Category Archives: Security & Development

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.

Women are the Key to Reducing Food Insecurity in Africa

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), over 50% of the food grown internationally is done so by women. More specifically, in Sub-Saharan Africa, “women contribute 60 to 80 percent of the labour in both food production for household consumption and for sale… women’s contributions to household food production range from 30 percent in Sudan to 80 percent in the Congo,while the proportion of women in the economically active labour force in agriculture ranges from 48 percent in Burkina Faso to 73 percent in the Congo (FAO, Picture331994)” (“Women’s contributions to agricultural production and food security: Current status and perspectives”). While the actual responsibilities of women differ in each country; overall, women provide most of the physical labor involved in agricultural practices, as well as most of the household preparation of food.

So what?

The level to which food insecurity occurs in Africa is attributed to gender inequality or the gender gap. Men and women who are both involved in food production have unequal access to a variety of things that aid in food security including “land and capital, credit, agricultural inputs, education and appropriate technology” (“Women’s contributions to agricultural production and food security: Current status and perspectives”). Socially and culturally women are seen as inferior. This is a Western concept that was brought to Africa along with colonization. As a result, the idea of gender roles was also introduced, but in food production has been more of a conceptual idea rather than an actualized one. Women do the majority of the agricultural work across Africa but they continue to be undervalued and underacknowledged. This is partially because of legislation that makes it nearly impossible for women to own and control land. As a result, they are doing the majority of the work, but have very little control over what they are doing. This impacts food security as they are directly cultivating the crops, as well as the lack of an income needed to purchase food for the household and prepare it. This means that women are responsible for providing nutritious and balanced meals for the families, but do not have the means to do so. It has been shown that women spend more of their income on household goods when compared to men but have less of an income than men. This results in less nutritious and less of a variety of foods being purchased. In addition to the lack of income, with the gender gap, women are often not provided education on balanced and nutritious diets. The FAO therefore has claimed that equalizing the gender gap will be the most efficient way to combat food insecurity.

What can be done?

Because of the food insecurity in Africa being partially attributed to gender inequality, more emphasis has been put on examining gender inequality in order to increase food production and decrease poverty, therefore improving security. There are many researchers who stress the necessity of programs surrounding the issues of food production in the areas of both education and training. These programs should specifically target gender issues relating to the topics. Rather than being “gender blind”, these programs should be focusing on providing the different training needed for men and women, as they have different issues surrounding food security. Never Assan, an Associate Professor of Animal Production at the Zimbabwe Open University, claimed that it is necessary to for women to be educated in sustainable food production in addition to being empowered through policy making (“Relevance and feasibility of women’s involvement in promoting sustainable food production and security in Southern Africa”).

Research already shows the value that providing programs dedicated to women has on food security: According to the article, “Relevance and feasibility of women’s involvement in promoting sustainable food production and security in Southern Africa”, a study was done examining many developing countries from 1970 through 1995. It was discovered that 43% of the decline in hunger was credited to the progress in women education.

The education put in place to close the gender gap will be most effective if it combines the outside aid of those with professional skills and knowledge with people in the community who share and know the workings of everyday life in that region. Because of the different farming practices in different regions in Africa, including the acknowledgement of different climates and access to various technological advances, there is not a one size fits all solution. By having members of the community aid in the training, jobs are being created and the education will become more specialized to the region. Specific programs and training should be implemented and as such, research and planning must be done prior. In these programs, the differences in gender roles and availability of resources should be discussed, teaching women how to best work with what they have access to, in addition to addressing farming for personal use verses farming for economic and community use. It is expected that the training and education will directly cause there to be an increase in food available, helping to decrease food insecurity.

Overall, the necessity of “access to productive resources, education and training, provision of extension services, credit facilities and appropriate technology” (“Relevance and feasibility of women’s involvement in promoting sustainable food production and security in Southern Africa”) is crucial for women in order to close the gender gap and increase food security throughout Africa. As a result of the closure of the gap, there will be an increase in food production, a greater role in agriculture for women, as well as better financial situations, which allow women to provide more nutritional food for their families.

Climate Change and African Food Security

The effects of climate change are becoming more and more visible in our daily lives.  The newsfeed is filled with stories about stronger hurricanes, longer droughts, and record-breaking wildfires.  The impact of climate change on the United States is both clear and staggering, but what if I told you that the North America has far less to lose than other continents when it comes to climate change.  The continent that perhaps has the most to lose is Africa.  In fact, according to a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the African continent will be affected more by climate change than any other continent on Earth.  Climate change in Africa has already hindered efforts to create greater food security, and is projected to continue to threaten those efforts in the future. This blog post will examine how climate change directly impacts African food security directly through loss of useable land, and indirectly through water shortages and an increased likelihood of conflict.


