The Planetary Health Alliance
BACKGROUND Episodic food insecurity, i.e. being without reliable access to affordable and nutritious food, has been linked to historical incidences of conflict, migration and social crises. Lack of resilience and food insecurity is exacerbated by an increasingly connected global food system, climate change and scarcity of land and freshwater. Societal responses to food insecurity potentially lead to negative health, equality, and environmental outcomes. Communities struggle when the natural systems on which they depend are compromised. Hunger and conflict forcibly displaced 66 million people in 2016. Empirical research clarifying the food-conflict/migration nexus is limited, and this work contributes to filling this gap.
METHODS Case studies were synthesised to elicit the common and differing aspects that determine food security resilience and societal responses. The case studies were geographically broad to facilitate wider comparison, ranging from El Nino events to the Arab Spring. Using both qualitative and quantitative methods, in-situ and ex-situ country responses to food system shocks and episodes were linked to capital underpinnings according to the Five Capitals Model.
FINDINGS Smallholder farmers in developing nations without access or availability of sufficient capital stocks are most vulnerable to food insecurity, with varied health and environmental consequences. Policy may inappropriately divert resources or fail to target those most in need. Price spikes may lead to income poverty, triggering groups to mobilise in protest, resulting in death, injury and political instability. Displacement and urbanisation may result in overcrowding, increasing the risk of communicable diseases. However, through implementation of weather-based index insurance, communities could have improved capital and therefore a stronger coping capacity to shocks. Though insurance itself is well established, using it to mitigate food insecurity is relatively new. It offers stability and mitigation against pervasive and harmful impacts that floods and droughts have on agriculture.
INTERPRETATION The evidence found of index insurance benefits has implications for sustainable development policy. It demonstrates how political and economic spheres can respond to increase the resilience of vulnerable nations to food system shocks in a world of increased severity, incidence and unpredictability of weather and geopolitical events. Insurance could mitigate conflict and displacement by offering a safety net in crisis, and credit access to invest in more sustainable farming practices. It could buffer against poor harvests and enable households to meet rising living costs. However, many food insecure regions do not currently have developed insurance infrastructure.