Fighting for food is perhaps the most understandable of all human instincts.
“In affluent societies, we take ready access to food and water for granted, but in their absence people are driven to do whatever it takes to get them”.
These were the words of the then Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie AO RAN, in his keynote address at Food, Water and War: Security in a World of Conflict (pdf, 538 KB), the ATSE Crawford Fund’s 2000 annual development conference.
Perhaps a little before its time, given more recent horrific developments, the event provided the first opportunity in Australia for a senior defence leader to talk about the relationship between conflict and poverty and he concluded: “History has shown us that better access to life’s essentials, basic infrastructure and political democracy diminishes the likelihood of inter- and intrastate conflict … The lesson is clear: we must be prepared to do more, rather than less, to maintain peace and security.”
So, can we add "peace" to the more tangible returns from agricultural research and rural development, such as reductions in poverty and hunger, growth in trade, goodwill between nations, greater cultural, educational and scientific cooperation, and technological gains? I certainly believe so. Agriculture, food and access to natural resources like water, play key roles in development for poor nations and in avoiding conflict.
Fighting for food can be an even stronger driver than allegiances and politics. And hungry people are more likely to become embroiled in conflict because they become discontented and disaffected and are easy prey for groups who see them as a means to selfish or political ends.
This year’s International Year of Rice provides an opportunity to reflect on some of the excellent work that Australian organisations such as AusAID and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), and others such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) have undertaken together to help nations regain stability through agricultural research and development, and so establish peaceful societies run by democratic governments.
For more than a decade through the 1990s, AusAID funded the Cambodia-IRRI-Australia-Project (CIAP), which helped that previously war-torn, troubled nation return to stable, peaceful life. There’s no doubt that CIAP was one of Australia’s most successful major development projects in Asia, and helped turn a country that was needing to import rice to feed its population into a rice exporting, more stable, food-secure nation.
ACIAR is also working with a range of international agricultural research centres, including IRRI, in East Timor. And the lessons learned in Cambodia and East Timor are being applied in yet another troubled nation, Afghanistan, where IRRI and several of its partners in agricultural research are once again focusing on reestablishing agriculture and rural development as an essential foundation for any peaceful society.
For these and other countries, food aid helps but is not a sustainable solution. Developing countries need access to improved crops and simple, effective technologies that will ensure their farmers can produce enough food to feed their nation and, in the process, provide the work and livelihoods needed to keep their society functioning properly.
Australia can be proud of its tremendous contributions through international agricultural research to improve food security, drive economic growth, and ultimately maintain peace.
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