Food, Security, Justice and Peace

"A peaceful and stable environment in every
country is a fundamental condition for the
attainment of sustainable food security."

World Food Summit Plan of Action

Conflict and food insecurity

1. Armed conflicts are enemies of food security. There is a well established correlation between the exposure of countries to external or internal conflicts, and the deterioration or long-term stagnation in their food security. Most conflicts, and especially the internal conflicts that have now become the dominant model of mass violence, mainly affect rural areas and their populations. They disrupt food production through physical destruction and plundering of crops and livestock, harvests and food reserves; they prevent and discourage farming; they interrupt the lines of transportation through which food exchanges, and even humanitarian relief, take place; they destroy farm capital, conscript young and able-bodied males, taking them away from farm work and suppress income earning occupations. The impact of conflicts on food security often lasts long after the violence has subsided, because assets have been destroyed, people killed or maimed, populations displaced, the environment damaged, and health, education and social services shattered; still more awesome are the landmines which litter agricultural land, kill and cripple people and deter them from farming for years -even decades- after all violence has ceased.

2. The last 15 years have seen a large number of food emergencies arising from both natural and human-induced factors. The number of food emergencies has fluctuated from between 20 and 30 in most years, but has tended to increase during the 1990s, particularly during the latter part of the decade. This increase has been associated primarily with a rise of conflicts. Figure 1 shows a discernible shift in the causes of food emergencies. Whereas human-induced disasters contributed to only about 10 percent of the total emergencies in 1984, by the end of the century they were a determining factor in more than 50 percent of cases. Of the $1204 M spent by the World Food Programme in 2000 for relief operations (compared with $98 M in 1978), $715 M were for man-made emergencies and protracted operations in support of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and refugees.

Figure 1: Trends in causes of food emergency

Undisplayed Graphic

Source: FAO, The State of Food and Agriculture 2000.

3. The most important impacts of all conflicts, and of all natural disasters, are the suffering, injury and death of men, women and children1. Yet, direct material losses are also important, for they undermine the ability of conflict survivors to subsist and recover. This is most obvious in agriculture, where the destruction of crops and livestock results, at best, in reduced food security and at worst, in famine and death. Smallholder agriculture - the basic livelihood of the rural poor - is usually hit the hardest; small farmers and the already poor often lose the few assets and tools they have, joining the masses of hungry population. The economic losses, social disturbance and the disruptions to food supply and access associated with conflicts can be disastrous, especially in low-income countries where there are no effective social safety nets. A recent attempt at measuring conflict-related agricultural output losses for all developing countries showed that they are extensive: for the 28 years from 1970 to 1997, estimated losses amount to almost $121 billion at 1995 prices, or an average of $4.3 billion per year (Figure 2)2. This can be compared with the costs of raising nutrition to minimum required levels: using the notional estimate that it would cost approximately $13 per caput/year to provide enough food to feed the undernourished at a minimally adequate level3, the same amount of money could have ensured adequate food intake for 330 million undernourished people each year. A decrease in undernutrition on such a scale would outstrip the combined impact of all food aid. In both the 1980s and the 1990s, conflict-induced losses in developing countries exceeded the value of total food aid of all types to those countries. For the full decade of the 1980s, the former were about $37 billion and the latter $29 billion (both in current prices).

Figure 2: Losses in agricultural output resulting from conflict in developing countries, 1970-1997

Source: FAO, The State of Food and Agriculture 2000.

4. While conflicts are the underlying cause of acute or lasting food insecurity situations in many countries, it is equally true that socio-economic inequities and inequalities, systematic ethnic discrimination, denial of human rights, disputes over political participation or long-standing grievances over the allocation of land and other resources, are critical factors that may lead to the outbreak of conflicts, often in combination with poor-governance, exploitation by unfettered ambition or greed. In addition to addressing conflicts when they mature and erupt, at a dramatic human and economic cost, responding to their root causes is a crucial contribution toward the preservation of peace. Sustainable development, by redressing the inner causes that make society a fertile terrain for conflict, including food insecurity, poverty and lack of human development in its various dimensions, is a building stone for peace. The development of the rural regions, home to most of the world's poor and undernourished, plays an important role in the promotion of a peaceful and stable environment, where opportunities are created for a more equal access to physical, natural, financial and institutional resources for sustainable livelihoods. It is obvious, however, that sustainable development cannot take place in the midst of actual or potential conflict, and that protracted conflicts destroy the achievements of development.

The changing nature of conflicts

5. The downturn in world military expenditure that had followed the end of the cold war came to an end by 1998. After a decline by 37%, world military expenditure rebounded by 2% in 1999 and 3% in 2000, reaching some $800 billion. The increase took place in all regions, with Africa and South Asia registering the steepest increases among the developing regions (respectively +37% and +23% from 1998 to 2000), and Russia and the USA accounting for the largest volume increases. New orders placed in the arms trade, the first five ranking suppliers being the permanent members of the Security Council, grew in 2000 for the third consecutive year to $37 billion - nearly 70% of it directed to developing countries, a stable pattern of the 1990's4.

6. The nature of conflicts has changed markedly in the late part of the twentieth century. The state-against-state model is becoming the exception: of the 56 major armed conflicts registered in the decade 1990-20005, only three were of an interstate nature; all others were internal conflicts, even though in 14 of them foreign troops were engaged on one or the other side. Moreover, while the first half of the century was dominated by warfare between rich states, most contemporary conflicts take place overwhelmingly in the world's poorer countries, with Africa and Asia accounting for the greatest number of internal conflicts in the past decade. Civil wars and conflicts are indeed a major cause of development failure in the developing world, a point that is increasingly being emphasised by aid donors and international agencies6. Easily tradable natural resources -particularly minerals- can be used to finance warring parties, instead of nurturing development, and "development efforts are not only halted or damaged, but actively targeted and undermined"7.

7. Technology has always been used to renovate and diversify the array of weapons and other means of violence used in conflicts. Arms-rich conflict areas and state disruption fuel the dissemination of weapons of all kinds, and the deadly violence of conflicts appears to have escalated with technology. However, the spread of small arms is also having devastating effects in disputes over land and pastoral issues, even within countries that are not considered to be in conflict. The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in addressing the Security Council on the impact of small arms and light weapons on people and societies throughout the world, underlined: "the fact that small arms require such minimal training has surely played a role in the recruitment of some 300,000 child combatants around the world"8.

8. Information technology, in itself a new target and channel for cyber-terrorism, also makes sophisticated means of communication accessible to violence-prone individuals and groups, and facilitates access to technical information on war and terrorism devices, as well as contacts and networking for organising violent action, and allows for the dissemination of violence-inducing propaganda.

9. Internal conflicts, be they of an ethnic or revolutionary nature, or associated with a failure of the state or disruptive changes in regime, emerge where politically organized groups, national, ethnic or other minorities, or warlords and other violent elements in society, rebel against governments, often also fighting among themselves. This pattern of conflict makes it increasingly difficult to identify who are the protagonists, and which are the lines of authority through which to seek to mediate and put an end to the conflict.

10. In this new environment it becomes difficult to distinguish combatants from civilians. Combatants are no longer uniformed soldiers under state control. Nor are the combatants the main victims of conflicts: peaceful citizens -women, children, and the elderly- become the major target (possibly 90% of the victims9) of the warring parties. In addition to those killed or wounded, up-rooted populations run to millions - about 22 million in 150 countries by the end of 2001, including refugees and asylum seekers outside their home country, as well as returnees and others.

11. The international mechanisms that had been developed to control, prevent and resolve conflicts were created to deal with the conventional state-state model of conflict: they have great difficulties in adjusting to the new patterns of collective violence, which mostly takes place within a sovereign territory, with the responsibility of the government being sometimes unclear. At the same time, however, many of the current conflicts have significant regional and international dimensions and implications. Even though the `zone of turmoil' is largely located in developing countries, the industrialized ones are not entirely insulated.

12. The distinction between intra-state and inter-state wars is therefore no longer straightforward. Most wars occurring within a single state tend to transcend its boundaries - affecting neighbouring countries, or with some external or transnational parties located far away from the site of the struggle. Negative spillovers to neighbouring nations result from collateral damage from nearby battles, severance of input supply lines, disruptions to trade, heightened risk perceptions by would-be investors, and resources spent to assist refugees. In most cases, people flee across immediate borders, sometimes destabilizing entire regions, leading to further conflict and more refugees. Accelerated flows of refugees and asylum seekers, escalating costs of international or regional peace-restoration and maintenance efforts, international terrorism and destabilisation of the global economy affect all nations, rich or poor, close to or far away from the war scene. The collapse of tourism and transport sectors that followed the unprecedented 11th September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States is a striking example of the latter.

