Hamond Motsi delves into the complex interplay between political turmoil, conflict, and agriculture in Africa. His research uncovers the silent struggles of farmers and the dire consequences for food security, urging for urgent, pragmatic solutions to transform the continent’s agricultural landscape.
As the year draws to its close, a multitude of ill-considered insurgencies and alarming coups in Africa have captured international attention, raising concerns and questions about the future of enduring peace on the continent for its prosperity, sovereignty, and socioeconomic progress.
What has unfolded represents a series of endemic wars in various countries, now relegated to the status of “forgotten conflicts of Africa” as the media no longer shines a spotlight on these nations, even though they remain volatile conflict zones.
In the realm of agricultural productivity and food security, these conflicts and political upheavals in Africa cast a shadow on the already deteriorating state of agricultural output and food stability. Numerous factors, such as limited access to fertilisers and improved seeds, lack of financial resources and markets, pests and diseases, and widespread soil degradation and climate change, have hindered Africa’s agricultural potential.
This has resulted in food insecurity, forcing Africa to rely on food imports, accumulating an annual bill of USD 80 billion, despite its capability to produce its own food. However, the impact of conflicts, which have diminished agricultural productivity and food security, remains inadequately analysed and discussed.
Internal conflicts in African nations have disrupted and hindered the potential productivity of agriculture, evident in the strong correlation between food insecurity and conflict-ridden areas.
Statistics from the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS) reveal that approximately 80% of the 137 million people facing chronic food insecurity reside in conflict-affected regions. This percentage has been steadily rising since the beginning of the previous decade.
The first ten countries grappling with food security issues in Africa are located in conflict-stricken areas, with many of these nations experiencing military coups.
To exacerbate matters, the three most populous countries in Africa – Nigeria, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – are the primary hotspots for conflicts. These countries, with populations exceeding 223.8 million, 126.7 million, and 102.3 million respectively, according to World Bank 2023 population statistics, constitute almost a third of the continent’s population.
Alarmingly, they also harbour the highest number of people enduring chronic food insecurity – 19.5 million in Nigeria, 20 million in Ethiopia, and 25.9 million in the DRC, as per ACSS data. Furthermore, the DRC stands out as the world’s most food-insecure country.
Other conflict-affected nations experiencing acute food insecurities in Africa include Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, and the Western Sahel Region (Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger) with 11.7 million, 7 million, 6 million, 7 million, and 9.7 million people respectively facing chronic food insecurity.
It is noteworthy that these countries are primarily situated in the Eastern, Central, and Western regions of Africa. Southern Africa remains an exception to this conflict, although Mozambique recently emerged as a hotspot, displacing nearly one million people who were subsequently affected by food insecurity.
These internal conflicts impact food security and agriculture across the entire agricultural value chain in several ways.
Displacement of farmers and labour force
Conflict leads to the migration of farmers and potential labour force. Rural areas where agriculture is practiced become vulnerable to nefarious rebel activities, exposing farmers to violent attacks, torture, and abduction. Fearing such risks, people seek refuge in peaceful areas but cannot engage in agricultural activities.
Even if farmers remain, the local labour force is displaced, as community members are uprooted. Agriculture in Africa relies heavily on manual labour due to limited mechanisation compared to other global regions.
The imbalance in labour reduces agricultural productivity, particularly for crop production, as opposed to livestock husbandry, where farmers can migrate with their animals.
Theft and destruction of produce, equipment, and infrastructure
Militants target farming regions to plunder agricultural produce, both in the field and after harvesting. They also steal animals, especially oxen used for ploughing and transport logistics, along with farming equipment and inputs.
In some cases, insurgents set farms ablaze, completely annihilating equipment, infrastructure, and grazing fields. This results in a complete collapse of agricultural productivity and food security.
Agricultural markets are pivotal in the agricultural value chain, where almost all transactions involving money and food take place. Militants target money, food, and incoming people. Displacement of farmers reduces agricultural productivity, leading to decreased produce supply.
Concurrently, the displacement of local residents means fewer consumers, resulting in market failures. Militants target marketplaces, loot food, and sabotage these places, sometimes hijacking produce en route to markets through dubious roadblocks. Additionally, women play a significant role in African markets, but due to their vulnerability to abuse and rape, their participation is compromised.
Lack of funding and insurance
Ironically, agriculture demands substantial investment and capital infusion for enhanced production, along with insurance coverage due to various risks. However, the instability and compounded risks in conflict zones deter potential institutions responsible for funding and insurance, leading to reduced productivity.
Interference in food distribution from donors
Due to local agricultural production failures causing food insecurity, these regions often receive food aid from international donors, primarily the UN, WFP, FAO, and individual developed countries. Efforts to reach these regions prove futile due to militant interference with distribution programmes.
They disrupt distribution centres through hijackings and disturbances, block and destroy roads leading to these centres, and disrupt or destroy ports of entry such as airports, seaports, and borders used for food transportation.
Given the unprecedented impact of conflicts and political turmoil in Africa, stringent measures are imperative to pave the way for agricultural development and food security. While several initiatives to resolve these conflicts have been proposed at regional, continental, and global levels, their implementation has faltered, remaining largely theoretical.
African countries must demystify their political and conflict-related challenges to transform agriculture and ensure food security, thereby propelling socioeconomic development.
- Hamond Motsi is a Preparatory PhD scholar at the Faculty of Agrisciences, Stellenbosch University, with a keen interest in sustainable agriculture and agricultural development in Africa. He holds an MSc in Agronomy (cum laude) from Stellenbosch University, BSc Hons in Crop Science, and BSc in Crop and Soil Science (cum laude), both from the University of Fort Hare. For inquiries, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.