“After 20 years of optimism, international food and nutrition experts are presenting a more cautious world food outlook (see, for example, Pinstrup-Andersen, Pandya-Lorch, and Rosegrant, 1997). Although the world as a whole now enjoys a food surplus, over the next two decades annual growth rates of major cereal crop yields are expected to slow, while global population is expected to grow by 2 billion people. Cultivated land areas are diminishing, and environmental and biological resources are also being degraded and destroyed. Developing countries also face economic threats to their food security because multilateral trade agreements will likely reduce food surpluses in the developed countries, raise grain prices, and shrink food aid. Future food security in developing countries is also menaced by cutbacks in foreign assistance, an increasing proportion of which is now allocated to disaster situations, reducing the amount available for agricultural research investment.
These factors suggest that developing countries will face growing food deficits and food and nutritional insecurity. They may also face environmental degradation and natural resource scarcities that will end in greater competition and conflict (Brown and Kane, 1994; Kaplan, 1994). Several recent studies have proposed a significant link between environmental resource scarcity and violence (Homer-Dixon, 1991, 1994). This paper expands this proposition to consider significant linkages among environmental resource scarcities, conflict, food, and hunger.
The paper argues that armed conflicts (those involving more than 1,000 deaths) or “food wars” constitute a significant cause of deteriorating food scenarios in developing countries. Food wars are defined as wars involving the use of hunger as a weapon or hunger vulnerability that accompanies or follows from destructive conflict (Messer, 1990). They have already been shown to be a salient factor in the famines of the 1980s and 1990s (see Bohle, 1993; Messer, 1994; Macrae and Zwi, 1993, 1994; Messer, 1996a). Although geographic information and famine early warning systems and international food reserves established after the famines of the mid-1970s provide both timely early warning and a capacity for emergency response, the social disorganization that accompanies conflict prevents food distribution.
Food wars are also a growing cause of chronic underproduction and food insecurity, where prolonged conflicts prevent farming and marketing and where land, waterworks, markets, infrastructure, and human communities have been destroyed. The data suggest that most countries and regions that are food insecure are not hopeless under producers but are experiencing the aftermath of conflicts, political instability, and poor governance. Their food production capacities are higher than current projections predict.