Nairobi. - Food security and agriculture have an essential role to play in preventing conflicts and crises on the African continent, blunting their impacts and acting as engines for post-crisis recovery. This was the central message of FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva to African leaders and international development actors gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, for one of the foremost summits on African development.
"Ending hunger and malnutrition, addressing humanitarian and protracted crises, preventing and resolving conflicts, and building peace are not separate tasks, but simply different facets of the same challenge," Graziano da Silva said at a side-event on "Peace and Food Security", hosted by FAO, at the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI, 26-28 August 2016).
The link between conflict prevention and development is of particular importance in the African region, which is host to nearly 60 percent of active UN Peacekeeping Missions. And whilst armed conflicts across Africa as a whole have decreased in recent years, this trend has been uneven across the continent.
"Much of FAO's work aims at promoting sustainable development and building the resilience of rural populations," Graziano da Silva said, giving concrete examples of countries where agricultural support helped secure the transition from wars to sustainable peace, including Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"By supporting agriculture and rural development, we help create jobs, provide income and boost youth employment. This can help prevent distress migration and radicalization, as well as mitigate disputes over depleted resources," he said.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, FAO has worked with partners on the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (D-D-R) of former combatants by providing them with the agricultural skills, knowledge and supplies - an approach proven to lower the risk of ex-combatants rejoining militias once they are empowered with access to food and income-generating activities.
Graziano da Silva underscored the many opportunities to replicate this strategy in other post-conflict situations and stressed recent conversations with leaders in the Central African Republic aimed at putting agriculture at the center of the country's recovery by providing food security and jobs for rural youth.
"Conflict prevention and resolution require secure and resilient conditions that meet the needs of rural people, both in terms of nutrition and livelihoods," he said.
In two other examples, FAO and partners are working in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia to support the peaceful use of natural resources and prevent the spread of transboundary livestock diseases, while in the Sahel, pastoralism and the economic empowerment of rural women are central parts of the agency's roadmap to increase resilience in the region.
Food security, stable livelihoods and peace are interdependent, Graziano da Silva argued, referring to the words of FAO's founding fathers, who professed that "Progress toward freedom from want is essential to lasting peace."
In this context, FAO also welcomed the launch at TICAD of the Initiative for Food and Nutrition Security in Africa (IFNA) to accelerate international efforts to alleviate hunger and malnutrition on the African continent.
Over the last 25 years, the proportion of Africans facing hunger decreased from 28 to 20 percent, despite a growing population - an achievement that can be largely attributed to a high level of commitment of the continent's leaders to tackling the issue.
The new initiative, officially launched by the Deputy President of Kenya William Ruto and developed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, aims to build on these achievements with inclusive, people-centered projects - projects that empower women and bring together the agriculture, health, education and private sectors to help build more resilient communities across Africa. This will be done with the collaboration of regional organizations including the New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD).