“I’m afraid, but I’m hungry”: integrated protection & food assistance programming

January 13, 2016
Sara McHattie and Anne-Sophie Laenkholm
WFP and ECHO providing food assistance in Niger to refugees fleeing violence

What is integrated programming?

In many humanitarian contexts, protection challenges and access to basic goods and services are interrelated. This article proposes that integrated protection programming – i.e. protective work carried out by other sectors (e.g. livelihoods, WASH, education) and vice-versa – could lead to better outcomes for beneficiary populations. We have focused specifically on protection and food assistance Food assistance in this article refers to all activities with the objective of improving access to food (whether in kind or market based), and protection and supporting the rehabilitation of livelihoods.  because the connections between these two areas have been explored in more detail. They are thus a good starting point for discussing the integrated protection programming approach.

Protection challenges can prevent households from carrying out their livelihoods, accessing services and realising their rights. Social marginalisation and exclusion Social exclusion is a process and a state that prevents individuals or groups from full participation in social, economic and political life and from asserting their rights.  can result in communities and individuals having differential vulnerability to crises, as well as differential access to assistance. In South East Asia for example, Dalit communities are prevented from receiving or accessing emergency assistance due to social norms Equality in Aid, International Dalit Solidarity Network. http://idsn.org/wp-content/uploads/user_folder/pdf/New_files/Key_Issues/Disaster_response/EqualityInAid_web_version.pdf .

To what extent do humanitarian actors understand these dynamics and the dilemmas faced by those who daily weigh the urgency of fulfilling their basic needs against the risk of degradation and violence in doing so? When families decide to send women to cultivate because the risk of rape that they face is less consequential to household well-being than the risk of death faced by men, do we do enough to understand and address their dilemma?

Recent protection mainstreaming efforts have successfully increased awareness about the ‘Do No Harm’ principle, which requires humanitarians to strive to minimise the harm they may cause through providing assistance, as well as the importance of incorporating protection principles in humanitarian programming. Safe access to food distributions and better lighting in camp contexts are just two measures being undertaken to make humanitarian programming safer for beneficiaries.

We propose taking a step further and working to make things better through integrated protection programming, that is: a programme that intentionally uses protection activities to have an impact on other sectors, and/or other sector activities to have an impact on protection. For example, it sometimes makes sense to build a well in a location where water access needs wouldn’t necessarily call for it but it would help mitigate conflict, thus having a significant positive protective impact.

What is the difference between mainstreaming and integration?

Protection mainstreaming is a cross-cutting theme that advocates for greater take-up of protection principles and commitment to promoting safety across all humanitarian, development and advocacy programmes. The difference between mainstreaming and integrated programming is further described in the Minimum Inter-Agency Standards for Protection Mainstreaming, World Vision, 2012, p. 148-151.

Protection integration refers to work to prevent, mitigate and respond to protection threats faced by the affected populations to achieve protective outcomes carried out by other sectors (e.g. livelihoods, WASH, education)

The need for integrated protection programming is supported by the key principles and policies used by the humanitarian community For example: The Sphere Project, Household Economy Analysis, most NGO and UN protection and assistance guidelines, donor guidelines and so on. . Good guidance exists on how to respond to a food sector and a protection sector crisis. As a result, responses are often implemented in parallel by different teams that may or may not be in communication, even if they are assisting the same beneficiary population. Working in such silos risks doing harm, to say nothing of the confusion it can cause beneficiaries! In essence, what humanitarians understand as two different sectors is in fact one dilemma for the beneficiary: “I’m afraid, but I’m hungry”.

Why do integrated programming?

Below is a typical example of when integrated protection programming should have been implemented. It was observed in central Africa during a joint DG ECHO Protection and Food Assistance mission, and was the trigger for this work.

Agrarian Community X was displaced from their village due to conflict. They settled along a major commercial route, near an important city. The IDPs were hospitably received and given land to cultivate. Within months, the new farmland was inaccessible due to a different conflict. IDPs were forced to cultivate the fields in their village of origin, but to do so they had to cross several check points and enter rebel-held territory. Over 18 months, 79 people were killed, kidnapped, or disappeared. Any harvest obtained was extorted by armed actors. Women prostituted themselves in order to get cash to buy food. Despite the risks they faced, the community felt they had no choice but to farm their fields and adopt other risky behaviours – they were hungry.

