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Recurring Storms: Food Insecurity, Political Instability, and Conflict


Author: Emmy Simmons

Project Director: Kimberly Flowers


Executive Summary

Sharp rises in global food prices in 2007/08 jolted global political leaders out of any complacency they might have had regarding the future of food and agriculture. Street demonstrations and food riots broke out in more than 40 countries across the world, provoking unrest and violence in several places.

The L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, launched by the G-8 and the G-20 in 2009, brought new funding and energy to the task of quelling the “perfect storm” of food insecurity set off by spiking global food and fuel prices, financial and commodity market turmoil, the competition of biofuel production, and adverse weather in key agricultural regions. The L’Aquila Food Security Initiative successfully reversed a decades-long decline in international support for agricultural development.

To implement the L’Aquila Initiative, programs were put in place across the developing world to increase agricultural productivity, strengthen smallholder farmer linkages to commercial markets, and ensure that youth, women, and marginalized populations were full participants in the growth of the sector. But as this work went forward, new threats to sustainable food security became apparent.
Changes in global weather patterns are now projected to have potentially devastating impacts on agriculture in the coming years and decades. The rising “double burden” of malnutrition already threatens to dampen global progress toward better health. Demographic change—a bulging population of youth in Africa and rapid urbanization—is creating opportunities for an economic growth spurt that will affect food demand and organized protests when food security is endangered. Food safety issues, economic and social inequities, and food price volatility are seen as persistent disrupters of food systems and food security. Outbreaks of civil unrest and violent conflict have deprived millions of reliable access to food and challenged their physical security and social cohesion. Whether these threats will combine to drive repeats of 2007/08’s “perfect storm” of food insecurity in the future is unknown. But it is predicted that, singly or together, they already pose critical risks—likely to erupt in “recurring storms”—somewhere around the globe.

The L’Aquila Initiative was brought to a close in 2012. But in 2015, “ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture” was adopted as one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be accomplished by 2030. Strong international collaboration to build more productive and resilient households, nations, and food systems—to help them withstand the likely recurring storms of hunger, food insecurity, and agricultural market volatility—seems like the obvious path forward.

However, there is little agreement on what approaches will work best to build greater productivity and resilience for food security. This is especially the case in countries and regions where vulnerable households live in extreme poverty or food systems have been disrupted by conflict. Further, the needed international high-level political commitments to providing additional financing and developing effective, evidence-based solutions—the heart of the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative—are not assured.

This report reviews the prospects for increasing food security at the scale and pace anticipated in the 2030 SDGs. The stories of three ongoing conflicts—in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Syria— vividly underscore the explosiveness of situations in which people are unable to get the food they want and need. The local and global responses to these crises also signal the magnitude, diversity, and complexity of actions that will be urgently required, post-conflict, to build food systems sufficiently resilient to provide vulnerable populations sufficient access to safe, affordable, and nutritious food.
The experiences of several post-conflict countries highlight some of the critical issues that must be prioritized in order to regain sustainable food security: building peace and stability, establishing effective institutions of governance relevant to food and agriculture, and, at the same time, addressing immediate nutritional needs as well as preparing to handle emerging threats to food and agriculture.
As countries and their development partners learned in their joint efforts to realize the goals of the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, sustainable food security for all is not easily achieved. Even when national leaders are committed to pursuing market-based, inclusive agricultural growth as a clear pathway to improved food security, and there is relative peace and stability, many risks and uncertainties—storm clouds—loom on the horizon.

To meet the challenges of building more productive and resilient food systems in order to achieve food security for all, it is essential to renew and expand international collaboration in order to anticipate and prepare for recurring storms of food insecurity. In addition to following the L’Aquila example of high-level political commitment to a clear objective and the mobilization of an increased level of investments in food security, national and international political leaders should:

• Establish an annual high-level summit for reviewing progress on global food security;

• Work jointly to develop strategic plans that will enable populations in conflict-affected countries to recover and to strengthen their resilience to future threats to food security; and • Seek a better balance of effort among the many actors involved in food security.


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