Peace, food security and justice

13. "Hunger anywhere threatens peace everywhere."10 Poverty and deprivation are seen as underlying causes of endemic conflict and civil violence.11 "Persistent poverty and oppression can lead to helplessness and despair. When governments fail to meet the most basic needs of these people, these failed states can become havens of terror."12 Much of deprivation is rural, with seven out of ten of the world's poor (less than $1 income per day) living in rural areas; among those, the undernourished represent the most extreme level and form of poverty and must constitute the priority target of poverty reduction efforts.

14. The various forms of inter-state competition, national, ethnic or religious conflicts, disputes for control over territories or resources, and even the legacy of imperialism and colonialism in modern times, continue to take their toll even after the end of the Cold War, which had for long fed and shaped many of the violent clashes taking place around the world. Conflicts over natural resources, especially minerals, are becoming relatively more frequent (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Conflict Issues

Undisplayed Graphic

Source: Heidelberg Institute of International Conflict Research (1999), Kosimo database.

15. In some cases, there is competition for control of highly valuable minerals that also finance war; in other settings, the concentrated ownership of diffuse resources like land and water may lead to conflicts, as underlined by the UN Secretary General: "Recent conflicts and farm invasions in southern African countries and the struggles between pastoralists and sedentary farmers in eastern Africa underline the importance of access to land-based resources by the poor as a basis for peace and sustainable development. Similarly, land concentration, coupled with poverty in Latin America, is one of the key issues underlying long-term conflict in that region. Where the need to meet family food requirements forces people to deplete natural resources or rely on degraded natural resources, ...natural resource development activities and other land and resource management interventions...can help prevent conflicts that are based on or related to tensions over limited natural resources" 13.

16. Many avenues must be followed to prevent conflicts and restore peace; but to make the resolution of conflicts a lasting outcome and to prevent new fuel being added to the sleeping fire of violence, it is necessary to address not simply conflicts but "the deep-rooted socio-economic, cultural, environmental, institutional and other structural causes that often underlie the immediate political symptoms of conflicts"14. Food insecurity is one of them.

17. The issue of the ultimate causes of recent or older collective violence and conflicts has been the subject of considerable scrutiny by scholars, and a host of varied interpretations have been proposed: all these theories have used aspects of social transformations as the dominant explanation for violent collective action, in the rural milieu in particular15. Modern conflicts, however, illustrate that in many of the poorest countries, severely affected by endemic strife, social convulsions are the result of the dramatic inadequacy of economic development to meet the growing aspirations of rising populations. The deep dissatisfaction of segments of society (both urban and rural) that ultimately challenge the state is a main reason for violence. The inadequate response of the state to such challenges, due to the development of political institutions lagging behind social and economic change, can also be part of the explanation of violence16. Democratic governance on one hand, and vitality of civil society organizations on the other, are critical ingredients for defusing the accumulation of grievances within society.

18. Conflicts are rooted in the sense of frustration, injustice and despair, which pervades large parts of society and is fuelled by poverty, inequality and discrimination. What triggers revolt is not only "absolute" but "relative" poverty as well; and not only does inequality rise in our times -but also the conscience of inequality, which many have-nots identify with injustice. While almost every village and hamlet in the world is now connected through radio, and often television, to global information, these channels of communication carry messages designed to induce higher levels of consumption by those who have the means to acquire them; they ostentatiously display lifestyles and consumer goods that are far beyond the reach of the vast majority of people in poor countries. One consequence of the globalisation of information and communications is that income disparities are now felt not only within the ambit of each national society, but also at a global scale. While there appears to be no generalised and discernable trend in within-country income inequality, international inequality has dramatically increased the gap between the richest and poorest regions -a gap that would appear even greater by comparing individual countries. In 1960, most developing regions had per capita incomes (expressed in Purchasing Power Parity) worth about 1/10th of the average for OECD countries; by the end of the century, the gap for the least developed countries and Sub-Saharan Africa had doubled, to almost 1/20th.

19. One consequence of these developments in both the level and the awareness of inequality is that large segments of the population, especially the youth, in poor and rich countries alike, become convinced that the world in which they are to live is fundamentally unjust. The fatalist concept that "being poor is your fate, because the world is like that", has lost a lot of ground, making it easier for the promoters of violence to harness support and enrol followers. The transformation, in recent years, of the meetings of the powerful leaders of the world into risky encounters that mobilise a war-like apparatus of protection shows how quickly the violence of protest against felt inequity has been gaining ground, building upon a widespread new pessimistic perception of the world and how it is governed. But these disturbing trends, that easily capture attention, should not hide the vibrant and growing vitality of civil society organizations in mobilizing themselves voluntarily for enhancing awareness of local and global issues of development, sustainability, justice and peace; for debating new and creative ways of action; for embarking on a multitude of constructive initiatives at the local, national, regional and international levels.