It is estimated that 70% of Africans rely on the land for their livelihoods, which makes having arable land vital not just to African economies, but African life in general.  Climate change has brought about a significant threat to arable land around the world.  In fact, according to a 2015 report, the Earth has lost nearly one third of its arable land in just the past 40 years due to climate change.  This is a huge problem for the continent of Africa because, as the availability of arable land is expected to continue to decrease at a rapid pace, the population is expected to boom in the 21st century.  Africa, with a current population of just over 1 billion, is expected to see that number rise to 4 billion by 2100, a number so large that one out of every three people on the planet will call Africa home.  That means that there will be more mouths to feed, making the food security puzzle even more challenging.

To add to the land-use problem, Africa is already strained when it comes to feeding all of its people, forcing farmers to increase crop yields and overuse their soil.  A 2013 report by an agricultural group found that about 65% of Africa’s arable land is too damaged to sustain food production in the future.  Increasingly, Africa’s agriculture and livestock sectors are being asked to produce more with fewer resources and under more difficult conditions.  This makes for serious concerns about Africa’s ability to feed their population.  To make matters worse, the reduction of arable and fertile land is just one of the ways in which climate change will negatively impact food security.

Just as the name would imply, climate change is disrupting weather patterns and altering the climate in ways that some regions are not used to and that many crops cannot grow in.  At their extremes these alterations in weather patterns has brought both flooding a drought; both of which are detrimental to food security.  Though not covered as extensively as drought, flooding is a serious issue in Africa where weak infrastructure is not built to handle flooding.  Earlier this year, flooding in Nigeria killed over 100 people and destroyed rural farming communities.  This is not an isolated incident; flooding in Mozambique in 2000 killed 800 and left 1 million people without a source of food.  On the opposite side of the coin, droughts can also be devastating to food security, and climate change has been tied to an increase in drought frequency and intensity.  One example of this is the drought in East Africa in 2011.  This drought, which drew attention from the international community, lasted more than two years and impacted the entire region.  In Somalia, the levels of malnutrition were six times what the UN considers an emergency, and a disproportionate number of victims were children under the age of 5.  Food security was threatened for 12 million people.  Droughts are not contained to East Africa; Africa as a whole is very susceptible to drought due to its reliance on season-specific rainfall (aka rainy season).


Another impact of climate change that is correlated very closely with food security is water availability.  Africa’s relationship with water is already bad before we talk about the future of water in Africa as a result of climate change.  319 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa live without reliable access to a clean water source.  Just as people depend on water for survival, so too do crops and livestock, which rely on irrigation systems from Africa’s natural sources of water (rivers, lakes, glaciers, etc.).  The problem is that those natural sources of water are now threatened by both climate change and pollution.  The story varies by region.  In West Africa, huge populations rely on a few crucial rivers as not only a source of water, but in all aspects of the economy and food production chain.  The River Volta in Ghana is a textbook example of this.  In addition to providing water and irrigation to the entire region, the river is also the lifeblood of the fishing and boating industries.  Additionally, the Akosombo Dam in Ghana is the country’ single largest provider of electricity.

In East Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro’s glaciers act as a natural water tower and provide water to most streams and lakes in the region.  Climate change is melting the glaciers at an alarming rate though, and the IPCC estimates that as much as 82% of the ice that was there when the first measurements were recorded in 1912 have now melted.  If the glaciers are to completely disappear, it would seriously threaten the food security of much of the region.


A final way that climate change is threatening to be extremely detrimental to food security in Africa is through its propensity to lead to violent conflict.  There is a vicious cycle where climate change leads to a lack of resources and lack of resources leads to conflict; both things contribute to food insecurity.  There are many who believe that climate change is to blame for things like Darfur and that similar incidences like occur with greater frequency in the future if climate change is not curtailed.  One model shows that a one-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures will correlate to a 49% increase in the likelihood of civil war.  Civil War and conflict lead to greater food insecurity because they topple food production systems, lead to refugee crises, and disrupt economies.Picture26The world will have to come up with a solution to the issue of climate change or else there could be human suffering on an epic scale in places such as Sub-Saharan Africa.


Rivalries and Deliveries: The Cold War in Africa

East Africa

Neither Kenya nor Tanzania played a significant role in the Cold War; however, there was still variation within the region. In Somalia, for instance, the state was under the protection of the Soviet Union. Following the Somali military coup in 1969, the new far left leadership formed alliances with the Soviet bloc. Furthermore, security issues were also introduced alongside economic policies. This is best highlighted in East Africa during the collapse of Somalia and the war against Ethiopia, which started because of ethnic disputes over part of the Ethiopian population. Two million Cuban and Soviet forces were sent in to provide aid for the Somalis. This incredible amount of support was without a doubt due to the Cold War alliance. Therefore, it becomes obvious that during the Cold War era, with countries in East Africa aligned to different blocs or superpowers, states were engaging in more than just inter-state violence post-independence, as argued by Englebert and Dunne.

