Food Security, Peace, & Conflict

In addition to feeling concern for our Ukrainian producers and farmers, I feel that we must scan out further and ask, what happens to small farmers all over the world during times of conflict? 
by on Monday, May 2, 2022

How Conflict Affects Small Farmers & Producers

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As the world has watched complex violent conflict erupt in yet another part of our shared planet, we are collectively sorting through our pains, fears, anxieties and questions, sorting through narratives and stories. 

As a member of the Producers Market team, and as an individual and media worker, I ask myself: What is my role? What is the role of a storytelling platform? What is my, what is our role when it comes to conflict anywhere?

When it comes to content creation, I personally don’t want to make empty performative posts to boost my own, or our company, image every time something happens, but neither does it feel right to ignore major world events. 

In addition to feeling concern for our Ukrainian producers and farmers, I feel that we must scan out further and ask, what happens to small farmers all over the world during times of conflict? 

From Iraq to Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen, the conflicts and the humans they affect are many. 

Armed conflicts have drastic impacts on local and regional food security. They disrupt agricultural production and food trade, cause reduced investments, and lead to deteriorated land and infrastructure. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, violent conflict remained the main driver of global hunger in 2020. The number of active violent conflicts continues to rise, often becoming more severe. Violent conflict has a direct negative impact on food systems, affecting people’s ability to produce, trade, and access food. 

Food Security & Conflicts Around the Globe

For example, in Somalia, the Shabelle River runs through the Hiran region in the center of the country. Rainfall in Hiran is inconsistent and is often insufficient for successful rainfed agriculture. People there used to irrigate their farms from the river. Due to degradation of the infrastructure caused by the civil war, producers lost the capacity for irrigation and subsequently, adequate agricultural production.

Agricultural production is critical for the sub-saharan region of Africa, where two thirds of the population is employed in that sector. Particularly in East and Central Africa, agricultural production has been thwarted by prolonged conflict and structural instability. As a result, food insecurity has been an ongoing issue for the people in these regions. 

Even in the Ukraine, the negative impact of conflict on agriculture is not new. In 2015, the FAO reported on this issue, how conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine affected production and producers there. Agriculture and livestock production are well-developed sectors in Ukraine. There are about 1.1 million hectares of cultivated land in the Donetsk region and 940,000 hectares in Luhansk. 

The FAO estimated that due to conflict in 2014, farmers were unable to harvest 530,000 tons of barley and more than 300,000 tons of sunflowers. In the case of sunflowers, this represents a loss of almost 30 percent of the collective harvest.

What About Supply Chains?

In a globalized world, violent conflict greatly affects global supply chains too. Effects of disruption may come from a range of external sources–from malign human action to natural disaster. They are rarely localized. When shortages occur in one industry, disruptions nearly always spill into adjacent companies and sectors. Whole economies feel the impact.

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Ukraine has increased its exports over the years with many large producers and industries such as raw materials, chemical products, minerals, and machinery like transportation equipment.

Together, Russian and Ukraine, account for roughly 29% of the global wheat export market.

Disruptions to the natural gas supply will in turn affect the production of energy-intensive products such as fertilizers, which will hit agriculture further. Fertilizers were already in short supply last year, leading to soaring prices.

How To Have Hope for Peace & Food Security

While the violent situations around the world sadly and frustratingly continue, there is something hopeful we can keep in mind. If food systems are so intricately related to conflict, then it means they are also related to peace. Sustainable and equitable food systems have the potential to prevent or reduce conflict drivers, triggers and impacts, thereby contributing to peace.

Several case studies demonstrate how agricultural initiatives have led to increased stability in conflict regions. One is a women’s program in South Sudan for producers of shea butter; another connects women poultry farmers in Afghanistan. While these specific producers aren’t in our network, we do have many members who engage in similar work or projects.  

A few of note within our network are Tama Cosmetics, MetaWear, and Threads4Dreams. These organizations have social justice-driven missions built into their models. They show us that it is possible to earn a profit and support your community at the same time. They demonstrate that not all commerce is solely based on extractive processes, and that regeneration is a concept that works in multiple areas of the supply chain.

Research shows that the initiatives and programs that work the best are the ones that foster relationships between consumers and producers, those that build trust along the value chain. This brings us full circle to our values at Producers Market. 

Why do we do what we do? 

Trust and transparency are critical in building and maintaining new holistic food systems. Transparency is crucial to healthy functioning supply chains. 

Is agriculture the solution to war? Perhaps not. But whether we talk about energy use or food shortages, climate crisis or armed conflict, access to food and sustainable economic endeavors is key. 

Where there are disruptions, there is space for renewal and construction. In our global community, we are fortunate to be connected with producers all over the world who are building environmental, social, and economic solutions into their work. This gives us great hope—for humans and the planet.


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Amy Schmidt is Producers Market staff writer and editor. She is from western North Carolina and is now based in Costa Rica, where she enjoys the beach, the coconuts, and reading in a hammock. You can find more of her work at Medusa Media Collective.

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