Food security, agricultural systems and impacts on conflict and migration

I posted some thoughts on the issue of food security and migration in a different discussion but I wanted to start a separate thread to discuss the issue at a broader level.

My earlier comments referenced the impact of drought (driven by climate change) and the resulting impact on agriculture in Syria being a driver of the civil war in that region. (Underlying research on it is here ).

I’m curious if the community can weigh in on two things:

  1. what are some other examples of agricultural disruptions driving migration and/or conflict?
  2. what are regions that may be particularly susceptible to this phenomenon in the future? hypothetically I could imagine Kashmir as one region if it is faced with a major disruption to farming patterns and systems (such as extreme weather events), given the history of conflict there and ongoing tension and the high proportion of Jammu and Kashmir residents who are involved in agricultural activities (I saw 80% as a quoted figure during some scanning).

on the latter point, it is possible that the causality could go both ways - in the Kashmir example, i assumed changes to agricultural systems would beget conflict; the reverse could also be true.

curious about other examples, as well as the potential scope of the problem (which might be the biggest issue of all)

@timsilman one clear example is in the Sahel area, in particular Niger and Nigeria. The Fulani case in Nigeria is the most striking case: climate change is currently reducing fertile land and this is impacting both farming and herding communities/tribes, which are increasignly fighting against each other for the land (given that fertile land is either for grazing or for farming, but not for both at the same time).

The fighting is fierce and is also worsened by tribal lines (which also often involve religious differences) and is currently causing both disruption and migration. So we have an example where all these dynamics combine: you have an effect from climate change, worsened by poor/no effective response by local governments (little to no countermeasures), which worsens the socioeconomic situation (less fertile land available means prospect of famine/poverty), which in turn causes conflict. In turn conflict makes it even harder to employ effective countermeasures for climate change effects and worsens the socioeconomic situation there and in nearby areas, which in turn leads to more fighting for local areas. It’s a sort of spiral, where multipled dynamics actually reinforce each other - including demography, which for Nigeria (and not only Nigeria) will be another issue.
The whole Sahel area is like this, so that makes an example of area where future trends will be dictated by these dynamics too.

@timsilman & @Lorenzo
Thank you both for starting a conversation about conflict and agriculture! I am personally very passionate about understanding and analyzing the impacts of conflict on people’s lives and looking at this from the agriculture lens is quite new to me.

Another clear example is Myanmar, which is on the verge of intensified conflicts THIS WEEK due to land ‘reform’ policies.

Agriculture is the backbone of Myanmar’s economy contributing to almost 40% of its GDP and employing 70% of the labor force (FAO). Myanmar also happens to be home to the world’s longest running civil war.

Ever since political and economic restrictions on Myanmar were lifted in 2011, the government’s reform efforts have often fueled internal conflicts instead of making them better. Agricultural ‘reform’ is no different.

According to a recent amendment of the Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management law, millions of people now have until March 11, 2019 to obtain permits allowing them to stay on their historically owned lands. There are concerns that the amended law violates formal and informal current peace efforts and ceasefire agreements all over Myanmar. If/when millions fail to obtain permits, all their land will automatically belong to the state.

What will the state do with all this land? agricultural concessions i.e. land grabbing. That means that the government will sell or lease large pieces of land to transnational companies and/or governments.

The effects: land insecurity, displacement, a transition from land ownership to (often) exploitative employment on large plantations, depletion of natural resources, and more and more conflict.

@Lorenzo thanks so much for your great post, this is really informative. in my original example of Syria clearly there were several layers of ethnic/religious/political/extremism considerations and in some respects there are even more in the Sahel example given the tribal aspect.

in your example do you suspect that ongoing effects of climate change will continue to make this dynamic worse in the region, potentially affecting other ethnic groups and areas?

@Caroline very interesting. so in this example the causality is muddled because these political changes will both create more conflict and also result in agricultural displacement?

are these “reforms” being implemented across Myanmar or only the conflict zones in the East, North, and West (e.g. Kachin, Shan, Rakhine, etc.)? if the purpose is land grabbing then it would seem to apply mainly to territory that the government controls, i.e. not in conflict zones? Does that mean it is only indirectly related to the current civil war?

@timsilman yes, this is a dynamic that will continue. Currently there are 4 macrodynamics at play in the area: demographic growth, climate change effects (incl. desertification of Sahel area), conflict/security, bad governance. If not checked, they are all moving towards a worsening of condition (also because of the interlocking between them as shown in previous comments). The whole 10th parallel area is involved, even if specific issues may be at play in different areas: Ethiopia has seen similar problems, Mali too, even if each with their own peculiarities.

