Food and income

Food and income

For VSO, a secure livelihood means having the income and resources necessary to meet basic needs and survive shocks, whether natural or human-made. We believe this is a fundamental right.

Kumba Mondeh and Abdu Koruma fixing a car

For those living below or close to the poverty line, an uncontrollable event such as illness or a failed harvest is devastating and means basic requirements for survival can no longer be met. They may also lack the resources and education to participate in markets, so that economic growth fails to bring wealth or improvements to their quality of life. 

We work to strengthen the ability of disadvantaged people to access sufficient food and income, and to have more control over how and when they access these essential lifelines.

What we do

VSO has secure livelihoods programmes in more than 20 countries across Africa and Asia. Our vision is that everyone has the tools, information and resources in order to make a sustainable living and to lift themselves out of poverty in the long-term.

In the last financial year, VSO:

  • worked with 184 partners on secure livelihoods programmes in 23 countries
  • helped 273,000 people towards developing secure livelihoods
  • trained 15,500 practitioners in secure livelihoods services

Our objectives

We work through partnerships with government departments, social enterprises, private sector companies, technical schools and training institutes in order to:

1. Improve food and income security through sustainable resource management

Smallholder food production plays a big role in developing countries, but farmers face growing challenges in the form of declining investment in agriculture, outdated skills and technology. VSO is working to help disadvantaged people access quality training and technical support, as well as to encourage innovation and enterprise.

Our volunteers work also with partner organisations to ensure that poor and marginalised people are able to access and protect the land and natural resources on which they depend for their living, as well as raising community awareness of policy and planning that affects them and their rights.

Where traditional options for making a living are no longer viable because of changes in environment or climate, VSO volunteers assist with exploring alternative or diversified income. Our aim is to build national and community resilience to environmental shocks.

For example, the Building Nigeria's Response to Climate Change project piloted community adaptation projects such as the promotion of fuel efficient wood stoves, the introduction of drought-resistant varieties of seeds, and rainwater harvesting for land irrigation. At the institutional scale, a VSO volunteer working with the Special Climate Change Unit of the Ministry of Environment helped to develop a draft National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Plan of Action.

2. Increase participation in and access to markets for people living in poverty

VSO supports people’s participation in local and global value chains, whether as producers, suppliers, employees or entrepreneurs. Our volunteers achieve this by offering market-driven vocational skills training, mentorship, networking, and by helping small and medium sized businesses to grow their capacity and yields. They work with local people to identify new markets for produce and ways of growing incomes.

For example, the Strengthening Vocational Training for Enterprise Development (SVTED) project improves the ability of Kenyan youth and women to effectively act as entrepreneurs. In Kenya, 78% of the population is below the age of of 35, and over 92% have no vocational or professional skills training. VSO volunteers supported local people with value chain advancement and the development of national youth polytechnics and vocational training centres. VSO volunteers supported vocational training centres through exchange visits and budget management and have significantly reduced levels of debt as a result. Their skills gap analysis informed a change to the curriculum, which prioritised the areas where future growth and interest of students overlapped. The strength of this approach is evident in the increased enrolment - with a greater proportion of women in training. 

Access case study Tackling inequality, Skills for self-employment in Kenya [PDF]

A secure livelihood is dependent on functioning institutions, policies and laws – as well as more individual factors such as personal skills and physical assets. For this reason, VSO works not just with individuals, but with ministries of agriculture and fisheries, regulatory bodies, training institutions, umbrella organisations and local non-governmental organisations that represent and advocate on behalf of small-scale producers.

Private sector partnerships

For work securing sustainable food and income sources, harnessing the expertise and resources of the private sector is particularly valuable. Our corporate partners share our interest in increasing the benefits of market activity for local communities (particularly women and youth). They include:

Accenture, as part of their global corporate citizenship initiative, Skills to Succeed. 

In Malawi, VSO worked with Accenture on Making Markets Work for the Poor (MMWP), a project aimed at improving access to markets for people who are poor or marginalised through placing long-term volunteers. Smallholders - who produce 80% of all milk products - were targetted in the formal and informal dairy value chain with the aim to increase livestock and smallholder productivity. 

VSO volunteers worked alongside regional and umbrella associations to help them support smallholder farmers to stabilise their income from dairy farming, winning increased yields and prices from buyers. By lobbying policy-makers in the interest of smallholder farmers, VSO volunteers also were integral to the creation of a 25% levy on imported milk powder. The levy helped to reduce exposure to fluctuations in world prices and, alongside direct lobbying of the processors, addressed the downward trend in price per litre offered to farmers for their produce.

Access case study Making milk work, The dairy market in Malawi [Pdf]

• Barclays (international skills based volunteering to develop leadership competencies)

• BG Group (improving employability of young Tanzanians in oil and gas industry)

In the Mtwara and Lindi regions of eastern Tanzania, Enhancing Employability through Vocational Training (EEVT), is an initiative to increase domestic employment opportunities in the oil, gas and spin-off industries. The project is a unique partnership between VSO, BG Group and the government Vocational Education and Training Authority (VETA). It responds to the increase in demand for labour resulting from the discovery of 42.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas potential off the Mtwara coast. Given the typically poor ability of the oil and gas sector to create jobs for non highly skilled labour this is a highly innovative programme. The project is boosting the capacity of the Tanzanian VETA to provide its students with industry-relevant and internationally recognised qualifications. The input of BG Group has maximised the impact of the project by ensuring the teaching and qualifications are relevant to the upcoming job opportunities, thus improving the likelihood that the students are able to find employment as a result of the discovery of natural gas.

Initial impact assessment has yielded encouraging results. From November 2013 to March 2014 the percentage of City & Guilds standard teaching practices observed by teachers on average has increased from 25% to 55%. Whereas previously adequate health and safety awareness among students was 82%, it is now 91.8%. Additionally, 16 new companies have stated their availability and interest in contributing to the industry links aspect of the project.

Access case study Matching skills to jobs around Tanzania's gas industry [PDF]

Mondelez International (empowering rural communities to support sustainable cocoa supply chain)

In Ghana, VSO is helping to sustain cocoa as a livelihood by empowering cocoa-growing communities through a unique partnership with Mondelēz, the world’s largest chocolate producer. ‘Cocoa Life’ is a partnership between Mondelēz International, NGOs and local institutions that aims to increase the productivity of small-scale farmers and the appeal of cocoa production for younger generations. The project is based on community-centred development; farmer-based organisations have proliferated. In 2009, 39% of farmers reported being a member of a farmer-based organisation; in 2012 this had increased to 92%.

Between 2008 and 2012:

• 5,200 out of 6,500 targeted farmers were granted Fairtrade status.
• 100 farmer societies and seven farmers’ unions were set up.
• 10,000 bicycles, 10,000 solar lamps and 600 sprayers were
• Four school facilities, two IT resource centres and 41 boreholes
were built.
• 49 demonstration farms were established.

Access case study Enhancing livelihoods opportunities in Ghanaian cocoa communities [PDF]

• New Britain Palm Oil Ltd. Foundation (community development focussed on education and health)

Randstad (support recruitment of volunteers and provision of Randstad corporate volunteers)

• Syngenta (developing a small holder farmer livelihoods programme with employee volunteering)

For more information and case studies on how VSO contributes to securing sources of food and income for people living in poverty, see our Secure livelihoods capability statement (PDF).

Volunteer with VSO

If you're an experienced marketer, entrepreneur or business professional, why not lend your skills and volunteer with VSO?