The contribution of food security and agricultural development to a peaceful world

20. The fight for peace, the fight against social insecurity and conflicts, must comprise determined action against poverty, inequality, injustice, and against the most extreme and most dependence-inducing form of poverty - being hungry, insecure of today's and tomorrow's food. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in their General Comment on the right to adequate food, prepared in response to the request by the World Food Summit to "clarify the content of the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger", affirmed that "the right to adequate food is indivisibly linked to the inherent dignity of the human person and is indispensable for the fulfilment of other human rights enshrined in the International Bill of Human Rights. It is also inseparable from social justice, requiring the adoption of appropriate economic, environmental and social policies, at both the national and international levels, oriented to the eradication of poverty and the fulfilment of all human rights for all" 17.

21. Of serious concern, the regular monitoring conducted by FAO of progress towards the 1996 WFS target "to reduce by half the number of undernourished in the world no later than 2015" continues to show that, year after year, such progress is insufficient and uneven. According to the most recent data, the number of undernourished has been declining by 6 million a year on average over the last decade, thereby raising to 22 million per year the size of future reductions required if the target is to be reached on time18. But the same study, noting that a few countries have significantly improved since 1990 their food security situation while the majority have suffered deterioration, reveals once again that where resources are available for agriculture development, hunger recedes, while it gains ground where such resources diminish (Table 1).

Table 1: Changes in resources directed to agriculture by country grouping performance in reducing the number of undernourished, 1990-92 to 1997-99

Country grouping

Net capital stock in agriculture
per worker

External assistance to agriculture
per worker




Best performers



Worst performers



Source: FAO, The State of Food Insecurity 2001.

22. Looking ahead, prospective studies conducted by FAO further conclude that it is now becoming unlikely, unless decisive shifts are made in agricultural development and food security policies, that the WFS target would be met by 2015, and possibly even by 203019. Yet, never before has the world been so well equipped with the financial and technical resources to ensure that all people have adequate access to food. The question then is -does it lack in political commitment?

23. The international community is bracing itself to respond to the new challenges. Throughout the global Conferences of the 1990s and at the Millennium Assembly, the reduction and elimination of poverty and hunger has emerged as the overarching aim of development in the twenty-first century. In the words of the Monterrey Consensus, "peace and development reinforce each other". What had been accepted for centuries as a normal, if regrettable, part of human condition it is now considered a scandal that has to be eradicated. The global conscience, thanks to worldwide instant communications, is alerted to distant losses of life, due to natural or human-caused disasters, that would have gone unnoticed beyond the neighbourhood in earlier times. Nowadays, the boundaries of moral concern are those of the planet.

24. Eliminating hunger is not just a moral imperative: it also makes economic sense, increasing productivity, raising incomes, creating jobs and adding to the demand for goods and services throughout the economy. It is also a necessary contribution to the many avenues that need to be followed to reduce violence and promote lasting peace. As concluded in a study commissioned by Future Harvest, a foundation established by former US President Jimmy Carter, "rehabilitation of agriculture is a central condition for development, reducing poverty, preventing environmental destruction -and for reducing violence. Poor conditions for agriculture hold grave implications for socio-economic development and sustainable peace. We also see good governance as crucial in building healthy conditions for agriculture, and thus in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty, scarcity and violence. The central issues are not merely technical: they relate directly to the way human beings organize their affairs and how they cope with natural and man-made crises"20.

25. Policies need to be put in place to promote growth and distribute its benefits broadly across society. Agricultural development, as part of economic and social changes that give the poor greater power over the productive resources and the social factors that shape their livelihoods, is indispensable to the enhanced food security of the rural population and to a more peaceful and stable environment. Equitable growth and pro-poor policies are critical not only to prevent the outbreak of conflicts but also in immediate post-conflict situations.

26. FAO's mandate to raise levels of nutrition and standards of living and to better the condition of rural populations, "and thus to contribute toward an expanding world economy and ensuring humanity's freedom from hunger21" charges it with a particular responsibility to help meet the World Food Summit objective of eliminating food insecurity both in its chronic and emergency manifestations, drawing upon synergies and collaboration with the other Rome-based UN agencies, the technical and financial institutions of the UN system, the regional organizations and in partnerships with NGO/CSOs. FAO endeavors to foster sustainable agricultural and rural development, with a particular attention to small-scale producers and the agriculture-dependent rural poor in low-income food-deficit countries. It collects, analyzes and disseminates, for the attention of the international community, data and information concerning food insecurity and the related potential threats to vulnerable people and groups. It takes action to help disaster-affected rural populations recover the capacity to care for themselves through agricultural rehabilitation.

