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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 197 partners on secure livelihoods programmes in 22 countries
  • helped 312,320 people towards developing secure livelihoods
  • trained 27,330 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role in developing countries, but farmers face growing challenges in the form of declining investment in agriculture, outdated skills and technology.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, negotiation skills training with partners in The Gambia enabled local farmers to get a better, fairer price for their groundnut produce.

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. 

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

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

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

• 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).