Multiple definitions of anticipatory action involve acting before a situation can be declared a crisis, with the objective to protect livelihoods and well-being. However, increasingly, many areas in which we work in the Horn of Africa are facing chronic food security ‘crisis’ situations.

Multiple questions arise – can we implement anticipatory action if the food security situation is already at ‘crisis’ levels? Does it matter what the current food security situation is for implementing anticipatory action?

This mini dialogue sought to unpack the objectives of anticipatory action within the context of chronic food crises, discussing the potential implications of implementing anticipatory action in a crisis situation versus in a ‘normal’ situation.

In providing support to communities, stakeholders often adopt an Anticipatory Action (AA) approach – acting before a crisis occurs to help stem negative outcomes. While many organisations have their own definition of AA, two key elements are common to most: needs for protection (people, assets or livelihoods); and the importance of timing in terms of implementation.

However, a big question is whether and how we can implement AA if a crisis is already underway? For example, many parts of Somalia have faced crisis conditions with regards to food security since March 2020, leading some to argue it is too late to take an AA approach.

Therefore, do we need to focus on a purely humanitarian response, or can the approach comprise a combination of both?

In 2022, the Jameel Observatory for Food Security Early Action and partners convened several virtual mini dialogues on priority topics related to the Observatory vision. The aim was to identify priority research, learning and other actions that the Observatory and a wider community of collaborators can tackle.

This dialogue on 29 March 2022 was championed by Laura Swift from Save the Children UK. This brief was reviewed by Laura Swift and Jo Grace of Save the Children and finalized by Nathan Jensen of the University of Edinburgh.

Download a brief summarizing the mini-dialogue