the Nutrition-Led Agriculture (NLA) approach.
NLA is an integrated approach that targets vulnerable populations in specific areas and develops interventions to tackle key nutritional deficiencies in those communities. To create a food system where nutrient-dense foods, bio-fortified crops and improved seed varieties are in demand to address those deficiencies, and at the same time made available and accessible, civil society engagement is critical. Of the four food security pillars that guide NCBA CLUSA’s food security work—availability, access, utilization and governance—governance, which includes civil society, is perhaps the most critical for achieving sustainability, Coughenour said.
An important tool that the Yaajeende project uses to improve the governance, leadership, coordination and oversight of its food security interventions are citizen working groups (CWGs). Coughenour explained that CWGs “are inclusive by their very nature,” as they are formed by representatives of local community based organizations (CBOs), small local businesses, traditional leadership and government officials. All local CBOs and other organizations are invited to participate, so CWGs include representatives from women’s cooperatives and mixed cooperatives, producer organizations, small local businesses, youth groups and Yaajeende’s mother-to-mother (MTM) groups, which provide education and training to mothers on water, sanitation, hygiene and other health and nutrition issues.
CWGs are tasked with creating local food security and nutrition plans that, after negotiations with local government, are folded into local, regional and national development plans.
“What makes these groups sustainable,” Coughenour said, “is that they don’t just provide a voice for community members, but they have a deliverable attached to them—the local food security and nutrition plans—and then they advocate for a budget.” CWGs, then, are not just a platform for advocacy, but a “mechanism by which activities actually get implemented,” she added.
Coughenour also reported that 50 percent of participants in CWG activities are women, and women make up 30 percent of CWG leadership, demonstrating these groups’ commitment to contributing to inclusive development.
In its fourth year of implementation, the Yaajeende project is having tremendous impact in its areas of intervention, Coughenour said. Acute malnutrition—or wasting—has decreased by 25 percent in children under the age of five. The project has also seen a 77 percent adoption rate of pregnant women eating the recommended diet. Smallholder farmers’ horticultural revenue has increased by 288 percent with the application of conservation farming (CF) techniques, and smallholders’ maize and sorghum yields have increased up to 136 percent and 177 percent, respectively. CWGs undoubtedly contribute to these results, Coughenour said.
The workshop session, moderated by Krista Jacobs, a gender advisor in USAID’s Bureau for Food Security, also included a presentation from Andre Mershon, a climate change specialist at USAID.