World: Peace and food security – Investing in resilience to sustain rural livelihoods amid conflict


South Sudan has been mired in civil conflict since December 2013.
Some 2.8 million people – almost a quarter of the population – are now facing acute food and nutrition insecurity. One of them, Nyalen Kuong, was on an intravenoxqus feeding drip. “I’m not sick, I’m hungry,” she told the camp hospital doctor. Nyaalen lost her husband, two sons and all the family’s cattle during an attack on her village.
After the attack, she took shelter with her daughters and many other families on islands protected by miles of swamps. She was suffering from diarrhoea caused by acute malnutrition. She ate little food, and her body was no longer able to absorb even the meagre nutrients available. After treatment, Nyalen returned to her daughters and, with the help of equipment distributed by FAO, she is now able to catch fish in order to survive, and has the makings of a new livelihood.

Nyalen’s case is but one example among millions of how conflict causes hunger, destroys individual and household resilience, and undermines rural livelihoods. For many people affected by conflict, agriculture is their only means of survival. Addressing this requires life-saving interventions, but also requires support to livelihoods and resilience, even in abject and insecure conditions.

Most conflicts mainly affect rural areas and their populations. This is particularly true for civil conflicts, which have tripled in recent years, and which today are the most common form of armed conflict, and increasingly prolonged. Such conflicts damage agriculture, disrupt food production and food systems, fuel the plundering of crops and livestock, and cause loss of assets and incomes. As a result, they are major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition, both acute and chronic.

The proportion of undernourished people is almost three times as high in countries in conflict and protracted crisis than in other developing countries.
Approximately 167 million undernourished people live in countries in protracted crisis today – roughly one fifth of all people suffering from hunger. Malnutrition tends to affect children the most and, when it happens at a critical age may cause life-long mental and physical handicaps. Conflict has lasting, multi-generational impacts on human development.

Food insecurity can trigger conflict: the sharp increases in food prices in 2008, accompanied by cuts in food and fuel subsidies reduced real incomes of, mainly urban, populations and triggered food riots in many countries.
Dispossession of assets, such as land or cattle, or other threats to food security, can fuel conflict.
Reduced access to food may compound other forms of grievance and discontent, such as poverty, unemployment or marginalisation.

Combining efforts to restore and support resilient livelihoods with peacebuilding and conflict resolution efforts is critical for sustainable development and food security and nutrition.
Equally, investing in food security may strengthen the efforts to prevent conflict and achieve sustained peace.

For decades, FAO has worked in, and across, both humanitarian and development spheres in order to protect, save and restore livelihoods, reduce food insecurity and malnutrition and improve resilience of livelihoods and agricultural systems. FAO supports investments in capacity at the local, national, regional and global levels to reduce poverty and build sustainable food and agricultural systems.

For example, supporting agriculture based livelihoods, ensuring effective coverage of social protection systems, addressing issues of land tenure and of access to natural resources, and fostering employment opportunities for youth can effectively contribute to peacebuilding and post-conflict recovery. They can also help people stay on their land when they feel safe to do so, and create conducive conditions for the return of refugees, migrants and displaced people.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development acknowledges these challenges, and recognizes peace as a vital threshold condition for development, as well as a development outcome in its own right. The first two sustainable development goals focus on the eradication of poverty and hunger, and achieving food security and making agriculture sustainable. The 2030 Agenda sees achievement of these goals as critical to achieving the further goal of ensuring the establishment of peaceful and inclusive societies.

Recognizing that preventing crises and sustaining peace are shared, Charter-based responsibilities across the entire UN system, the 2030 Agenda opens the way to new and collaborative approaches that integrate humanitarian assistance and conflict-prevention through resilience building efforts.

The UN system must work in an integrated and coherent manner to provide timely humanitarian assistance, build resilience to reduce risk, mitigate and prevent conflict, and sustain peace. FAO and its partners have a key role to play on all of these fronts, with successful experiences to build on. Some examples are presented below, showing how peace dividends can be derived from interventions supporting agriculture and food security.

Reducing armed conflict and extreme poverty – and addressing their consequences – are key to ending hunger. Along with the eradication of hunger, peace is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Food security and agriculture have a meaningful and often unnoticed contribution to make to this global challenge.

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