Central Africa

The Cold War in Central Africa also created long-lasting effects that are still felt today. The Soviet-era policies and Russia’s policies today towards Africa have similar goals for the interest of the state. During the Cold-War, the Soviet Union supported many African states with various amounts of aid, each type of aid of dependent on what that African state needed from the Soviet Union. In particular, because of the relationship of some African states to the Soviet Union, many Africans moved to the country for higher education, a practice that continues today in Russia. In Inside African Politics, Englebert and Dunne write, “53,000 Africans were trained in Soviet universities, with thousands more attending military and political schools. Alumni have included the past or present presidents of Angola, Cape Verde, Mali, [and] Mozambique.” Therefore, when the leaders returned to their countries from the Soviet Union, they brought ideas and practices different from those learned in the United States and Europe.

End of the Cold War

Following the end of the Cold War there were strong ideas, particularly within the US, that because there were no longer strategic or geopolitical reasons to catapult Africa into the “global economic agenda”, it was up to the Africans to take their own initiative, as argued by Perlez. What becomes very obvious then is that because of this ideal, economic productivity and security are significantly reduced. Prior to the end of the Cold War, East African states had the ability to play off the superpowers against one another. This was definitely the case when you take Ethiopia into account. Through switching to support the Soviet Bloc in 1977 (as shown in the New York Times Article), the state created a chain reaction that  ultimately led the US to pump large amounts of weapons and funds into neighbouring Somalia.

Now, with the end of the Cold War long past and therefore with no need to dominate the balance of power in the same way, the world superpowers no longer have a strong opinion on whether the continent receives aid or not. What this has meant economically is that it will take a long time for the aid-dependent countries to “wean themselves” off from the support of the superpowers – a process that has dramatically affected access to food within the states. What can be concluded from this is that after the end of the Cold War, due to lowered funding from wealthier countries, there was a need to receive funding to maintain decent levels of food.

Influence of the Soviet Bloc

The Soviet Union is one of the main contributors to the violence in Africa during the Cold War, and some of the conflicts that happen in Africa today are because of how the Soviet Union had militaristic policies in Africa during the Cold War. Angola can be an example of how the Soviet Union played a huge part in the development of Central Africa during the Cold War. During the Angolan civil war, the Soviet-backed MPLA survived only because of the support that the Soviet Union and Cuba gave. The reason that the Soviet Union was so active during the cold war in Africa is due in part to the fact that the resources that the Soviet Union had access to was appealing to many African states. Some African states were more ideologically aligned with the Soviet Union after independence; a more socialist, worker-oriented society was appealing after decades of capitalist exploitation. Additionally, African states also wanted to work with the Soviet Union because it would help distance the African states away from their former European colonizers. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Afro-Soviet trade started a downturn, yet in certain sectors, Russia remained influential. Russia set up the Russia–African Business Council in 2002 that would help with oil, gas, and tourism.

Influence of the U.S. and its Allies

During the 1970s, many African states adopted more market-oriented economic policies and concentrated their economic production around capitalism, perhaps representing the persuasive influence of the United States and the Western Bloc, though lending policies by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (both dominated by the United States), also compelled countries to transition their economies to capitalism. However, in spite of this, because of the heavy dependency both on colonial powers prior to decolonization and then the superpowers afterward, each economy had a strong element of state interventionism –so it become almost capitalism with a twist because of the reliance on colonial money prior to independence. With food, what this meant is that alongside the emphasis on export and trades to increase growth, the primary production methods that were set up within the state pushed for food production based on increasing self-sufficiency of the populations. Arguably, perhaps, food production was the most “socialist” aspect of post-American-supported states, owing to the high level of state control prior to the economic crisis of the 1980s. Ohaegbulam shows that during the 1970s, most of the superpower support, especially from the US, came in the form of food aid, which would clearly improve access to food for those under the Western bloc.


Englebert, Pierre, and Kevin C. Dunn. Inside African Politics. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2013.

Perlez, Jane. “After the Cold War: Views From Africa; Stranded by Superpowers, Africa Seeks an Identity.” The New York Times. May 17, 1992. Accessed November 24, 2018.

Ugboaja, Ohaegbulam F. “The United States and Africa after the Cold War.” Africa Today 39, no. 4 (1992): 19-34.

Stephens, Carla R. “Complementary Tools for Studying the Cold War in Africa.” Journal of Black Studies 43, no. 1 (2012): 95-101.