Conflict and food systems

Last updated:
2 June 2023
Irish Aid, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Dublin City University

Conflict is the major driver of food insecurity worldwide. This research programme with Irish Aid sought to investigate the impact of conflict on various elements of the food system to identify those with the biggest influence on food and nutrition security amongst people experiencing extreme poverty.

Sudanese refugee sits in makeshift tent in Chad
Amina* is one of the Sudanese refugees at Adré, in the east of Chad. Photo: Majd Holbi/Concern Worldwide

The 2022 Global Report on Food Crisis highlights conflict as the major driver of acute food insecurity, which forced approximately 139 million people into crisis-level acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or worse) in 2021 (FSIN, 2022). The scale of this impact on households and communities, which is compounded by economic shocks and weather extremes, spans economic, political, social, and environmental activities, emphasising that conflict’s impacts should be considered through a food systems lens rather than the narrower outcomes of food and nutrition security alone.

The 2018 United Nations Security Council Resolution 2417 recognized the link between conflict and hunger, condemning the starving of civilians as a method of warfare and the unlawful denial of humanitarian access to civilian populations (UN Press, 2018).

Drawing on evidence from Somalia, Haiti and Sudan, this cross-country research systematically mapped components of local, national and international food systems; identified specific pressure points where conflict interacts with them; and proposed operational, policy and research actions tailored to supporting and strengthening food systems disrupted and transformed by conflict.


In seeking to investigate the impact of conflict on various elements of the food system to identify those with the biggest influence on food and nutrition security amongst people experiencing extreme  poverty, the research found that:


In Haiti, conflict has a negative impact on the food system throughout the value chain from rural
production to urban consumption by:

a) Severely compromising mobility through insecurity, roadblocks, and taxation, handicapping the flow of goods and capital;
b) Broadly impacting women that play a vital role in the food system, especially Madan Saras, but also others, leading to less food availability and market activity; and,
c) Pushing food system actors into maladaptive coping strategies that degrade the local food
system and incentivise food imports.


In Somalia, conflict has a profoundly negative effect on the food system through
a) Crippling illegal taxation and territorial control by armed actors;
b) Exploiting a lack of systematic supports to the local food system from the public and private sector;
c) Magnifying the destructive forces of climate change; and
d) Promoting maladaptive livelihood transformations that undermine the local food system and can disable their ability to recover.


Lastly, in Sudan, the most significant negative impacts of conflict on the food system were found to be:
a) Disrupting access to natural resources (farmland, pastureland, firewood and water);
b) Disrupting access to markets (physical and financial); and
c) Limiting the integration of different markets (which is essential resilience mechanism for food systems).

This research was funded by Irish Aid. The ideas, opinions and comments in this document are entirely the responsibility of its authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect Irish Aid policy.

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