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FEATURE STORYMarch 2, 2022

Q&A: How Can Agriculture Help People in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Situations?

The World Bank

Growing vegetables in Lebanon. Photo: Dorte Verner/World Bank

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

Food is often scarce in countries afflicted by fragility, conflict and violence. But solutions require more than putting food on the table today. To truly help those caught in often terrifying situations, it’s important to look at how they will be able to eat and provide food for their familiie tomorrow and beyond – and that requires focusing on agriculture. Holger Kray, World Bank Program Manager for Agriculture and Food in Eastern and Southern Africa, explains the role of agriculture in these difficult settings.

Q. From your experience, what is the relationship between conflict and hunger?
A. There's a commonality between all the fragile and conflict affected states. Their per capita income is usually persistently low, so people cannot afford to buy high quality foods and a diversified diet. And those who produce food cannot afford to buy the most critical inputs, such as seeds, fertilizers and good animal feed. Because of that, extreme poverty is increasing. This is almost like a vicious cycle.

There are also disruptions to food systems. For instance, products are being produced but they don't reach the consumer due to shortages in energy or logistics.

In addition, in fragile and conflict-affected countries, the public sector may not be as efficient in rolling out policies and making decisions about the stewardship of natural resources.

Q. What are the impacts of climate change in these situations?
A. Climate change is the greatest threat to food security that we've seen. And it's probably one of the greatest challenges that the World Bank is facing in its assistance to countries.  

Twenty years ago, a food security crisis resulting from severe weather in Africa would occur about once every 12 years. It now occurs every two and a half years. It’s much too frequent for any country, region or farm to recover from the impact of these shocks.

In countries such as Malawi or Madagascar, you now see it every two to three years. These are countries that only have one rainy season per year. They can only produce maize once a year. If that rain season fails to come, there's no food production. If a rainstorm comes right when the corn starts to grow, it washes away the crops, then the crops are gone for the year.

Q. How has COVID-19 impacted these situations?
A. Because of COVID-19 lockdown measures, per capita income GDP declined even further. Poverty rates in fragile countries have increased, and food insecurity worsened. Food price inflation these days is much higher in fragile and conflict affected countries. Food price inflation this year in Africa is about 12% on average, year over year. It's 30-40% in conflict affected countries.

Q. But it's not only about COVID. No, or even getting emergency aid to people.  Agriculture itself is key. So how does it work in such dangerous situations?
A. Agriculture provides food, jobs and income. Agriculture also creates inclusion. It is usually the sector in which women not only find dignity, but really have a voice in which they take important decisions. It is often underestimated how important the agriculture and food sector is for inclusion of the marginalized populations.

Agriculture is also about landscape and resilience. If you have nude landscapes without any vegetation or that are no longer cultivated, these landscapes are quite often much more prone to catastrophic weather events. The presence of trees, grass and pasture hold the soil much better, add to water retention capacity and bind carbon in the soil.

Summing up, agriculture plays a very central role. It’s not the solution to every challenge that countries face in fragile and conflict-affected situations, 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 World Bank's main mission is to focus on long-term development, helping countries to build systems, infrastructure, and capacity to avoid fragile and conflict situations or to recover after such catastrophic impacts. We are not a rapid response agency, but we do have rapid response activities, such as food aid or feed aid.

Livelihood kits is one example. After crops have been washed away, we quickly help supply farmers with seed and fertilizer to produce food for the next season. This is what we typically do when we work with governments after natural disasters.

Something relatively new in our “response portfolio” is the Early Response Financing which we can deploy at the early onset of a potential food crisis, to avoid catastrophic impacts on the population later on.

South Sudan is a concrete example. It’s continues to be affected by hunger, extreme climate shocks such as flooding, and conflict. We've recently deployed two projects that are being implemented in parallel. One is an emergency locust response project where we areworking with communities through the government to improve local surveillance and locust control, help restore livelihoods, and help the country to build systems so that in the future it is better prepared for locust outbreaks. All these actions arepart of an emergency response. 

In parallel, we have deployed a resilient agricultural livelihoods project. This project helps South Sudan to develop better agriculture productivity in parts of the country are fertile  and not affected by conflict so that that the nation can build a strong foundation to feed itself in future.

Q. Have you seen agriculture projects that have made a difference and supported a return to normalcy in fragile and conflict settings?
A. Agriculture is a part of a response strategy. It might be one of the most important one, but it is not the only ones. It's always a combination of a range of efforts which include agriculture and food, but also focus on job creation, livelihood restoration, trade, economic growth, macroeconomic stability -- all the things that need to be present for development to take place.

An example is northern Uganda at the border of South Sudan. Two decades ago, violence in the region dominated international news. If you go to northern Uganda now, what you’d see unfolding is an agricultural revolution. There is a really vibrant private sector that works with farmers and provides technical assistance, telling farmers how to better use inputs, how to better grow, collect and market crops.To a certain degree, northern Uganda has become a critical supplier for food security efforts managed by the World Food Program in neighboring South Sudan.

Q. With all of this, what role does the private sector play?
A. Agriculture is inherently a private sector activity because all the farmers, whether male or female, small or large, are entrepreneurs. The state's only role in guiding agriculture is to devise a policy framework that delivers incentives and a regulatory environment for farmers as private actors to develop and produce and prosper.

Private corporations, traders and downstream businesses have a critical role to play. They are the ones who supply seeds, fertilizers, insurance, banking, machinery, maintenance services among other things. In fragile and conflict settings, the private sector often functions in the gray economy, the undocumented economy, but it's very active.

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

This is why the World Bank Group does not only focus on the public sector side. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) specializes in private sector development, helping enterprises to grow and make a greater contribution to development.

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


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