Anticipating the immediate consequences of conflict on agricultural livelihoods and food insecurity

June 30, 2021

The 2021 Global Report on Food Crises showed that the number of people facing hunger is on the rise. Conflict remains the main driver of acute food insecurity, combined with weather extremes and economic shocks. Compounding the situation are the effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. As stated by the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, “conflict and hunger are mutually reinforcing. We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either”. Breaking this vicious cycle requires a comprehensive approach along the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, which allows simultaneously addressing the immediate needs of affected populations as well as the root causes of conflict, displacement and vulnerability.

Anticipatory actions (AA) – short-term interventions carried out in a specific window of time between early warning signs and the peak of the forecasted hazard — are key to mitigating the immediate effects of conflict on communities and their livelihoods. While the anticipatory approach has been applied so far mostly to forecast hydro-meteorological hazards, there is increasing recognition of its relevance also in conflict situations. This includes (i) applying conflict-sensitive approaches when formulating and implementing AAs (e.g. when anticipating climate-related hazards in conflict-affected areas and how they might interact); and (ii) anticipating and mitigating the impact of conflict on lives and livelihoods. Expanding the anticipatory approach to conflict situations requires building on existing experiences, evidence and lessons learned on anticipatory action, and it involves cooperation across a variety of humanitarian, development and peace actors.

Anticipating the immediate consequences of conflict and renewed violence is particularly relevant for food security, considering that a large proportion of vulnerable people who live in protracted conflict situations rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. In a period of three to four months, pastoral households may lose all their livestock if they have no access to pasture, feed, water and veterinary support. Farmers may miss the precious window of opportunity for planting at the start of the rainy season, if they have no access to land or farming inputs. For communities hosting recently displaced households, these consequences add significant pressure on already limited resources as the number of household members to feed quickly increases. Likewise, people displaced by conflict are likely to have lost their productive assets and are in need of urgent support to resume food production and generate income.

Rapid, coordinated and well-targeted action in the immediate aftermath of violent conflict and subsequent population displacement is crucial to help people and communities bounce back and increase their self-reliance. Anticipating and acting early to provide the right support using a conflict-sensitive approach could break the vicious cycle of conflict and hunger by preventing further escalation of the conflict itself through alleviating tensions related to the lack of food and income sources.

FAO is thus investing internal resources under its AA funding window to pilot an initiative aimed at anticipating the immediate consequences of conflict on agricultural livelihoods, food security and nutrition, preventing new food crises and the escalation of tensions. The initiative seeks to broaden the scope of FAO’s anticipatory approach beyond weather and climate-related hazards, and pests and diseases to address other key drivers of acute food insecurity such as conflict.

The pilot countries for this initiative are Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The learning component of the AA projects implemented in these countries is crucial to understand their effectiveness, address shortcomings and scaling up activities in other areas as well.