Dangerously Hungry: The Link Between Food Insecurity and Conflict
01 Apr 2023
World Food Program USA
By first addressing complex conflict dynamics, practitioners can address the key drivers of international food insecurity.
While it has long been known that conflict produces food insecurity, this report examines that relationship in the inverse. Studies included in this literature review explicitly test food insecurity’s impact — quantitatively and qualitatively — on conflict.
Building Our Understanding of Food-Related Instability
Dangerously Hungry builds upon the findings in Winning the Peace, published in 2017, by bringing our understanding of food-related instability into the present. The key findings of this report are as follows:
Since 2017, researchers have empirically connected 12 specific drivers of hunger (e.g., crop yields, food prices) to eight distinct types of instability and conflict ranging from protests and riots to civil war.
The drivers of food-related instability can be grouped into three main categories: the climate crisis, resource conflict and economic shocks.
Over the past five years, half of all peer-reviewed studies in this review have examined food-related instability through the lens of the climate crisis.
Food insecurity alone rarely produces conflict. Instead, people must also be motivated to choose conflict over peace. Those motivations can be grouped into three distinct categories: desperation, grievance or governance.
Hunger is not a necessary precondition for food-related instability. Instead, conflict is often the product of perceived threats to food availability, access and/ or utilization. Therefore, people participating in violent conflict are not always experiencing hunger. The inverse is also true: People experiencing hunger are not always violent.
Food-related instability can be driven by both food scarcity and abundance, sometimes simultaneously.
Food price riots and protests are most common in urban areas. More extreme forms of food-related instability, like terrorism and civil war, often begin in rural areas farther from the reach of government authorities.
The Three Drivers of Food-Related Insecurity
The most widely adopted definition of food security was conceived by the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security to describe a situation where “all people — at all times — have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.” Hence, food security is commonly understood to have four dimensions: availability, accessibility, utilization and stability. When these dimensions are consistently met, food is abundantly available, affordable and meets nutritional requirements. If any of these dimensions are lacking, populations are considered food insecure.
Food insecurity today is predominantly driven by three main conditions:
The Three Motivators of Food-Related Instability
Modern conflicts are almost never driven by a single cause. Food insecurity is often referred to as “the straw that breaks the camel’s back” or a “threat multiplier” in conflict events. The social, economic, and political foundations of conflict can be captured in three interrelated motivators:
Less than a decade away from the Sustainable Development Goal of ending global hunger by 2030, the message is urgent and loud: Zero hunger will not be achieved without first putting an end to conflict.
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