4 takeaways from 'Recurring Storms: Food Insecurity, Political Instability and Conflict'

Emmy Simmons, author of “Recurring Storms: Food Insecurity, Political Instability and Conflict,” at the report launch held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies headquarters in Washington, D.C. Photo by: CSIS / CC BY-NC-SA

From threats of famine in Somalia caused by drought, to hunger in Syria caused by war, the development community is increasingly faced with the enormous challenge of addressing global food insecurity and political instability around the world, especially in fragile states.

A new report, “Recurring Storms: Food Insecurity, Political Instability, and Conflict,” launched at Center for Strategic and International Studies takes a comprehensive look at the different levers that push societies into a state of crisis by highlighting trends in food insecurity around the world and their connection to political instability.

It drew examples from the ongoing crises in northeastern Nigeria, Syria and Afghanistan to make different recommendations, including the need for a high-level political commitment and the mobilization of more global investment in food security. Emmy Simmons — senior adviser of the Global Food Security Project at CSIS and author of the report — highlighted the L'Aquila Food Security Initiative, which was established to address the 2008 food price crisis, as a model that could mobilize international support and investments to address the current crisis and the future anticipated ones.

“Food insecurity is never achieved,” Simmons told Devex during an interview.

As a result, there is a need for a long-term strategic plan of action and more collaborative efforts among major organizations in global development.

Here are four key takeaways from the conversation Devex had with some experts at the launch of the report in Washington, D.C.

1. Climate change is a stress multiplier

The dynamics of climate change are a stress multiplier that has the potential to exacerbate political tension when it leads to competition for resources, said Roger-Mark De Souza, director of population, environmental security and resilience program for the Wilson Center.

Souza explained how higher temperatures can have an impact on crop yields and food access. “Crops, infrastructure, as well as other community assets can be destroyed,” he told Devex. And if there is a lower access to food, there is bound to be an outbreak of food insecurity and crisis.

Souza stressed the need for better forecasting that examines the causes of food insecurity and political instability. It will ensure that the global development community can plan ahead for them and reduce the shocks when they happen, he said.

“We know that we have a lot of data, but yet we are not able to act quickly,” Souza said.

He explained that by paying more attention to early warning signs and the tipping points revealed in reports, it would be easier to build systems that would facilitate more responsive actions needed to curb the impact of such crises.

2. The military needs a seat at the table

Military and peacekeeping units are essential in providing conditions for peace and food security. But their role is often relegated to just providing security after a crisis breaks out. There is a need for them to be engaged earlier in the conversation to help them better understand the issue and the process involved in addressing a crisis.

“This does not mean we want to turn soldiers into farmers. It means we want them educated,” said Johanna Mendelson Forman, an adjunct professor at the American University School of International Service.

Forman said that a stronger engagement with all the different communities addressing security is necessary, especially in fragile states. But this needs to be done simultaneously.

“So that you are talking to your security people on the ground, development experts, international financial institutions and the humanitarian community and that they are all addressing the same problem together,” Forman said.

This integration of knowledge and evidence will prevent any one group from making bad decisions, as it is often the case when they work independently of one another, she added.

3. Community ownership is key

“Food insecurity and political instability is such a complicated issue,” said David Nicholson, the senior director of environment, energy and climate change technical support unit at Mercy Corps. He argued that it might not be realistic to set up one single theory that would predict ways to build resilience and solve food security problems.

Nicholson advised that implementing organizations develop systems that would improve how they engage local organizations and local governance systems in developing solutions.

“I think we need to do a better job being facilitators,” he said, adding: “The more we can encourage local networks and local nongovernmental organizations in the country to own the work, the better.”

Simmons agreed. “Ad-hoc and opportunistic intervention seems like a great idea, but they can be distractive and counterproductive over time,” she said.

4. Collaboration and monitoring

“Strong international collaboration to build more productive and resilient households, nations and food systems, seems like the obvious path forward,” Simmons stated in the report.

However, to make this effective, there is a need to establish collaborative monitoring of measurable benchmarks that will allow mid-course corrections and nudge political leaders into meeting their commitments, she said.

Populations in conflict-affected countries or regions need help strengthening their resilience to future crises. It is not enough for humanitarian organizations to jump into a region with aid once a crisis breaks out, she said. There is a need for a standard analysis to figure out a long-term strategy while understanding and adjusting to the unique historical background of each fragile situation.

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About the author

  • Jennifer Ehidiamen

    Jennifer Ehidiamen is a Nigerian writer who is passionate about communications and journalism. She has worked as a reporter and communications consultant for different organizations in Nigeria and overseas. She has an undergraduate degree in mass communication from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Lagos, and M.A. in business and economics from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, New York. In 2014, she founded Rural Reporters (www.ruralreporters.com) with the goal of amplifying underreported news and issues affecting rural communities.