Sara McHattie worked in North Darfur, Sudan as Area Emergency Coordinator with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). She recently returned to her native Canada after serving for one year in the country.
The post of Area Emergency Coordinator was based in North Darfur, the northern most state of the conflict-stricken Darfur region of Sudan. Sara said, "My role was in developing and implementing FAO projects in Darfur including seeds and tools deliveries, emergency veterinary and animal feeding programs and coordination of food security initiatives in the state. My role in food security was to support the ability of households to cope and feed themselves, and to monitor the food security situation state-wide". She explained that most of the population of Darfur is dependent on local produced grain (rain fed cultivation of millet and sorghum), and the region has suffered below average grain production for the past two years due to displacement, insecurity and erratic and below average rainfall. In 2004 there was an 85% food gap. Rather than focus on food relief, the FAO has taken a longer-term approach to food security in Darfur, and launched an appeal for seed aid and tools to allow families in the region to produce their own food. Many seeds normally stored for sowing were lost through looting, displacement, consumption because of the poor harvest and age - millet and sorghum seeds become infertile after two or three years.
Re-stocking families with seeds gives people the tools to produce their own food which can then be consumed and sold or traded on the market for income generation, supporting both household and community livelihoods. As Sara explained, "For a fraction of what is spent on food aid in one month, you can buy seeds to help the same number of people produce their own food for several months. This sort of assistance restores the dignity of beneficiaries, assists in recovery and leads to independence". Political and social unrest – to date over 180,000 people have been killed and a further 2 million displaced in ongoing fighting in the region - compounded natural problems suffered this year. "The area of Darfur I was based in was hit by drought, but people couldn’t use their normal coping mechanisms to deal with the lack of food and other essential commodities. Markets had collapsed because of lack of locally produced goods and the breakdown of transport routes because of insecurity. People and goods couldn’t reach the markets or seek other sources of food", Sara explained.
Sara has a degree in Biology from McGill University in Quebec, Canada and gained a Masters in Animal Welfare and Behavior from Edinburgh University, UK. Prior to her one-year post in Darfur, Sara was an Aga Khan Foundation Canada Fellow based in India, working on food security issues, and for the Secretariat of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research, based in the FAO’s headquarters in Rome, Italy.
In the future, Sara hopes to carry on in the field of food security. She said. "I would to like to continue to work in the field of supporting livelihoods in emergencies. I would like to promote the importance of food security in the sense of livelihoods emergency situations. Issues such as keeping people’s animals alive can affect the whole sustainability of an area. These are a family’s main asserts, and impact on a family’s long-term ability to survive".