The partner organisation responded to the protection challenges by forming Protection Committees, which were mostly used to implement project activities; effectively Protection Committees in name only. Seeds and tools were distributed to meet the affected populations’ food needs, despite a known lack of safe access to land; it was assumed that “households will manage”. Households without a big enough food gap were not assisted, even though the organisation was aware that risky behaviours were used to access food and cash. As such, both beneficiary and non-beneficiary households were knowingly exposed to protection threats – varying from sexual exploitation to death – in the food assistance programme.

What analysis informs the selection of integrated programming options?

We propose using the risk equation model as it identifies external threats to the target population, their internal vulnerabilities and capacities, and the relationship between them. The model stipulates that: Risk consists of Threats multiplied by Vulnerabilities divided by Capacities. Risks are thus reduced by reducing threats and vulnerabilities, and increasing capacities. The risk equation Only one type of risk can be selected otherwise the analysis is not specific enough but a single context is likely to need multiple risk analyses. for the above situation may have looked like:

Risk equation for a lack of access to food

From this analysis, integrated programming options can be identified, so for the example of Agrarian Community X:


  • Establish strategies to safely access fields so as to minimise exposure to threats during cultivation.
  • Advocate against extortion at checkpoints so that agricultural inputs and production can be safely transported to and from the household and markets.
  • Reduce the need for individuals and households to engage in high risk behaviours through food assistance.

Food assistance:

  • Provide training and inputs for intensive agriculture to households with safe access to land so as to produce more on less area, thus minimising exposure to threats.
  • Households without safe access to land receive training and inputs to establish income-generating activities, thus minimising exposure to threats.

Provide food assistance until the above activities produce food/cash, so that populations needn’t expose themselves to risky behaviours.

The risk equation tool should be triggered in all conflict situations; in natural disasters where there is known, or a risk of, social exclusion; and in contexts where there is a high risk of protection abuses, such as displacement situations.

It is also important to remember that analysis should be done at the community and household levels so as to maximise opportunities for joint action, such as community advocacy for household access to land. Threats, vulnerabilities, and capacities should be analysed by relevant gender, age, and diversity, and livelihood groups. Use of ‘standardized’ vulnerability groups must be avoided. In southern Madagascar, for example, projects targeted women for income-generating activities despite a dramatic increase and spread of criminality by unemployed young men, who may have reduced their criminal activities had they had access to alternative income sources.

There is also no single solution or response that suits everyone, everywhere. Even in the same geographical area different groups may require different responses, particularly in cases of social exclusion.

A thorough analysis will identify the key threats, vulnerabilities and capacities, as well as target groups and differentiated activities where necessary. Below are some tools that can be used for identifying beneficiaries, measuring results and coordination.

Tools: identifying beneficiaries

Both protection and food security vulnerabilities should be used as targeting criteria in integrated programming. Household targeting for food assistance is usually based on wealth/asset ranking, food consumption, and food-related coping strategies. This approach risks excluding households that undertake risky behaviours to access food/cash. The Coping Strategy Index (CSI) can help to include protection vulnerabilities in targeting.

The CSI was developed as a simple proxy indicator for food security. It is useful for integrated programmes as it measures behaviour and analyses the structure of coping strategies The Coping Strategies Index- Field Methods Manual, second edition, CARE, Feinstien International Center, Tango, USAID, WFP, January 2008. . In food assistance, most agencies use the Reduced CSI, which only looks at coping strategies linked to food, such as reduction in the number of meals consumed. The full CSI should be used instead as it identifies and ranks all coping strategies used by a group, thus including risky behaviours and vulnerabilities, such as kidnapping or removal of children from school. The CSI can also be used as an early warning indicator (coping strategies change before other negative outcomes are witnessed at household level), and for monitoring.

Tools: measuring results

Two indicators for monitoring and/ or measuring the impact of integrated programmes are proposed. These should be complemented by sector specific indicators.

  1. Change in CSI:

The CSI is a relative score; it ranks communitIes/ households relative to each other in the same geographical area/ time frame, or over a period of time, such as at the time frame of a project. As such it can be used to measure whether or not a household/ community has been able to change- ideally improve- the coping strategies it uses.

  1. Qualitative Indicators:

Qualitative indicators are powerful because they summarise a complex collection of attitudes, feelings and perceptions. Specific skills are necessary to explore sensitive protection issues, but no particular skill is necessary to ask the question “Do you feel safer because of the project?”. The answer nonetheless captures whether or not the project has achieved this fundamental objective.

