Mercy Corps

Fellowship Number: 
07-14
Field Location: 
Niamey, Niger
Policy Location: 
Washington, DC
General Scope of Work: 
Food security and resiliency strategy for the Sahel
Description of Organization: 

Mercy Corps helps people in the world’s toughest places turn the crises of natural disaster, poverty and conflict into opportunities for progress. Driven by local needs, our programs provide communities with the tools and support they need to transform their own lives. Our worldwide team of 3,000 professionals is improving the lives of 16.7 million people in more than 40 countries. Mercy Corps is known nationally and internationally for its quick-response, high-impact programs. Mercy Corps aims to address the root causes of food and livelihood insecurity through its civil society approach that emphasizes participation, accountability and peaceful change; prioritizes partnership with local government, business and community groups; and values the added strength and impact of community-driven solutions that reinforce and build local capacity. Mercy Corps believes that a healthy civil society contributes to the decreased need for repeated interventions and to more sustainable development. 

Mercy Corps’ food security programs are designed for effectiveness within local context.  Targeted and integrated interventions have addressed the four major factors of food insecurity; availability, access, utilization and vulnerability in countries as diverse as Eritrea, Indonesia, Tajikistan, Mongolia, North Korea and Sudan, and now Niger. Program interventions are unique to the particular needs, assets, challenges and capacities of each target area, while communication between programs and the headquarters based Technical Support Unit helps to ensure the identification, use and documentation of good practices in the areas of health and nutrition, water and sanitation, food security, agriculture and livelihoods and economic development.  

Project Description: 

Since 2005, Mercy Corps has worked in Niger implementing a range of humanitarian assistance and food security interventions ranging from economic recovery, health and nutrition, support for pastoralists and agro-pastoralists, gender equity, and natural resource management.

In August 2012, Mercy Corps launched a five-year Development Food Aid Program (DFAP) funded by USAID Food for Peace. In partnership with Africare and Hellen Keller International, the Sawki program is designed to respond to the Niger Country Specific Information and specifically to reduce food insecurity and malnutrition among vulnerable rural populations in Niger measured by stunting and wasting in the chronically food insecure regions of Maradi and Zinder. In total, Mercy Corps and its partners are targeting over 100,000 beneficiaries from more than 70 villages in and around Maradi and Zinder. Based on the Scaling Up Nutrition Framework, which focuses on a child’s first 1,000 days, Sawki promotes social and behavior change to motivate mothers, caretakers, pregnant women and adolescent girls to adopt optimal health and nutrition practices. This is done using proven strategies to address changes at all levels,including 1) advocacy for relevant changes to policies and services; 2) community mobilization; and 3) interpersonal counseling to support the adoption of new practices relevant to each individual’s specific needs through both home visits and key contact points at health centers. All is based on formative research that identifies and addresses salient behavioral determinants. To buoy these efforts, the program supports the government’s efforts to create a supportive health environment by increasing the availability of quality health and family planning services, potable water, and community-led total sanitation (CLTS). The program’s multi-sectoral nutrition-sensitive approach, based on the Feed the Future (FtF) framework, ensures household resiliency is improved through increasing the production and consumption of nutritious foods and strengthening target value chains to increase revenues.

For Niger to achieve notable progress in reducing food insecurity and building households’ resiliency, three key elements need to be addressed: 1) improving gender equity; 2) protecting natural resources and adapting to climate change; and 3) building local governance of the GoN in its ability to address barriers to food security. To this end, the program begins by carefully analyzing the division of roles and responsibilities between males and females, both within the household and in the community. Nutrition interventions focus on adolescents, pregnant women, mothers and caretakers. However, men and opinion leaders are also involved throughout the program in supportive roles. Sawki promotes more productive uses of women’s time by decreasing their workload and increasing income-generation opportunities. By acting on multiple fronts and providing opportunities to sustainably improve household revenue and food security, the program creates conditions that are conducive to women’s empowerment.

Sawki is designed to promote climate-smart agriculture and animal husbandry, with an emphasis on conserving natural resources. These actions include information-sharing, diffusion of appropriate technologies and fostering communities’ responsibilities. As a result, communities and households become more resilient and better equipped to analyze, prepare for and cope with climate change and natural hazards.

Finally, the program supports the GoN’s food security efforts by working with and through governmental departments, communes and extension services to strengthen their capacity and responsiveness. Specifically, Mercy Corps and its partners reinforce the capacity of extension services and land commissions to address communities’ concerns, strengthen early warning systems (EWS) at district and village levels, strengthen public-private coordination for improved commercial relations and work through the Ministry of Health (MoH) to build the capacity of regional and district nutrition focal points and health agents. This package of interventions supports the government’s decentralization goals as well as its Accelerated Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Field Placement: 

During his/her field year, the fellow will work on the Program Management team of the Development Food Aid Program, entitled Sawki, based in Niamey with frequent travel to the Maradi field office where they will work alongside our management teams (including local and expatriate staff) as well as target communities, beneficiaries, program partners and government counterparts.

Through their active involvement in and exposure to DFAP program activities and the realities on the ground, the fellow will gain important perspectives during the field year with regard to the impact of climate change and environment on the food security of rural communities as well as its influence on development objectives, investments and strategies.  This experience will be directly related to the fellow’s work during the policy year, and to help prepare, the fellow will be tasked with researching and producing an annotated bibliography of the most current thinking on the intersection between food security and climate change/environment.

Policy Placement: 

 

The Fellow will work with Mercy Corps’ Policy and Advocacy Team in Washington DC.  The PA Team has identified Food Security and Resilience as major priorities in the Team’s strategic plan, and they are of core importance to Mercy Corps.  There is currently a great deal of research and thought around the concept of resilience and how it can be applied in practice to reduce the vulnerability of at-risk populations to shocks and stresses.  The PA Team is collaborating closely with Mercy Corps Technical Support, Programs, and Research units to flesh out how to apply resilience within our work, and what implications a resilience approach might have for the practices and policies of the USG and other major donors.  The Fellow will also assist the PA Team and other organizational units (including Mercy Corps’ research unit) in these efforts, and will also assist the Team in conducting research to related elements of food security policy, including Local and Regional Procurement and the Feed the Future Initiative. Finally, the Fellow will support Mercy Corps’ outreach related to the Roadmap to End Global Hunger coalition.

Education/Experience Required: 
  • Graduate Degree in Agricultural Economics, Agriculture Development, Economics, Environmental Economics, Business Administration or international development, public policy, with an emphasis on food security, public health and nutrition, agriculture and related fields.
  • At least 1-2 years experience working with an international organization, government, or multilateral agency in related areas.
  • Written and Spoken proficiency in French, knowledge of Hausa, Zarma and other regional languages useful.
  • Strong interest and experience in policy and advocacy work.
  • Strong interpersonal skills required to build solid professional relationships with colleagues, partners, stakeholders, and beneficiaries.

Desired:

  • At least one year of work or volunteer experience in Africa preferred.
  • At least one year of project management experience
  • Interest in gender issues and their impact on long-term household resilience
  • Candidates with experience in or knowledge of program sustainability in the context of agricultural interventions promoting food security and buffering against climate change impacts will be the strongest competitors.