27. Peace is a cherished good of humanity. But it is a good that many people have not enjoyed for decades. Millions of people have been deprived of peace for much of their foreshortened life, while an even greater number - possibly all humankind - can feel the threat of being severed from peace and stability - if not for themselves, for their children. Good in itself, peace - true, lasting peace - is also a symptom of well-being, a symptom of people living in harmony with themselves and others. Otherwise peace can be no more than elusive, an appearance maintained through repressed violence, undermined by the sense of frustration and impotence, and which will eventually be threatened by revolt.

28. The call for action to eliminate hunger, poverty and injustice that form the social bed of violence, is getting louder every moment - action at the local and national level by governments and their partners in civil society, action at the regional and international levels by governments in cooperation among themselves, and by the inter- and non-governmental institutions and organizations. Action is needed to promote and support the development of well governed societies, where all segments of society, women and men equally, share rights and obligations equitably. Action is required to remove the social, institutional, political and economic barriers that prevent the most vulnerable from having their voice heard, from participating to decision-making affecting their lives, from accessing productive resources, from enjoying human development and the right to exert their initiative; and for those momentarily or lastingly deprived of the means to sustain their livelihoods, action is needed for them to benefit from national and international solidarity. Action is necessary to incorporate peace-oriented considerations into macro-economic planning and international financial and structural assistance, and systematically to take into account the ways in which government policies and development aid are likely to influence food security, equity and poverty. The ways and means of such action are those carefully spelled out, five years ago, by the international community assembled to sanction the World Food Summit Plan of Action. Time is running out for making words blossom into deeds.


1 More than 4 million people have perished in violent conflicts since 1989, and 37 millions have been displaced either inside their countries or outside as refugees. Anti-personnel land mines claim more than 25,000 casualties each year and obstruct reconstruction and development (World Bank, 2000).

2 These are estimates of war losses limited to the direct impact on agricultural output, which do not include capital losses or indirect effects (FAO, The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2000).

3 FAO (1996), "Food security and food assistance" World Food Summit Technical Background Documents, #13.

4 Data on military expenditure and arms trade is taken from the following sources: Bonn International Centre for Conversion, Conversion Survey 2001; Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Annual Report 2001; International Institute of Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2001/2002; U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfer data base.

5 A 'major armed conflict' is defined as the use of armed force between the military forces of two or more governments, or of one government and at least one organized armed group, resulting in the battle-related deaths of at least 1000 people in any single year and in which the incompatibility concerns control of government and/or territory (SIPRI yearbook, 2001).

6 Addison T. and S. Mansoob Murshed (2001), "From conflict to reconstruction: reviving the social contract", WIDER discussion paper n. 2001/48; DFID (2001), "The causes of conflict in Africa"; World Bank (2001) "Development cooperation and Conflict"; UN (2000) "Report of the UN-SG on the work of the organization".

7 State Secretary Sigrun Møgedal, Ministry of Foreign Affairs-Norway (2001), "The Economics of Civil War", paper presented at the Conference on Economics and Politics of Civil War, Oslo, Norway.

8 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects (2001).

9 World Bank, World Development Report 1997; UNDP, Human Development Report 1998.

10 Swaminathan, M.S. (1994), "Uncommon opportunities: an agenda for peace and equitable development", Report of the International Commission on Peace and Food, London.

11 The Bruntland Commission (1987), "Our Common Future", Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development; UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros Ghali (1995) "Agenda for Development".

12 U.S. President George W. Bush (2002), speech delivered at the Inter-American Development Bank.

13 Report of the UN Secretary General to Security Council on Prevention of armed conflict, June 2001 (A/55/985-S/2001/574).

14 Ibid.

15 de Soysa, I. and N.P.Gleditsch (1999), "To cultivate peace: agriculture in a world of conflict", Report of the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO).

16 Huntington (1968), "Political order and changing societies".

17 CESCR (1999), General comment 12 (E/C.12/1999/5).

18 FAO, The State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) 2001.

19 FAO (forthcoming), "Agriculture towards 2015/2030".

20 de Soysa I. and N.P. Gleditsch, ibid. Authors' italics.

21 Preamble to FAO Constitution.



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