Tools: coordination

Collaboration between food assistance and protection sectors is still rare, but below are some proposed actions to break down the silos:

  • Establish Food Assistance and Protection Working Groups
  • Develop harmonised tools and strategies relevant to regions or crises
  • Joint evaluations
  • Improve technical support within the Cluster system as well as collaboration on analysis and response strategies
  • Operationalise the Centrality of Protection in Strategic Response Plans
  • Joint development of advocacy strategies
  • Join “micro” level assistance responses with “macro” level advocacy responses

Common issues at the nexus of food security and protection

Many humanitarian crises have underlying issues that are linked to both food security and protection. The violation or change in one can have a severe impact on the other – many conflicts are preceded by successive failed harvests for example. Some of the issues, such as ill-advised agricultural policies or a weak government presence, are structural and thus difficult to address as humanitarians but all are of such paramount importance to many crises that they must  – at a minimum  – be taken into account in analyses. A few are mentioned below:

Changes in freedom of movement are both a cause and consequence of crisis. Freedom of movement can be restricted intentionally, as an instrument of control (for good or bad) or as a consequence, such as in cases of insecurity and violence. Barriers can be physical, such as confinement; administrative, such as the lack of identification documents; or social, such as the restrictions placed on women in ISIS-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq.

The right and ability to move from one area to another is so fundamental to life and dignity, that restrictions can interrupt access to services, income, livelihoods, social and cultural interactions, etc. Improving freedom of movement in cases where restrictions are having a negative impact on food security can have a stronger impact than direct food assistance.

Disputes over control of natural resources are a common cause of conflict. A classic example is pastoral/agricultural conflict, which often results from the breakdown of the customary and national laws that regulate the movement of livestock in time and space. Although the regulation of pastoral movements is a structural problem and so incredibly difficult to address, it cannot be ignored. This is because the co-dependence between pastoralists and agriculturalists is so fundamental that failing to address the conflict risks driving endless cycles of protection violations, such as burning fields and looting livestock, which can ultimately fuel food insecurity. Humanitarian programmes can include simple activities, such as basic conflict mitigation trainings, which can help to maintain space for discussion and dialogue, a first step to breaking out of destructive cycles.

Land tenure is often a key driver of conflict and food insecurity. In Pakistan, 2% of households control over 45% of the land, thus constraining agricultural competitiveness and livelihood opportunities http://usaidlandtenure.net/sites/default/files/USAID_Land_Tenure_Pakistan_Issue_Brief_1.pdf . Land tenure reform requires careful and sustained programming due to its profound political, social and economic implications. It must nonetheless be taken into account in humanitarian programming so as to better understand vulnerability, targeting and implications of assistance; a tenant farmer household may be forced to give a proportion of their food assistance to a landlord for example.

Opportunities offered with integrated programming

Integrated programming can relieve tensions and identify win-win situations:

  • Where conflict is due to issues of common interest (land, water …), these can be used as entry points for dialogue to mitigate tensions.
  • Food assistance can be used to meet protection objectives, for example, assisting vulnerable host populations in displacement contexts can prevent hostilities arising over competition for scarce resources.
  • The modality of distribution can impact protection. For example, providing cash transfers through financial institutions may necessitate supporting beneficiaries to access identification and any linked social protections and rights. The discretion of a mobile phone transfer can prevent powerful individuals from extorting assistance.


Good responses are preceded by good analyses. Using the tools and approaches above, as well as complementary assessment and analytical tools from protection and food security sectors, we hope to bring protection closer together with other sectors. This will maximise the impacts of programming in contexts where protection challenges due to conflict and social exclusion are barriers to accessing goods and services. The more the integrated approach is used the more we can learn and refine the approach to best assist beneficiaries cope with the dilemma: “I’m afraid, but I’m hungry”.

Sara McHattie is an independent consultant and worked with DG ECHO as a Regional Food Assistance Expert for Eastern, Central and Southern Africa. Anne-Sophie Laenkholm is DG ECHO’s Global Thematic Coordinator on Protection. ECHO is the European Commission’s Humanitarian aid and Civil Protection department.

The authors were motivated to develop this approach to improve the quality of responses to humanitarian crises in insecure and complex working environments. The integrated protection programming approach is also part of ECHO’s internal reflection leading to it’s revised protection policy.


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