Sunday, May 30, 2010

Conflict-Sensitive Approach to Food Security Is Needed

By Charles W. Corey [Staff Writer]

Washington - The relationship between conflict and hunger needs to be addressed in any effort to enhance global food security, according to Raymond Gilpin of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Food insecurity and chronic hunger affect one-sixth of the earth's population, and part of the equation for resolving conflict and promoting peace is eliminating hunger and helping people achieve food security. This is why, according to Gilpin, there needs to be a conflict-sensitive approach to enhancing food security.

Gilpin, who directs the Sustainable Economies Centers of Innovation at the U.S. Institute of Peace, made that point May 20 in an address to the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security in Washington. He leads the institute's work in analyzing complex economic relationships during all stages of conflict, including prevention, mediation, resolution and post-conflict. Gilpin designs capacity-building solutions for conflict environments.

Gilpin said a significant number of people who face hunger live in conflict-affected areas. "Most of them live in fear of their lives, in uncertain environments and without clear hope for a better tomorrow for themselves and the generations that would follow."

According to the 2009 Global Hunger Index, he said, the most affected countries are primarily those that have been adversely affected by conflict: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and East Timor.

Gilpin said food security is not always an issue of food availability, but often one of accessibility.

"When violent conflict afflicts a community or a region ... it destroys infrastructure and weakens institutions. So the very conduits necessary to move food from storage on the farms to the people who need it the most are undermined. So no matter how much attention you give to humanitarian issues, how many food drops you make, if we don't have a strategy that focuses on the institutional and infrastructural peculiarities in conflict-afflicted countries, you are going to make very little impact."

Secondly, he said, asset depletion during conflict has a major impact on food affordability.

"When conflict affects a community, people move and they either are separated from their assets or have to liquidate those assets to facilitate movement to ensure survival. Those are going to be the most vulnerable people when it comes to affording food in the markets."

Displacement and the politicization of food aid are also issues, he told his audience.

"Groups who usually have a monopoly of force, not just on livelihoods but also with regard to the distribution of goods and services," play a determining role in food distribution.

Finally, he said, food security strategy should also address the issue of market fragmentation. Conflict-affected countries suffer from fragmented markets, and, he said, "those markets influence who gets what and how much they pay."

Gilpin said "a lot needs to be done differently" on food security, both domestically and internationally.

"Domestically, tariff and non-tariff issues need to be addressed, but with full cognizance of the importance of ... income support and safety nets." Also, realistic levels of assistance are necessary along with support to enhance trade, he added.

Production incentives for farmers that help them to produce both for consumption and markets are also needed, he told his audience.

Internationally, he said, a "coordinated regional rapid response initiative" is needed. "Most humanitarian aid is bought on the spot markets. That is unacceptable and exorbitantly high priced. We need mechanisms" that would include stockpiles, resources, funding and logistics operations. "We need to refocus agricultural technology and expand market access," he told his audience.

In the end, he said, assuring adequate supplies of food for markets is tied to the most important production incentive for a farmer: the ability to sell crops for a reasonable return.

(by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State)