The Complexities of Food Shortages and Regional Stability

Water management, absence of a sustainable strategy for agricultural development, and migration are several problems the world currently faces in terms of food security. Similarly, there are related political problems. For instance, in Somalia aid has been difficult to channel because the Al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group, which controls much of the south and other parts of the capital, has hindered aid agency operations in the area.

The advent of globalization makes it important to consider food security along with regional security. In analyzing the issue at hand, policymakers must tackle the needs of each region in a case specific manner.

Over-exploitation of water resources and the effects of climate change are rapidly growing problems. However, a region like China requires different attention than does southern Africa or other more arable lands. According to Brown and Halweil, “an abrupt decline in the supply of irrigation water to China’s farmers has aroused growing concern in the world’s capital.”

Consequently, any major risk to China’s self-sufficiency would create social and political conflicts. When smaller countries face acute water scarcity, they divert irrigation water to cities as needed, replacing grain production by grain imports. However, China is too big to do this, and must instead engineer a drastic long-term solution to water scarcity by reforming their whole agricultural, energy, and industrial economies to be more water-efficient.

In southern Africa, however, most farmers rely on dry land farming to produce food. A solution here would be the implementation of irrigation schemes which can make the production of agricultural commodities less dependent on rain. Additionally, in some countries much of the arable lands are used for other purposes than food production, such as construction.

In addition to the problem of water resources, land acquisitions, capital transfers and adaptation finance are growing quickly. However, getting new investments into land is critical. The question ultimately is the type of investment being made: Will it reach smallholders, or conversely, will it undermine their livelihood?

In the latest World Investment Report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), big outward investor countries strengthened by strong domestic economic growth increased their acquisitions abroad where there are investment opportunities and hence countries like the U.S. and China were the top host economies for 2009-1010. On the other side, the lowest FDI inflows to developing and transition economies went to Africa.

The food shortage calamity is very much man-made, and it is no coincidence that the worst affected regions are those whose people are the most marginalized and have received the least investment. In the Horn of Africa, inadequate or non-existent governance, conflict and unstable political conditions are driving the crisis and making a bad situation even worse.

According to the World Food Programme, “drought conditions in the Horn of Africa region coupled with conflict in Somalia, have affected 13 million people” and “an estimated 2000 Somali refugees are crossing the borders into Ethiopia daily, while a further 1200 arrive in camps in Kenya every day.” Thus, there is a security implication of migration linked to the volatility of movements of people starting to come through. The migration question is a very important one, both because migration can be a negative coping strategy but also because it can be a positive one and in many ways has to be part of the adaptation solution.

Moving forward, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. The climate, livelihoods, culture, and society are different in every place. Trying to make things at the local level, which makes sense, would be a challenge in the context of a more global science. In addition, if the climate change science is right, harsh weather will be predominant and the current social conditions, conflict and shaky governance will still exist unless something significant changes.

Finally, there are conflicting priorities between immediate humanitarian needs and longer-term development. Governments and international organizations need to tackle the distortion directly and do more than actions that develop resilience and reduce the risk of future disasters.

Photo Credit: Wikimeda Commons

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Olga Jbeili

I hold an MSc in Development Economics and a Graduate Diploma in Economics from the University of Sussex. Most recently I was working as a research officer at Sussex uni. I previously worked at the Carnegie Endowment in Beirut where I assisted scholars in researches related to food security and land acquisitions, peak-oil and rentier economies, sovereign wealth funds, labour markets among other topics... I am also particularly interested in the political economic situation in the developing and emerging economies and how this relationship might affect growth and long-run development.

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