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Food abundance causes more conflict in Africa than food scarcity

When researchers set out to investigate how food availability may affect armed conflict in Africa, they made the discovery that food abundance is a much more likely cause of war than food scarcity.

The findings of the research contradict the theory that climate change will increase the frequency of civil war in Africa as a result of food scarcity.

Study author Ore Koren is a United States foreign policy and international security researcher at Dartmouth College.

“Examining food availability and the competition over such resources, especially where food is abundant, is essential to understanding the frequency of civil war in Africa,” said Koren.

For their investigation, the researchers used PRIO-Grid data from over 10,600 grid cells in Africa from 1998 to 2008, data on agricultural yields from EarthStat, and also information from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset.

The team estimated how annual local wheat and maize yields may have affected the frequency of conflict. The study revealed that there are four main reasons why conflict breaks out over food in Africa.

Armed troops that are not regularly supported by the state depend on locally sourced food, which means that they are drawn to areas with abundant food sources and aim for control of these resources.

Rebel groups which oppose the government are also drawn to areas with an abundance of food, and often misuse the resources to make money.

Many rural areas have civil defense forces to protect the community against intruders. These militias often attempt to expand their control into other areas with arable land and food resources.

Militias representing farming communities are highly mobile, following their cattle or livestock. They often raid other communities to feed their herds, and sometimes resort to violence.

Although droughts can lead to conflict in urban areas, this was not the case for rural areas of Africa. Here, the majority of armed conflicts occurred where food crops were abundant.

“Understanding how climate change will affect food productivity and access is vital; yet, predictions of how drought may affect conflict may be overstated in Africa and do not get to the root of the problem,” said Koren.

“Instead, we should focus on reducing inequality and improving local infrastructure, alongside traditional conflict resolution and peace building initiatives.”

The study is published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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