Also, migration from rural areas to urban areas is another issue - rural areas have less to offer, while big cities have a greater lure, even if they then are unable to sustain such a massive population increase, which in turn creates slums.

For farming, I feel this has multiple effects: fertile areas are subject to either fighting or depopulation (or both), which decreases use and this, in turn, makes it harder to increase its use and/or productivity.

@Lorenzo thanks so much, this is really interesting. i can’t help but be a little overwhelmed by the systemic aspects here - for example, that fertile areas are growing less fertile, while also being subject to greater conflict and out-migration to urban areas, which creates further challenges to agricultural use, increasing productivity, incentives for innovation, etc.

but then again it’s the entire point of this exercise - to unpack the macro and micro trends, understand some of the key influences, and then understand how those coalesce into a series of grand challenges. from there, we try to think outside the box about breakthroughs that solve those challenges. lots to chew on here! thanks again for your contribution.

@balamliman, you might have thoughts on this issue as well. Please feel free to join the discussion!

@NickOttens Thank you for inviting me to the discussion. I agree with @Lorenzo’s analysis of the current effect of climate change in Nigeria. We have two hotspots, the first cuts across the country and involves the herdsmen and their search for pasture for their cattle which has brought them in direct conflict with farmers. This runs across most of what is called the middle belt and is being contested across ethnic and religious lines which makes it more potent. The second is the North Eastern part of Nigeria where the Boko Haram is currently operating. The shrinking of the Lake Chad which served as the source of livelihood for populations that cut across four countries, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger and Chad has helped worsen the level of the insurgency. This is because more people have lost their source of livelihood and have become easy recruits for the insurgency group.
It is important to note as already stated that Farmers/herdsmen crisis is being fought on fault lines that go beyond the issue of climate change with the injection of religious and ethnic differences helping to further exacerbate the situation. There is a need for the Nigerian government at the Federal and state levels to manage the situation better

@balamliman thank you so much for providing some on-the-ground insights into the situation in Nigeria and @Lorenzo’s comments. it just continues to reinforce the impact of climate change as a global macro trend that then interacts with local situational issues (often of the tribal, ethnic, religious, political nature, all of which exist everywhere in some form or another). in this region it seems like there are so many of those at play which is making the situation even more complex and challenging for citizens.

@mikelon, you may be interested in this discussion. Please, feel free to share your own thoughts!

@PaulineB I just read your bio and wanted to flag this discussion for you given all your expertise in conflict/failed states and specifically in the Niger Delta. Are we missing anything in your estimation with regards to how projected trends in food/agriculture may drive conflict and political upheaval?

In the Niger Delta, degradation of the environment from the oil industry has had a very negative impact on the fishing industry and will take decades to remedy. But that has not been contemplated seriously. Elsewhere in Nigeria, climate change is driving nomadic cattle herders southward in search of grazing land, but this has disturbed farmers whose crops have been damaged by cows eating their harvests. In turn, this has spawned the most lethal conflict in the country, with a death toll higher than that from Islamic terrorism in the north, which is fueled by poverty and lack of food. I don’t think it is one thing that is causing all this disruption; it is evident in many other parts of Africa. But food security will be affected in many fragile states by climate change, economic “development” based on mineral extraction, and rapidly changing demographic patterns that include a youth bulge, food “refugees”, and waves or migration.

@PaulineB thanks so much! an issue that the team has highlighted is land competition but i think you raise a specific issue in this regard around mineral extraction and massive scale land shifts. it’s at a scale far beyond the suburbs/exurbs encroaching on farmland, etc., and something that will have a greater impact in Africa given the low “cost” of entry (limited political capital for residents, low wages, and high corruption) and currently somewhat inefficient agricultural production (requiring larger areas of land) @SevagKechichian @Caroline

Yes, I think Africa is highly impacted by this type of encroachment and much of it is fueled by climate change too, not just mineral extraction activities. It is made even worse by the enormous rate of population growth and the youth bulge which means more pressure on urban and suburban areas.

@PaulineB yes the overlapping trends seem to combine to exponentially increase the potential negative impacts Africa. good point

stumbled across some research from the National Academy of Sciences showing that in Africa there are “strong historical linkages between civil war and temperature on the continent, with warmer years leading to significant increases in the likelihood of war.” most concerning is that:

Source: FSI | FSE - Warming Increases Risk of Civil War in Africa