Source: FAO Regional Office for Africa |

Scaling up anticipatory action in Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Malawi

Protecting livelihoods with anticipatory actions

Anticipatory actions are those actions that could be put well in advance after early warning information has proven that there is a high likelihood of a shock

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, February 21, 2023/APO Group/ --

Anticipatory actions are designed to prevent a disaster before it happens than reacting so as to protect the lives and livelihoods of communities. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that every dollar invested in anticipatory action could give families up to seven dollars in benefits and avoided losses.

Over the past two years FAO has supported Southern African countries such as Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Malawi to develop anticipatory action protocol for drought, floods and dry spells. to shield the communities from the potential impacts of these hazards.

FAO technical experts share with us more about how anticipatory actions can be leveraged and scaled up to protect livelihoods in the countries they are supporting.

Carr Alexander is the International Resilience Specialist at FAO Zimbabwe; Chesterman Kumwenda is the Project Coordinator at FAO Malawi; and Rapanoelina Laingonotiavina is FAO Madagascar Food Security Information Systems Specialist.

What is your understanding of anticipatory action?

Rapanoelina: Anticipatory action is any action that can be implemented before a hazard occurs or before the peak of the hazard to mitigate the probable impact of the predicted hazard to the livelihood of the population. These actions are mainly put in place after an early warning from a pre-established system.

Kumwenda: Anticipatory actions are those actions that could be put well in advance after early warning information has proven that there is a high likelihood of a shock. They should be timely and targeted to mitigate or lessen impact of the shock on people’s lives and livelihoods.

From your country experience, how does anticipatory action protect livelihoods?

Alexander: FAO engaged Radio stations to broadcast early warning messages in local languages. One of these messages was before a prolonged dry spell in February 2022 when farmers were advised not to apply fertilizer to the field because there was a dry spell that was about to occur. It saved the already planted crops from ‘scorching’ because they would have burned from chemical reactions of fertilizer without available moisture and saved the farmer quite a lot of money because most of that fertilizer could have been wasted and was now used later. The farmers’ livelihoods were protected by the anticipatory action. In addition to that, when we got information that was going to be excessive rainfall, all radio stations sent out messages to farmers to harvest early and protect their harvest from excess moisture caused by rainfall. This   could have caused damage their harvest by rotting their produce.

Rapanoelina: FAO Madagascar established its first Early Warning and Early Action approach in 2015. After an early warning on a continuous drought in the south, we conducted an action of distribution of drought tolerant seeds to farmers who were most exposed and vulnerable to drought to face the probable peak of drought. The products helped to protect livelihoods; the families had diversified diet and ensured their food security. They were able to save some production which they sold and earned incomes to which they used to buy other food products and necessary items for the households. They received irrigation kits which facilitate them to plant vegetable crops and produce even during the droughts.

Kumwenda: Over 80 percent of the people in Malawi rely on agriculture. The shocks experienced year in year out are the same and are becoming more and more predictable in the wake of climate change; the most frequent shocks affecting agriculture are prolonged dry spells and floods. These shocks affect farmers in two ways – livelihoods and agricultural activities. With livelihoods, if you implement anticipatory actions you are trying to come up with early warning messages to encourage the communities to adopt climate smart practices to protect their farming activities.

Anticipatory actions are devised to bring awareness to the farmers to prepare them to face these shocks. For example, FAO provides farmers with early maturing and drought tolerant seeds that are able to withstand or elude the impact of dry spells so as to safeguard their livelihood. FAO also intends to provide micro–irrigation kits to enable farmers to replant and continue with the production cycle even after the impact of mid-season dry spells. The plan is to procure and distribute the inputs before or just when the shocks occur to mitigate the peak of its impact.

How is FAO using anticipatory action to promote self-reliance within communities?

Alexander: In Zimbabwe, in the two pilot districts we’re working with communities to aware them of impending shocks so that they are able to organize themselves to manage the shocks. With funding from the European Union and German Federal Foreign Office, we work closely with the local authorities so they are able to transfer messages and organize communities to carry out activities which can mitigate the impact shocks. For example, in coming weeks FAO will work with communities in flood protection we understand there is going to be higher than average rainfall. The capacities of the communities will be built so that they come up with their own actions to mitigate the impacts of localized flooding – that could be through either building small diversion channels, building barricades against floods and also putting in measures in the field that improve drainage. 

Rapanoelina: In Madagascar, there are early warning and anticipatory action committees implemented at community level. We provide information through a EWAA application on mobile phone to five pilot communities which they analyze and know the kind of hazard coming in the next days or during the agriculture season. We provide them with capacity building on the different hazards and how to prepare for them. For example, in the case of a drought they can know the kind of seeds that should be planted to achieve production. We share with them early warning information and build capacity to analyze the information so that they deploy those capacities to make themselves resilient and protect their livelihoods.

What do we need to improve in order to successfully scale up anticipatory action?

Alexander: In Zimbabwe we successfully piloted an anticipatory action system in two districts. In scaling up anticipatory action we need to work with partners, for example we work with the community of practice (CoP), this collaboration is key in order to scale up effectively.

In addition, it is equally critical to institutionalize the existing drought protocol endorsed at the national into government structures to protect the population against shocks. By encouraging endorsement and institutionalization of the drought protocols we will be going to a much larger scale and even a national scale.

Rapanoelina: There has to be more prediction data information at community level. For example, South of Madagascar there is a lot of micro-climates and this needs to be improved in terms of data collection. For communities to get involved in anticipatory action there is need to reflect more on how more communities can get information on early warning and agriculture so that they can adopt their activities to the predictions shared. We have communities that have early warning information but not scaled up to other regions.

How important is mainstreaming anticipatory action within disaster risk management (DRM) and in resilience programming?

Alexander: It is very important to integrate anticipatory action more in resilience programming because we are undertaking a lot of projects and activities with communities and investing a lot of money in those areas. For example, we will be providing irrigation systems to areas, and if we have a system which can mitigate the impact of drought or flood in this case we can protect resilience gains, and we can protect investments communities that donors and humanitarian community are making in resilience activities so that are not destroyed by the hazard.

By implementing anticipatory action before the hazard, we will be creating value for money and protecting assets created by resilience programmes. We know that with climate change communities are exposed to more and more to extreme weather events and extreme climatic shocks, so we know they are inevitable.

Rapanoelina: The DRM cycle and resilience programme should be established in a way we don’t act only after the hazard has occurred. We cannot have an effective DRM system if it doesn’t include those anticipatory actions and an effective early warning system put in place to mitigate the impact of a hazard on people’s livelihoods. The main objective is to build resilience and protect livelihoods, the communities should also be able to understand the approach and build on their capabilities so that they can effectively participate into the whole process of anticipating any hazard. 

Kumwenda: Anticipatory action should always be part of the disaster risk management (DRM) because within the disaster risk management framework you have early warning information and preparedness; and within preparedness phase you can start thinking of the anticipatory action interventions to mitigate shocks.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of FAO Regional Office for Africa.