Food Security

In an emergency, affected populations are likely to have limited/no access to food. Quick and predictable food security programming is essential to people’s health, well-being and dignity. Food security (FS) in emergencies is a lifesaving intervention to ensure populations have access to food of an adequate amount and quality, while reducing the need to engage in negative coping mechanisms. NFI/Shelter distributions and WASH interventions must be considered alongside FS, in order to ensure households have sufficient access to cooking and storage equipment, as well as water for cooking.

DRC approach to FS activities during emergencies are aligned with SPHERE Standards, and designed to save lives and strengthen community assets/livelihoods to improve longer term food security and resilience. In terms of in-kind and logistical support the World Food Programme (WFP) is a key operational partner for DRC’s FS interventions in emergencies. As with NFI/Shelter activities, information sharing, accountability and involvement of affected populations and host communities are essential elements underpinning successful FS interventions. This is both in terms of carrying out safe and efficient distributions as well as ensuring the cultural appropriateness of food inputs.

Note that emergency FS interventions are often combined with targeted nutritional support to vulnerable groups. Systematic screening for malnutrition should be part of FS interventions, and malnourished individuals must be referred to specialist agencies.

FS assistance can be provided to everyone in an area (blanket distribution) and/or to individuals or groups considered particularly vulnerable (targeted distribution).  Common modalities are wet feeding, in-kind food ration distribution, or cash/voucher distributions (including cash/food for work) possibly combined with seeds and tools distributions or livestock support as a means of minimizing dependency. The identified modality should be adapted to match the population’s exposure to risk, access to cooking and storage equipment, the state of the market and cultural norms.

In emergencies, in-kind assistance is often most appropriate if systems for cash/vouchers are not yet set up. When engaged in in-kind, dry ration food distribution DRC is most frequently implementing in partnership with WFP. Supply chains should be developed as locally as possible whilst ensuring the volume and quality of goods. The quality of food items (whether in-kind or procured by DRC) must be verified before distributions. As a minimum, the quality of food items must be in line with the requirements of the relevant national legal frameworks. The design of a food basket will be done by the coordinating body, taking into account Daily Caloric Intake (DCI), locally available foodstuffs and cultural norms/wishes of the recipient community. If using a cash/voucher approach, the cost of the food basket should be used to define the size of cash grants.

Cash transfer programming should always be considered instead of in-kind, as a more dignified and flexible option. A number of preconditions have to be in place however before cash is a feasible option.


Food Security Interventions in Emergencies

The objective of food security is to save lives by preventing malnutrition and meeting the energy needs of the recipient communities and to stabilize the food security situation.

On a running basis we must assess the appropriateness and quality of the food items distributed, the effectiveness of the distribution methodology, and the protection risks encountered before, during and after distributions. This entails the active participation of affected populations throughout an intervention.

In the emergency phase, key aspects of DRC’s Food Security programming include:

  • Undertaking independent or interagency needs assessments focused on needs and vulnerabilities. A useful list of cluster-aligned Food Security indicators is available from the OCHA managed Indicator Registry.
  • Wet Feeding Where for some reason it is not possible or safe to distribute or receive and store dry rations DRC can choose to produce and distribute cooked meals directly to affected populations.
  • In-Kind Food Assistance (also applicable to voucher distribution with some adaptation). Distributions require clear and transparent processes. While the specific responsibilities of DRC vary from context to context, the following is a general overview of the core responsibilities during FS activities.
  • Monitor affected population’s needs and gaps through independent or inter-agency assessments, with a particular focus on persons with specific needs or at risk.
  • Make logistical arrangements including ordering of food, transport, storing and warehousing of items.
  • Develop common procedures for carrying out distributions, including token/ration card distribution, and establish a distribution calendar.
  • Consider safety implications of the distribution and ensure contingency plans are in place and teams are trained; Distribution sites must be designed in such a way that the collection of commodities can be carried out with protection from the elements, safely, efficiently and in an orderly manner.
  • Engage communities and local authorities/other actors to design the distribution site and process and establish communication and feedback mechanisms. Inform and discuss distribution times, locations, eligibility criteria, humanitarian principles and entitlements with communities.
  • Identification and registration of beneficiaries.
  • Manage the on-site distribution including protection-sensitive crowd control. Persons with special needs and groups at risk need to receive priority access to distributions.
  • Establish food basket monitoring at site and a post-distribution monitoring system to evaluate the effectiveness and quality of items distributed. This monitoring may be carried out at the household level or in local markets.
  • When cash or vouchers are used for FS purposes, see chapter on cash distribution.
  • Seeds and Tools: Where access to land or kitchen gardens exists and is stable, affected populations can be supported to produce their own food, either at household or community level. This activity targets dietary diversity as well as self-reliance, livelihoods and agency of affected communities. Essential to plan ahead to ensure that interventions are synchronized with the planting season.
  • Cash/Food for Work: Building and rehabilitating communal assets through cash for work (CFW) enhances access to food through the provision of income in areas where markets are functioning, and food is available, or through the provision of food (FFW) in-kind where markets are still developing. Vulnerable families should receive an assistance of the same value as the CFW/FFW. Strong link to interventions where DRC works with communities to identify infrastructure that can improve the sustainability of FS interventions in future (by improving market functionality and supply chain support) e.g. roads, markets.


Common challenges in Food Security Interventions

  • As with other in-kind distributions, the diversion or misdocumentation of commodities is a risk. Ensure appropriate commodity tracking and documentation, and follow up on any concerns
  • Supply chain (pipeline) breaks and reliance on the supplying agency (most frequently WFP) to ensure transport to the point of distribution. In order to mitigate the associated risk of not delivering distributions to the affected population as planned, work towards setting up DRC-controlled local warehouses, as part of the contractual framework with the supplier.
  • Scooping errors: Make sure to take corrective action and to inform donors and partners if we have made mistakes in distributed quantities during distributions.
  • Community engagement and assurance of two-way communication with communities – DRC teams to avoid operating in sector-based silos, so that community services/CCCM/protection colleagues are also involved in the process of distribution
  • Safety of distribution sites, particularly the risk of riots, endangering both DRC staff and the affected population – requires the involvement of safety as well as protection colleagues.
  • Ensuring that food composition is culturally appropriate and accepted and that cooking facilities and utensils are available. 


Core Guidance and Standards

The following tools and material are available to support the design, implementation and monitoring of food security programming:


Additional Reading



Contact the HQ Emergency Unit: [email protected]