“Of the 1 billion people who are in food-stressed situations today, a significant proportion live in conflict-ridden countries,” said Raymond Gilpin
of the U.S. Institute of Peace at last Thursday’s launch
of USAID’s Feed the Future initiative
. “Most of them live in fear for their lives, in uncertain environments, and without clear hope for a better tomorrow.”
According to data from the World Food Programme
and the UCDP
/PRIO Armed Conflict Database
, of the countries with moderately to very high hunger rates in 2009, nearly a quarter experienced violent conflict in the previous year, and nearly half in the preceding two decades.
Gilpin said those working toward food security need to develop “conflict-sensitive” approaches, because “a lot of fundamentals that underlie this problem have a lot to do with conflict.” He noted several points, from production to purchasing power, at which conflict enters to disrupt the farm to mouth food cycle:
While conflict-sensitive approaches to food security are a necessary part of immediate conflict/post-conflict responses, if food security gains are to take hold, long-term commitments–based on creating markets, building capacity, and developing sustainability–are just as essential. To improve agricultural markets, Gilpin recommended: reducing tariff and non-tariff trade barriers, building income support and safety nets, helping farmers increase yields, and creating “regional rapid response” initiatives so that donors are less reliant on “exorbitantly high-priced” spot markets.
- Production: Be it forced or voluntary, internal or external, conflict often results in displacement. Farmers are not exempt, and when they’re not on their land they cannot produce.
- Delivery: “Food security isn’t always an issue of food availability; it’s an issue of accessibility,” he said. “When violent conflict affects a community or a region…it destroys infrastructure and weakens institutions.”
- Market access: In conflict zones, it is solitary or competing armed contingents, rather than the market’s invisible hand, that control access to supplies. “Groups who usually have the monopoly of force, control livelihoods and food and services,” he said.
- Purchasing power: Conflict disrupts economic activity, degrading both incomes and real wealth. Those remaining in the conflict area suffer from fewer opportunities to conduct business, while those choosing to migrate relinquish their assets. In instances where food is available to purchase, conflict reduces the number of individuals who can afford it.
Photo Credit: World Food Programme distribution site in Afghanistan, courtesy Flickr user USAID Afghanistan.