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Research: Correlation between conflict and food prices exists

food prices


by Joseph Earnest  September 16, 2013


Newscast Media WASHINGTON—Since rapid jumps in prices for major grains sparked civil unrest in more than 40 countries in 2008, policymakers and academics have been paying more attention to the influence food price hikes can have on conflict and the influence conflict can have on food security.

A U.S. food and agriculture policy expert, Emmy Simmons, explored those influences in a report she unveiled September 12 at a forum in Washington at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The research center is named for the 28th president of the United States.

Simmons is a co-chair of the group AGree and formerly served as the assistant administrator for economic growth, agriculture, and trade at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Food security has four dimensions: a sufficient supply of food from production and trade; the ability to afford to purchase food in markets or produce it oneself; access to safe and nutritious food; and access to food at all times despite changes in prices.

"There is no doubt that conflict exacerbates food insecurity," Simmons says in her report Harvesting Peace: Food Security, Conflict and Cooperation.

Simmons said the nature of conflict is expanding. "Conflict can be violent, nonviolent, short-term, sustained, nationwide, interstate, intrastate. … Conflict starts, it goes on for awhile, it dies, in some cases re-ignites," she said.

Click here to read or download full research report on food prices (pop-up)

In some countries, Simmons said, when national governance fails, recurrent food scarcity and famine form a cycle of instability. In others, food scarcity and hunger are intended outcomes of armed conflict. And in yet others, people use food price hikes to air other grievances over a lack of jobs, low incomes or government policies.

Simmons said about 1.5 billion people worldwide live in conflict areas, post-conflict areas or fragile areas, conditions that can impede or reverse social, economic or political progress.

"Conflict can reduce the amount of food available, disrupt peoples' access to food, and limit families' access to food preparation facilities and health care," she said, adding that it also can increase uncertainty about the future availability of food and nutrition.

Simmons suggested that food and conflict should be looked at in the same frame. To promote food security and reduce risks of conflict, she recommended that fragile states strengthen their institutions that govern access to natural resources like water that are key to sustainable food production. She also said governments should foster the operation of competitive markets, offer a food safety net, and build confidence among citizens and businesses that public institutions will support recovery of their food and agricultural sectors.

Simmons said international humanitarian and development organizations should integrate their food security programs with assistance programs for those affected by conflict or post-conflict recovery "with a view to shaping more effective interventions."

She said assistance to rural and displaced people during a crisis must be complemented with extended assistance that enables families to pull themselves out of poverty.

Simmons said USAID has developed comprehensive approaches to conflict prevention, management, mitigation and recovery. Add Comments>>











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