“If you really want to work on food security, you have to be willing to invest in the most fragile and conflicted areas of the world,” says Edith Boekraad, Food Security Director at Cordaid, leading up to the Food First conference on 22 June. “Make sure that local farmers can re-start their business after a conflict situation, as soon as possible. This stimulates food security and has a stabilizing effect.”
Small-scale farmers, pastoralists, fishermen and local family businesses feed the world’s poorest populations and keep economies afloat. These so-called ‘smallholders’ work 80 percent of agricultural land in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
Conflict and famine
But in countries struck by a conflict, these farmers are under enormous pressure: crops get looted, livestock is stolen, land is snatched and local markets collapse. As food becomes more insecure and uncertain, people may be inclined to join one of the warring parties. Conflict and famine reinforce each other.
How do you break that cycle? How do you invest in food security in post-conflict and fragile states in Africa? That’s one of the key questions at the Food First Conference on June 22 in Utrecht: The Future of Farming and Food Security in Africa estimates the number of chronically undernourished people at 805 million. If you want to do something about that, you have to be willing to focus on the countries with the biggest risk of food insecurity: fragile states that deal with tensions, insecurity and lack of services. Countries like South Sudan, Eastern Congo and the Central African Republic, where farmers have nowhere to turn for credit or for training to increase their production and trading skills,” says Boekraad.
Our recent publication ‘Smallholders and Food Security in Fragile Contexts’ states the following specific recommendations to policy makers, donors, NGOs and the private sector:
- Invest in small farmers in fragile areas;
- Strengthen social cohesion;
- Support education and training, particularly for young farmers;
- Avoid dependence on emergency aid, keep investing in the development of the more stable parts of a country in conflict and buy emergency supplies locally, as much as possible.
Examples from South Sudan and the Central African Republic
Shortly after the bloody coup in the Central African Republic, Cordaid supported farmers with seeds and agricultural tools to prevent a famine.
“These projects only work if they are ‘conflict-sensitive’,” says Boekraad. “they should take into account interests and tensions in the local conflict. Given the opportunity, we can bring farmers and entrepreneurs from populations that live in a tense situation together, and restore confidence. We do this in Wau in South Sudan and in Eastern Equatoria > Project: ‘Peace by producing food’.
Building societies or sticking on band-aids
Food security is not just about production. “South Sudanese and Central African farmers live in communities torn by suspicion and violence,” says Boekraad, “You must be willing to help build these societies, including all aspects involved. Ensure that children can return to school, women get equal opportunities, make sure the government functions properly and hospitals are running. This integrated approach requires perseverance and patience. But if you fail to do that, then you’re just sticking on band-aids and providing emergency aid, while societies do not get lifted from their misery.”
More than just business
Boekraad makes a specific request to the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development to also launch support programs for African farmers in fragile states, and not only focus on projects that generate trade profits for the Netherlands.