HLEFBy JARED KNOLL

Cullen Hendrix and Henk-Jan Brinkman authored a candid but comprehensive report in September 2012 for the HLEF forum on Food Insecurity in Protracted Crisis, to compel greater focus on the interdependent forces of food insecurity, violence, and genocidal processes. Last month, they expanded their findings and published them in a revised paper, Food Insecurity and Conflict Dynamics: Causal Linkages and Complex Feedbacks, in which they focus on salient and emerging cases in the Sahel region of Africa. The questions which need considering are, “What lineages exist between food insecurity and conflict?”, “What role can food security interventions play?”, and How can food security-related international policies be crafted in such a way to prevent genocidal processes?” The authors argue for the possibility of responsible interventions and effective policy to transform violence and insecurity into stability and peace, given the international community’s willingness and commitment to encouraging peacebuilding with mindfulness to food security.

Food insecurity, violent conflict, and genocidal processes are interconnected and each support and exacerbate the others, the report argues, with conflict itself being a cause of food insecurity, and food insecurity potentially causing and increasing conflict. The real complexity comes into play when, in some cases, a food security intervention can resolve and even transform conflict by alleviating grievances and desperation, but in other cases it can escalate the violent efforts of a rebellion that would otherwise have insufficient resources to wage war.

  • Chronic food insecurity: a persistent lack of food, either due to empty markets, or food prices too high for a population to afford it. Can lead to grievances against the state, which may lead to rebellion and open conflict.
  • Acute food insecurity: sudden lack of food, such as from a draught or crop failure. Can be a direct cause of rebellion, especially when scarce resources are distributed unfairly, but can also reduce a dissatisfied population’s capacity to rebel if militants cannot maintain logistics.
  • Strategic denial: deliberate disruption or blockade of food, either from local sources or foreign aid. The report focuses on the case of South Kourdofan as an example, where two years ago the Sudanese army closed off the World Food Programme’s stockpiles, and somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 refugees were displaced to surrounding states.

These variances each require an entirely different approach; the report urges that interventions may have positive or negative impacts in each circumstance, depending on steps taken. Any policy-based solution is further stymied by the type of conflict. In a communal conflict with acute food insecurity, an intervention may be likely to transform the conflict, but in a civil one it can reescalate. In chronic situations, the opposite results can be true. Intervening in food prices can have a very different effect if the state in crisis is democratic, or non-democratic. This is all before taking into consideration cultural, historical and sociopolitical factors specific to a region.

Recommendations to “The International Community” for Peacebuilding and Prevention

  1. Act as a third party to negotiations, encouraging inclusive political processes and DDR.
  2. Ensure food security interventions address issues of inequality on as permanent a basis as possible, through measures such as school feeding programmes and agricultural extension services.
  3. Support development capacities and public administration systems by empowering access to social services in vulnerable communities.
  4. Take an outcome-centric approach with safety net systems, like food-for-work programmes, that focus on (re)building infrastructure and improving sustainable livelihoods.
  5. Aim to improve social cohesion by working closely with communities and encouraging participatory programmes, which can help reintegrate IDPs.

The Hendrix-Brinkman report and subsequent publication may not be breaking new ground or providing revelation, but it achieved what it’s meant to – comprehensively break down a highly complex set of factors contributing to violence conflict and genocidal processes, and make a call to policymakers in the international community to integrate a food insecurity lens. The authors’ recommendations aren’t complex or revolutionary – their stark simplicity should be a challenge for all members of the international community to turn knowledge into action.

Photo: fao.org

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