Programmed food assistance: a dedicated tool to respond to severe food and nutritional insecurity and improve resilience


Recurring food crises worldwide (or situations of severe food and nutritional insecurity) have highlighted the need to change the thinking around emergencies and development, decompartmentalizing these respective approaches. Working on the basis that humanitarian assistance which only provides temporary crisis relief rarely prepares populations for future crises, providing support to boost vulnerable populations’ resilience is all about dealing with the issue of food security from a more comprehensive and long-term perspective, in addition to emergency responses. Programmed food assistance (PFA) is fully in line with this framework and with international standards set by the Food Assistance Convention adopted in London. Serving as an interface between humanitarian issues and development, PFA is in the middle, financing food assistance programmes aimed primarily at populations experiencing severe and chronic food and nutritional insecurity (rather than a response to an immediate crisis, e.g. connected to a natural disaster), and helping them become self-reliant once again.

General Principles for Programmed Food Assistance

Programmed food assistance (PFA) is a major lever for action of France’s International Strategy for Food Security, Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture (in French) (2019-2024). PFA is the French response instrument for situations of severe and chronic food and nutritional insecurity, which for several years have been increasing around the world (exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s aggression on Ukraine). Against this backdrop, funding for PFA has increased significantly since 2018 (€33.5m), to reach €140.4m in 2022. PFA aims to allocate at least half of its funds to priority countries for French official development assistance, as defined by the Interministerial Committee for International Cooperation and Development (CICID) in February 2018.

It enables action to be taken in regions which have been hard-hit by climate events, like the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, or in extended delicate situations due to conflict, such as in Yemen and Syria. It is part of a clearly-defined international framework: The Food Assistance Convention (FAC) signed in London and ratified by France in 2017. This convention helps turn practices towards more needs-focused responses, e.g. by broadening the range of eligible actions in order to take into account, beyond food aid in-kind, the diversity of existing tools, which can ultimately be more effective and appropriate: monetary transfers, vouchers, detecting and treating malnutrition, training on good agricultural and nutritional practices or on food diversification, support for school canteens, distributing farm inputs (tools, seeds, etc.), veterinary procedures… Buying food on local and regional markets is encouraged and the disposal of agricultural surpluses is prohibited so as not to disrupt local markets. Such actions aim to increase the resilience of vulnerable populations by reviving local production and marketing activities.

In accordance with France’s International Strategy for Food Security, Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture 2019-2024, at least 50% of PFA financing supports projects to combat undernutrition, with a focus on the so-called “1,000 days” period (from conception to the age of 2), which is crucial for children’s cognitive and physical development.

Furthermore, PFA is funding school feeding projects in countries experiencing food insecurity, which is its priority action with numerous co-benefits, particularly with regard to school attendance and the retention of girls in school (France is co-chair of the World Food Programme’s School Meals Coalition, the first global meeting of which will be held in Paris in October 2023). Finally, PFA-funded projects support gender equality, in line with the Programming Act of 4 August 2021 on inclusive development and the fight against global inequalities (over 80% of projects include this aspect).

The choice of projects by the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, with the support of its embassies, is based on an assessment of the situation of food and nutritional insecurity in the relevant countries, and includes important aspects of our development approach: nutrition, resilience, school feeding, consideration of environmental and climate issues, support for small local producers and decent employment for young people, while providing cross-cutting attention to the issue of gender.

French programmed food assistance in 2022

The deterioration in food security and nutrition around the world, which had been observed since 2014, was exacerbated by the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and then by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its impact on global agricultural markets.

Conflicts/insecurity, economic shocks and extreme climate conditions, particularly those linked to climate change, are still the three main reasons for “food crises”.

In 2022, the total PFA budget managed by the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs with the support of the Interministerial Food Aid Committee (CIAA) was €140.4 million.

This financing helped carry out 118 actions targeting just over 5.4 million direct recipients in 47 countries (compared to 37 countries in 2021).

Over 66% of this assistance went to Africa. G5 Sahel countries were allocated 24.82% of the funding. After that came the Middle East and North Africa (14.75%) Asia (7.3%), Americas/Caribbean (6.07%) and Continental Europe (5.7%).

In Africa, special attention has been focused on the Sahel and West Africa, where food insecurity and malnutrition have once again increased, as well as in the Horn of Africa, which has been hit by several successive droughts.

West Africa received €37.5 million, mainly for Niger (€9.9m), Burkina Faso (€9.27m) and Mali (€6.5m). Nigeria (€4.2m), Mauritania (€2.9m) and Senegal (€1.5m) also received support. Guinea (€0.75m), Côte d’Ivoire (€0.5m), The Gambia (€0.5m), Liberia (€0.5m), Sierra Leone (€0.5m) and Togo (€0.5m) complete this chart.

In Eastern Africa (€27.6m), the situation in Ethiopia required major action (€11m), as did that in Somalia (€5m) and South Sudan (€4.5m). Sudan (€2.25m), Kenya (€1.7m), Djibouti (€1.35m), Burundi (€1.3m) and Uganda (€0.5m) also received PFA financing.

In Central Africa (€21.5m), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (€8m) received the most assistance, followed by Chad (€6.25m), the Central African Republic (€5.5m), Cameroon (€1.25m) and Angola (€0.5m).

In Southern Africa, Madagascar received €4.75m, Mozambique €1m and Zimbabwe €0.5m — a total of €6.25m for the region.

In the Middle East/North Africa region (€20.7m), efforts mainly focused on Yemen (€6.2m). With regard to the countries affected by the Syrian crisis, Lebanon and Syria each received €5 million, while Jordan was allocated €1.5 million. France also remains committed to the Palestinian Territories, providing assistance of €2 million in 2022. Algeria (€0.5m; WFP project in Sahrawi camps) and Iraq (€0.5m) also received PFA funding.

In Asia, €10.25m in PFA financing was provided, including €5.5 million for Afghanistan. Myanmar (€1.5m) and Bangladesh (€1.25m) also received support, mainly in relation to the Rohingya crisis. Laos was one of the eight priority countries on France’s nutritional roadmap, and received €0.5 million. Support was also provided due to the floods in Pakistan (€1m) and the crisis in Sri Lanka (€0.5m).

In the Americas/Caribbean region (€8.5 million), five countries received PFA funding: Haiti was the largest recipient at €5.25m, followed by Venezuela (€1.765 million), Colombia (€0.5 million), Cuba (€0.5 million) and Honduras (€0.5 million).
Finally, with regard to Continental Europe, €8 million was allocated to Ukraine, while preventing any crowding-out effect at the expense of other areas around the world with severe food insecurity.

The leading operator for France’s programmed food assistance remains the World Food Programme (WFP) with €85 million in 2022. Following that, in decreasing order of funding, is the ICRC, Action Against Hunger, Solidarités International (SI), UNICEF, the FAO and UNRWA [1], among others. In total, international organizations received over 70% of the PFA funding in 2022; civil society organizations (ICRC and NGOs) received 29%.

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Updated: April 2023

[1[United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East