The Hunger of War: Food scarcity and Competition in Africa


When looking at what most affects food security, it seems obvious that the first point of call would be conflict itself. But why is this the case? In focusing on the recent conflicts on the continent, 3 assumptions can come from this: first, conflict takes away a state’s priorities for sustainable food production, second: conflict directs the majority of food supplies to those fighting, and therefore often away from areas which are most in need and finally, there is a general reduction in crop supply owing to damages made to the land and reduced laborers to harvest crops. As shown by the international food policy research institution, because conflict disrupts markets and agricultural production it will ultimately reduce food availability.

Food security in Africa has 2 elements. When it comes to conflict people’s access to food is reduced two-fold because they lack the economic means to purchase food owing to the fact that there will be reduced state subsidies decreasing the price of food, and secondly because of the notion of supply and demand. With a reduced supply owing to the factors that will be discussed, demand increases making accessing such food harder. This is particularly true in Africa where there are high levels of subsistence farming (producing food for one’s self).

Under the General definition of conflict it entails multitudesof destruction as the aim is to reduce one’s opponent to a point where they can no longer fight as shown by Messer and Cohen. Thus, the reduction of crop production becomes an intrinsic part of conflict therefore reducing food security both short term and long term because crops will be destroyed therefore decreasing the amount available to feed the population. It will also reduce the ability to produce more crops in the future. This is the case for three reasons: economic, environmental and social:

Through the destruction of property there is clearly a need for repair and therefore to pay for such repairs. Secondly, the destruction of property is likely to affect the soil so the land will become less productive for a number of years and third, conflict will entail a loss of life which will decrease the number of labourers who can harvest and farm the land

The aforementioned points link to the rising incidence of famines to conflict. This is exemplified in Somalia where in 1991-1992drought caused severe famine. What can be taken from this is that it is a lack of decent management of the land and resources the leads to such severe effects on food production, something which is feared to reoccur now in Somalia.

Furthermore, a state’s priorities will shift from the production of food to militarising certain areas during times of war. This is certainly the case for inter-state conflict and even more so when we look at civil war. In this state priorities are damaged and disrupted even further because the state apparatus will be weakened as part of an intra-state conflict. Therefore, in areas of active conflict there will be increases in the level of food insecurity because there is less priority placed on the production of food for consumption and more on cash crops and feeding military forces. Evidently from recent data collected by the World Food Program on the violence in DRC  in 2015, 1 in 10 people living in rural areas are in a situation of food security. This as the World Food Program shows has been caused by reduced availability and access owing to the inability of the state to provide access to quality food during the escalating violence.

Finally, conflicts direct food away from areas that are most in need. This is particularly true in areas that have experienced conflict in the past or where large number of refugees have settled. Evidently, prioritization takes place under policies during times of conflict in which those considered both internationally and internally displaced persons are pushed to the bottom of the hierarchy. This is what leads to such a high incidence of food insecurity in correlation with conflicts because these populations are the most vulnerable. This is particularly the case in Guinea. From data collected by the international food policy research institute from there were 2,300,000 total food insecure people in Guinea. What is alarming about this is that these are refugees from neighbouring conflicts, people who will already be in highly vulnerable situations where their food security is likely to have been even lower.

Food security itself can also cause conflict. As shown by the 2004 study, the factors which lead to conflict in developing countries include intergroup competition over resources such as land, water and developmental aid

Much of the conflict analysis that took place on the continent between 1980-1990s shows a link with identity politics which was heighted by the perceived scarcity of primary resources – ‘Grievance’. This was the case Rwanda where competition over land between the two groups and therefore access to agricultural improvement programs directly preceded the 1994 genocide. So it is a fear over a lack of resourcesand the want to gain sufficient amounts of food, that enabled the escalation of ethnic tensions that already existed in Rwanda following the Belgium preference of the Tutsi’s as shown by Englebert and Dunne. In both post conflict and pre-conflict situations there can be a connection made between this perceived ‘grievance’ (possible lack of food) and conflict because of the want to possess food over others.

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