Protecting livelihoods and safeguarding food security in conflict contexts

Tuesday, 7 August 2018 17:57 GMT

Zeinab, 14, (C) washes dishes as her mother Abdir Hussein gestures and her nephews play at a camp for internally displaced people from drought hit areas in Dollow, Somalia April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

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Over the past ten years, the number of violent conflicts around the world has increased significantly, having a negative impact on food production and availability.

Since 2000, almost half of all civil conflicts around the world have taken place in Africa, where land issues have played a significant role in 90 percent of the 30 interstate conflicts.  

Competition over land and water can trigger conflict, threatening the welfare and the food security of the most vulnerable. 

Such competition is often generated in areas where the natural resources are eroded or overused, or where climate change is affecting local ecosystems most. Moreover, conflict over land and water can fuel even greater conflict when it compounds poverty, unemployment or marginalization.

Over the past ten years, the number of violent conflicts—particularly internal conflicts—around the world has increased significantly, in particular in countries already facing food insecurity, hitting rural communities the hardest and having a negative impact on food production and availability.

Of the 815 million chronically food-insecure and malnourished people in the world, the vast majority – 489 million – live in countries affected by conflict. The proportion is even more pronounced for undernourished children. Almost 122 million, or 75 percent, of stunted children under age five live in countries affected by conflict. 

Achieving the first two Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—eliminating extreme poverty and zero hunger—will not be possible unless the challenges posed by continuing conflict are addressed—in which land and water are central. 

Short term, stop gap measures are not enough. Lasting peacebuilding requires combining sustainable land tenure and water security with access to services and markets, as well as complementary social protection programmes, which provide immediate access to food and income as well as a measure of risk management. 

In particular targeting women as the first beneficiaries of programs to secure their land tenure rights is a fundamental step to build sustainable household livelihoods and resilience, contribute to peacebuilding and to promote food security. Both in times of conflict and stability, FAO plays a unique role in protecting, restoring and developing the livelihoods of farmers, fishers, herders foresters and others who depend upon agriculture and natural resources for sustenance, security and prosperity. 

FAO helps prevent conflict over access to natural resources by using capacity development, partnerships, policy support, globally accepted voluntary guidelines and strategic employment of technical staff. 

FAO has a three-pronged approach in support of sustainable peace: first, working on the drivers of conflict to minimize or positively transform and resolve conflicts driven by natural resources, agriculture or food; second, work in conflict to save lives and livelihoods; and third, work through conflict by advancing sustainable development, including reducing poverty, addressing inequality, promoting sustainable livelihoods and natural resource management.

FAO has taken practical steps along these lines of a number of countries. Land issues are often instrumental in consolidating peace in a post conflict context. We have provided crucial support on land tenure in countries such as Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Philippines, Angola and Mozambique going through a process of post-conflict reconciliation. 

Conflicts over land and water among pastoralists, agro-pastoralists and other communities fuel much of the instability of the Sahel region and other regions in Central and Eastern Africa.  In Niger, FAO is working with partners to prevent the outbreak of conflicts related to natural resources. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, FAO has worked with partners to reduce disputes over land. 

Forest dependent communities, often composed of indigenous peoples or ethnic minorities, face historic marginalization and political exclusion, leading to an increased probability of conflict. FAO is working in countries such as Indonesia, Peru and Uganda to secure tenure rights for forest dependent communities as part of a process to facilitate conflict prevention and resolution. 

A key tool in FAO’s approach to addressing the role of land in conflict is the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. Adopted by all UN member countries since 2012, the guidelines are a set of principles and good practices for improved land governance. They provide guidance for conflict resolution for countries to respond through peaceful, fair, reliable, gender-sensitive, accessible and non-discriminatory ways of promptly resolving disputes over legitimate tenure rights to land, fisheries and forests. FAO has supported the implementation of the guidelines in a number of countries including Colombia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Sudan.

Local struggles over land and water drive a large share of conflicts globally, and particularly in Sub Saharan Africa, threatening to derail collective efforts to achieve the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. Sustainable development is not possible without building peace, and peace is not possible without long term, comprehensive measures at sustainable development, with land and water at the center.

José Graziano da Silva has been leading the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation since 2012. He has worked on food security, rural development and agriculture for over 30 years. He has written and edited 26 books on rural development, food security and agrarian economics.