Preparing for the first ever Food Systems Summit in September 2021, the UN member states have been asked to organize national dialogues to provide insight and identify potential areas for development. In Sweden, a series of three dialogues focus on different topics connected to the summit’s action tracks in order to discuss different aspects of the transformation of food systems and what actions Sweden can take.
The second Swedish global dialogue discussed the connection between food insecurity and conflict as well as the need for stronger resilience building. The dialogue gathered a broad stakeholder representation from academia, civil society organisations, Governmental agencies and private sector, and covered the summit’s Action Track 5: Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress. This article highlights five actions that can address food insecurity and support peacebuilding.
According to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), armed conflict is the main driver of acute hunger for as many as 77 million people in 22 countries. Furthermore, the evidence linking food insecurity and conflict continues to increase. There is a two-way connection between food insecurity and conflict. On one hand, by fueling poverty and hunger, food insecurity creates the conditions that can trigger conflict and political and social instability. On the other hand, food security can contribute to the prospects of peace.
In 2018, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2417 that explicitly addressed the link between conflict and hunger and recognized the need to break the vicious cycle of conflict and insecurity. However, today people in Yemen, South Sudan and north-eastern Nigeria face starvation due to armed conflicts.
The international community needs to step up the efforts to prevent conflicts and do more to end ongoing conflicts such as in the Tigray region in Ethiopia. Women and small-scale farmers – often one and the same group in poor countries – holds the key to regaining food security. Hunger is a man-made problem, so it can be solved.
1. Close the knowledge gap
In a macro perspective the connection between conflict and food security is well known but the details are, if not shrouded in mystery, still uncertain. Similar to climate change, the big picture in the world is well known and described by experts, but we lack knowledge on how a certain area will be hit by droughts, floods, heat waves or other shocks. In the same way, the connection between conflict and food security differs on the ground. To close the gaps in knowledge and understanding we first need to consider risk management, the earlier the better. The second step is to choose a realignment according to analytical, political and organizational matters. Finally, the third step is to allocate enough resources, something that is overwhelmingly neglected today. To succeed in closing the gaps all stakeholders on all levels have to cooperate. Sweden as a donor can help with research, methodology and transparency in supply chains.
2. Learn from the Covid-19 crisis
The Covid-19 pandemic exposed inequalities in our food systems and is a reminder of how the most vulnerable are always hit the hardest. Roadside traders, people relying on temporary work or dependent on other uncertain income lost their livelihoods due to the effects of Covid-19. Children lost education and school meals – at times their only proper daily meal – when schools are closed. For the UN World Food Programme (WFP) the pandemic shows how important food security is. In the short term, the capacity of food distribution, cash transfers and skills to find employment was scaled up and quick action was possible. But in the long-term, food assistance is not a solution, instead resilient food systems must be built.
3. Build resilient food systems
Very few small-scale farmers can compete on the world food market, whether they live in conflict areas or not. Local food systems are much more adaptable, robust and sustainable. The producer is closer to the consumer and the infrastructure is fairly easy to maintain. Local food systems also provide an opportunity to incorporate wild plants, like berries, mushrooms and nuts, that can be collected from nearly forests. This scale of operations makes it easier to prioritize diversity and monitor effectiveness of implementation. A challenge is to involve politicians in the development dialogue for impact on food insecurity even though some of them might be part of conflicts. Food insecurity is increasing so we have to work quickly on building resilient food systems.
4. Use bottom-up perspectives
The preparations for the Food Systems Summit have focused on international dialogues to solve overall problems on national levels. While international experts from different fields gather to find the path forward, there is a strong need to also give space to bottom-up perspectives. People who face the effects of conflicts every day and have experience from agricultural production in conflict struck areas should be involved in the global food systems transformation process. They know what actions might be feasible and possible to implement for a sustainable food systems transformation – whether it involves de-mining of the fields, strengthening land and seed rights or practical matters like irrigation. This approach will also guarantee that development initiatives fit into the local context and responds to the needs of the people, instead of forcing into application foreign values and approaches, which can result in harmful unintended consequences.
5. Work with women
Time and again women have built food security and resilience where there has been conflict, even in refugee camps. “To every man-led problem there is a woman-led solution”, as key-note speaker Amir Abdullah, Deputy Executive Director at WFP expressed it. Therefore, women should not only be involved but also be in the lead. To succeed, women must be empowered and get access to financial resources such as land and money. Governments need to invest and develop social security and safety nets.
Reporting by Maria Larsson, Freelance Journalist.