By Saswati Bora, Operations Officer, Agriculture & Environmental Services, the World Bank
Ms. Bora, the lead author of the background paper “Food Security and Conflict” to the 2011 World Development Report: Conflict, Security and Development, kicks off our first Landscapes Roundtable on the role of integrated landscape management in mitigating or avoiding conflict. With an eye to the challenges facing a growing global population she provides some foundation on a landscape approach and the links between strained natural resources and conflict.
Conflict often arises in the competition over factors of production, primarily unequal access to land and water resources. Agricultural land productivity is already declining due to desertification, salinization, soil erosion, and deforestation, and the growing world population is only adding to the demand on land resources. Water scarcity in many countries is also leading to conflict among countries and regions that share resources and reserves across national boundaries. Climate change adds further stress and volatility to the agricultural system. By 2050, climate change could reduce yields by 30 percent (without effective adaptation); this takes place over a period when the world needs to produce at least 50 percent more food to feed the world’s growing population, set to reach 9 billion people by 2050. Climate change can also lead to migration from increasingly uninhabitable areas that may place additional burdens and resource conflicts in areas receiving migrants.
Having more people to feed, with more competition for land and water, more variable climate, and greater food price volatility increases the stresses on livelihoods and food systems. Countries under the greatest pressure are often the least able to respond, especially when inequalities or environmental degradation coupled with weak institutions lead to marginalization of large segments of the population. When countries are under stress, conflict can be triggered by natural (such as a prolonged drought in Ethiopia in 1973-74), economic (such as the large and rapid increase in food prices in Haiti in 2008), or political events (such as denied access to land in Madagascar in 2008-2009). Better managing the competing demands for land, water, and forest resources through a landscape approach can play a significant role in reducing these stresses and limiting conflict.
A “landscape approach” takes both a spatial and socio-economic approach to managing land, water, and forest resources and the ecosystem services they provide. Increasingly landscape approaches are being employed to implement strategies that integrate management of these resources, and that promote sustainable use and conservation in an equitable manner. For example, in Rwanda, agriculture is challenged by uneven rainfall, production variability, small land holdings, limited commercialization, and especially land constraints due to population growth. The World Bank and other donors are supporting the Government’s Land Husbandry, Water Harvesting and Hillside Irrigation Project that addresses these challenges through a landscape approach by providing infrastructure and assistance for land husbandry (terracing and downstream reservoir protection), water harvesting (valley dams and reservoirs), and hillside irrigation (water distribution piping, fittings and field application for basin and furrow irrigation). In addition, the project provides training for farmers, supports farmer organizations, and enhances marketing and financing activities. As a result, the productivity in rain-fed areas has tripled, small farmers now have access to improved farming methods, more land is protected against soil erosion and the share of commercialized agricultural products has increased. At the national level, government has adopted a program for ‘border-to-border’ landscape restoration, and intends to adopt an ecosystems approach to implement this.
Although landscape approaches can reduce resource stress and conflict, it is only part of the solution and needs to be implemented in the “right” way. While feasible, it can be difficult to target both improved livelihoods and conservation objectives, since conservation will not always be in the interest of some or all stakeholders.
A landscape approach works better when land tenure rights are secure and complemented by improved governance over land resources. This provides incentives for individual farmers, households, and communities to invest in land and water management, and to protect trees and forests. Appropriate pricing regimes encourage rational use of scarce resources. Regulations are also needed (e.g. to control pollution run-off or avoid free grazing of animals), but must be backed up by appropriate incentives for private farmers to invest in “public good” activities that may benefit others in the landscape.
The public good nature of many of these investments, including positive environmental impacts outside the project area, requires the right incentives and justifies complementary financing from local and central governments. It is important to have information and communications infrastructure and strategy in place. If people don’t have access to information they can understand, they have less of an incentive to change their behavior. Open communication also enables innovation. Decentralized decision-making can help facilitate locally adapted solutions and encourages local communities to participate. Transparent and accountable institutions are essential.
Addressing these features can tackle some of the structural issues — related to failed institutions and competition over natural resources — that often lead to conflict. A landscape approach has the potential to reduce the stresses that lead to conflict and ultimately restore a balance of environmental, social, and economic benefits.
Food Security and Conflict
Land and Food Security
(The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed in this post are entirely those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group)
Photo credit: Mary Rose Madden (WYPR)