Cookies on oxfam

We use cookies to ensure that you have the best experience on our website. If you continue browsing, we’ll assume that you are happy to receive all our cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Accept

Emergency food security and vulnerable livelihoods (EFSVL)

A lady carries away her food rations at Oxfam feeding programme in Mbare, Harare. (Zimbabwe, 2008)

At a glance 

Oxfam's Emergency Food Security and Vulnerable Livelihoods specialists have helped shape the techniques and approaches that are widely used today.


If people are to survive and recover from disasters, they need access to sufficient food and resources to rebuild their livelihoods and ensure their future well-being. 'Food security' exists when everyone has access to enough food to live a healthy and active life. In an emergency, Oxfam responds as quickly as possible while working within existing market structures. This ensures that there is not only access to food, but that our response also helps to rebuild and strengthen livelihoods for longer term viability.


Emergency responses must be based on a good understanding of key markets or they risk undermining livelihoods in the long-term. Market analysis is a critical part of Oxfam's emergency response. Understanding the key constraints (environmental, legal, logistical) and opportunities allows us to determine which activities will strengthen market systems for the future. 

Oxfam delivers immediate aid through market structures wherever possible. At the same time, we aim to support and strengthen markets more generally by assisting in the development of enterprise and financial services, or rehabilitating infrastructure. This can include: giving cash grants; in-kind distributions (such as food aid); supporting people's small-holder agriculture; and, social protection. Working with closely with traders and other market actors helps to strengthen local economies and ensure sustainable responses.

Cash grants have proven particularly effective. Giving cash provides households with the options, empowerment, and flexibility to support economic recovery. Cash grants (or cash for work) also reduce the risk that families will sell off important assets, take on debt, or engage in dangerous activities in order to survive. Oxfam is one of the leading organisations in emergency cash or voucher distributions, and we are a founding member of the Cash Learning Partnership which is building momentum across several humanitarian sectors for recognition of the benefits of market-based programmes.

Cash is not always the solution, however. Food aid can save lives where food is unavailable any other way, and Oxfam also distributes seeds, fodder, livestock, animal care, agricultural and business skills training.

Cash and social protection

Cash programming remains one of our central ways of supporting food security and livelihoods in an emergency context and we will continue to use a cash-first approach where appropriate. However, the cash environment is changing and we need to ensure cash programming in our work evolves. Our goal is to continue at the forefront of cash programming, which will require investments in delivering cash at scale and in multi-sector cash mechanisms. We focus on the most vulnerable groups, such as those made homeless by crisis, and those below (or at risk of falling below) their livelihoods protection threshold in times of crisis.

In places affected by recurring crises, vulnerable communities can become poorer and poorer year after year as repeated disasters erode their assets. Social protection refers to initiatives that aim to protect people from the effects of chronic poverty and sudden shocks, and these initiatives are primarily the responsibility of the state. But in countries where a government is fragile, Oxfam  steps in with 'safety nets' - regular transfers of cash, food, or other resources. Other forms of social protection include insurance (working with private sector partners) and advocacy for legislation for ensure that social protection is seen as a right.