Food Access and the Logic of Violence During Civil War

15 May 2017 | Ore Koren and Benjamin Bagozzi


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In 1981, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen noted that “starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristic of there being not enough food to eat.” Sen was referring to the idea that hunger is not always related to food supply; even in places where ample food exists, many people do not have regular access to it. Yet, more than three decades later, research into the effects of agriculture on armed conflict is still focused much more on the former than the latter.


To understand the relationship between food and violence, the evidence suggests that we should think more carefully about the complexities of food security – about who is living off the land and why, about whether famines are caused primarily by climate change or if we can address food access problems more directly, and about the most effective role for international institutions in helping societies reduce food insecurity. The causes of food-related violence are numerous, with reduced agricultural production being only one. Research suggests that abundance and access can also be motivations for violence, especially when armed groups see little reason to build a relationship with food producing communities.


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