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Conflict is a major cause and, in some cases, result of humanitarian crises. Conflict frequently overlaps with underlying social inequalities, poverty and high levels of vulnerability. Conflicts are direct threats to food security as they cause massive loss of life and therefore loss of workforce (which is particularly important as agriculture tends to rely heavily on human labour), loss of vital livestock, and loss of land.
Access to and use of natural resources – like water and land for grazing or crop production – are key sources of conflict. In countries such as the Sudan and South Sudan, tens of thousands of people are displaced from their land each year as a direct result of resource-based conflicts. Through efforts such as rebuilding water sources and setting up water management committees, FAO is encouraging pastoral and farming communities in these countries to work together in deciding how resources are used and better manage them for the future.
Conflicts displace millions of people each year, often forcing them to flee with nothing and making them extremely reliant on the communities that offer them shelter and humanitarian aid. This can place unsustainable pressure on hosting communities that often face high levels of food insecurity and struggle to make ends meet. In Yemen, where many conflict-affected herders risked their lives to bring their animals when they fled violence, FAO focused on providing livestock feed and animal health services to protect these vital assets. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where farmers have been uprooted from their homes by fighting, FAO is helping to kick-start food production by helping returnees, refugees and host families to produce and sell more food by providing quality seeds and tools, along with technical training in improved agricultural techniques.
From an agricultural emergency response point of view, it is extremely difficult to prepare for and respond to a conflict – insecurity can threaten the lives of local populations and humanitarian workers, reducing their access to affected communities. Despite this, FAO continues to help vulnerable communities to prepare for, mitigate against and respond to the threat of conflicts. In Syria, for example, FAO is working with the Government and the World Food Programme to assess the impact of the conflict on agriculture, food security and livelihoods in an effort to overcome the rapid rise in food insecurity among conflict-affected populations. Former soldiers in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and South Sudan are receiving help to build new, productive lives in the form of farming inputs, livestock and training in income-generating activities like blacksmithing, reducing the likelihood of them returning to violence.
In Afghanistan, a major part of FAO’s response to the ongoing conflict has been its support to the local seed production industry, which ensures farmers can get better quality seeds, even in areas that humanitarian workers cannot access. In addition, using a network of local partners, FAO was able to provide cash-for-work and other assistance to famine-affected populations in southern Somalia, in areas to which other partners had little or no access.