Q&A: How can agriculture function in situations of fragility and conflict? – World

(This Q&A is excerpted and adapted from an episode of the Table for 10 Billion podcast)

Food is often scarce in countries affected by conflict. But the solutions require more than feeding people today. To really help those caught in these often terrifying situations, it is important to ask how they too will be able to feed themselves tomorrow, that is, agriculture. Holger Kray, World Bank Program Manager for Agriculture and Food in Eastern and Southern Africa, explains the role of agriculture in these difficult contexts.

Q. In your experience, what is the relationship between conflict and hunger?

A. There is a common thread among all fragile and conflict-affected states. Their per capita income is generally consistently low, so people cannot afford to buy high quality food and a diverse diet. And those who produce food cannot afford the most essential inputs, such as seeds, fertilizers and good animal feed. Because of this, extreme poverty is increasing. It’s almost like a vicious circle.

There are also disruptions in food systems. For example, products are produced but do not reach the consumer due to energy or logistics shortages.

In addition, in fragile and conflict-affected countries, the public sector may not be as effective in implementing policies and making decisions about natural resource management.

Q. What are the impacts of climate change in these situations?

A. Climate is the biggest threat to food security we have seen. And this is probably one of the biggest challenges the World Bank faces in helping countries.

Twenty years ago, a food security crisis resulting from severe weather events in Africa occurred about once every 12 years. It now occurs every two and a half years. It is all too common for a country, region or operation to recover from the impact of these shocks.

In countries like Malawi or Madagascar, we now see it every two to three years. These are countries that have only one rainy season per year. They can only produce maize once a year. If this rainy season does not come, there is no food production. If a rainstorm comes just as the corn is starting to grow, it washes away the crops, then the crops are lost for the year.

Q. What impact has COVID-19 had on these situations?

A. Due to the COVID-19 containment measures, GDP per capita income has further declined. Poverty rates in fragile countries have increased and food insecurity has worsened. Food price inflation is now much higher in fragile and conflict-affected countries. Food price inflation this year in Africa is around 12% on average, year-on-year. It is 30 to 40% in countries affected by conflict.

Q. But it’s not just about COVID. No, or even provide emergency aid to people. Agriculture itself is essential. So how does it work in such dangerous situations?

A. Agriculture provides food, jobs and income. Agriculture also creates inclusion. This is usually the sector in which women not only find their dignity, but truly have a voice in which to make important decisions. The importance of the agriculture and food sector for the inclusion of marginalized populations is often underestimated.

Agriculture is also a matter of landscape and resilience. If you have bare landscapes without any vegetation or that are no longer cultivated, these landscapes are often much more prone to catastrophic weather events. The presence of trees, grasses and pastures hold the soil much better, increase the water holding capacity and fix carbon in the soil.

In summary, agriculture plays a very central role. It is not the solution to all the challenges that countries face in situations of fragility and conflict, but it is much more than just a sector that only produces food.

Q. So how does the World Bank work to promote agriculture in these situations?

A. The core mission of the World Bank is to focus on long-term development, helping countries build systems, infrastructure, and capacities to avoid situations of fragility and conflict or to recover from such catastrophic impacts. . We are not a rapid response agency, but we have rapid response activities, such as food aid or food aid.

One example is subsistence kits. Once the crops are washed away, we quickly help supply farmers with seeds and fertilizers to produce food for the following season. This is what we usually do when working with governments after natural disasters.

Something relatively new to our “response portfolio” is early response funding that we can deploy early in a potential food crisis, to avoid catastrophic impacts on the population later.

South Sudan is a concrete example. It is one of the most hungry countries in the world and still in civil war. We recently deployed two projects working in parallel. One is an emergency locust response project. Through this project, we work with communities through government to improve local oversight and control, help restore livelihoods, and help the country put systems in place so that at the future, it will be better prepared for locust invasions. All of these actions focus on emergency response.

In parallel, we rolled out a resilient agricultural livelihoods project. This project is helping South Sudan develop better agricultural productivity in areas of the country with high fertile potential that are not currently affected by conflict so that this nation can feed itself much better in the future.

Q. Have you seen agricultural projects that have made a difference and supported a return to normalcy in fragile and conflict contexts?

A. Agriculture is part of a response strategy. It may be one of the most important, but it is not the only one. It is always a combination of a range of efforts that includes agriculture and food, but should also focus on job creation, restoration of livelihoods, trade, economic growth, macroeconomic stability – all the things that must be present for development to take place.

An example is northern Uganda bordering South Sudan. Two decades ago, fighting in the region dominated international news. If you go to northern Uganda now, you will see an agricultural revolution unfolding. There is a very dynamic private sector that works with farmers and provides them with technical assistance, teaching them how to use inputs better, how to grow a better crop, and then collect and market them. To some extent, northern Uganda has become a key supplier for food security efforts run by the World Food Program in neighboring South Sudan.

Q. In all of this, what role does the private sector play?

A. Agriculture is by nature a private sector activity because all farmers, whether men or women, small or large, are entrepreneurs. The only role of the state in guiding agriculture is to design a policy framework that provides incentives and a regulatory environment that allows farmers as private actors to grow, produce and prosper.

Private companies, traders and downstream businesses have a critical role to play. They are the ones who provide, among other things, seeds, fertilizers, insurance, banks, machinery, maintenance services. In contexts of fragility and conflict, the private sector often operates in the gray economy, the paperless economy, but it is very active.

The private sector also has a role to play in mobilizing financing for development by investing in these countries. International and bilateral organizations, as well as foundations, cannot alone meet the agricultural development needs of entire continents.

This is why the World Bank Group does not focus solely on the public sector. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) specializes in private sector development, helping businesses grow and contribute more to development.

Meanwhile, our Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) helps cross-border investors and lenders deal with non-commercial and political risks, breach of contract and currency inconvertibility. If you were an international investor considering investing in a fragile country, MIGA could insure some of your risk. This type of insurance is an important ingredient in attracting funds from the international private sector.

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