Four Million Killed in Post-Cold War Conflicts

Prospects for Peace Increase, Even in Poorest Countries, with Investments in Agricultural Research and Technology.

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(The authors are available for interviews in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, February 16. Please call 703-820-2244 to schedule time. The report will be presented on February 16, 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. at a seminar on “Agriculture and Global Security” at The Woodrow Wilson Center, Ronald Reagan Building: One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW (“Federal Triangle” stop on Blue/Orange Line), 5th Floor Conference Room 5.1-17. RSVP to 703-820-2244.)


Washington, D.C. — February 16, 1999 — In the post-Cold War period, new patterns of wars have emerged that have killed an estimated 4 million people, 90 percent of them non-combatants. These conflicts have increasingly been fought by civilians, predominantly in the poorest regions of the world that are dependent on agriculture, says a new study released today by one of the world’s leading peace institutions.

The report, funded by Future Harvest, an organization seeking to build public understanding of the role of agriculture in society, finds that the new conflicts reflect apolitical violence driven by factors other than ideology and nationalism.

“We have uncovered a strong link between conditions affecting agriculture and poverty and the new types of conflict,” says Indra de Soysa, co-author, along with Nils Petter Gleditsch, of the report, To Cultivate Peace: Agriculture in a World of Conflict, published by the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO), based in Norway. “These new conflicts can be traced to the loss of livelihood, the hopelessness of surviving at the margins, and the alternative life of crime and banditry.”

The report notes that these conflicts, while found primarily in poor, mostly agrarian countries, threaten to destabilize the richer industrialized countries as large influxes of war refugees seek safety and better lives. The report adds that this uprooting of refugees leads to more conflict as they cross borders and destabilize regions.

The report suggests that more of these new wars will break out in the future if the underlying conditions that cause them are not improved. The report describes how India, although beset with immense poverty, has escaped widespread violence by providing poor farmers with high-tech seeds and extension services. Likewise, conflicts in other regions can be avoided with the proper mixture of agricultural research, aimed at developing modern technology for subsistence farmers, and policies, which will increase food production and raise incomes of the poor, the report says.

The report notes that the industrialized nations often pay part of the price of these conflicts through the costs of international peacekeeping efforts or by providing aid to large refugee populations. By the mid-1990s, the annual costs of international peacekeeping and emergency humanitarian assistance due primarily to war reached $10 billion per year, according to the United Nations.

“It is much less expensive to provide poor nations with technical agricultural assistance now rather than rushing in emergency food aid to war-ravished regions later,” says Ismail Serageldin, Chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which sponsors Future Harvest. Dr. Serageldin is also World Bank Vice President for Special Programs.

The report says that when people are unable to meet food requirements and other basic needs, their survival strategies become more desperate and they join rebellions or become criminals.

Scientists from the 16 CGIAR centers estimate that hungry regions of the world can produce twice the food they produce now, if they have the right technology, from science and research, and can apply it properly, through the right policies.

The report identifies three new patterns of warfare:

  • These new wars are largely internal, reflect crises of subsistence, and are usually apolitical. They derive from the failure of development, the loss of livelihood and the collapse of states. These new conflicts do not follow the model of the Cold War era of 1945-89 when ideological considerations and super power rivalry sparked most hostilities around the world.
  • Because these wars are being fought over poverty and food security issues, the bulk of the victims are civilians rather than supporters of armed movements.
  • These wars have been extraordinarily violent, often because of the land issues or the ethnic rivalry involved, with much of the brutality committed on the most vulnerable of non-combatants — women, children and the elderly. Part of the violence is the technique of willful famine, which has been used to kill en masse in such countries as Liberia, Mozambique, Somalia, and the Sudan.

Examples of the new internal wars include the civil war in Rwanda in 1993, which killed several hundred thousand people in just three months, civil wars in Somalia, Sierra Leone, Republic of Congo, and Angola, continuing guerrilla insurgencies in Colombia and Peru, and the Chiapas Indian insurgency in Mexico. The PRIO report cites the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, which characterizes the post–Cold War as a “deadly peace” and claims that more than four million violent deaths have occurred since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, most of them civilians.

Agricultural Wars

The report analyzes 103 armed conflicts in which at least 25 combatants died in a single year during the period 1989-97. Forty-two of these conflicts exceeded the level of 1,000 deaths per year, which qualified them as “wars” under the definition adapted by PRIO researchers.

During 1989–97, internal, or “intrastate” conflicts accounted for the bulk of violence. Eighty-eight of the 103 conflicts being purely domestic and another nine classified as “intrastate, with foreign intervention.”

“CGIAR research has found that in 1996 alone, armed conflicts, mostly civil wars put at least 80 million people at risk from hunger and malnutrition,” said Barbara Alison Rose, director of operations of Future Harvest. “Developed countries deliver humanitarian assistance to these regions at considerable cost. For example, during the civil war in Rwanda, the United Nations reported spending some $550 million in emergency humanitarian relief.”

Another result of these new wars has been the increasing number of persons who were displaced internally or who had fled to neighboring countries. In addition, environmental degradation due to wars has played a role in generating a new class of “environmental refugees” — people who cannot go home because their former farms will no longer sustain agriculture, according to the report.

The report notes that armed conflict relating to water issues is found in the Sahel, Latin America, South Asia, the Middle East, and, to a minor extent, in Southeast Asia and the Horn of Africa. Several of the numerous conflicts in the Middle East may be related to water, especially those surrounding the Jordan River, which is shared by Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, even though the main antagonism is between Palestinians and Israelis, the report adds.

“The conditions of food production and distribution provide a perspective from which to watch the interaction of politics, economics, and environmental issues as they influence violent conflict –how it is generated, how it is escalated, how it is contained, and how it is resolved,” says Dr. de Soysa.

The report states armed conflicts between 1989 and 1997 have been fought over issues that directly and indirectly related to agriculture. They have been conflicts over land ownership, environmental change, water scarcity, and food shortages.

  • In several of the conflicts in South Asia and South and Central America, a call for the redistribution of land has been an important part of the ideological claims of the opposition movements;
  • In Bangladesh, India, and the Philippines, settlers have moved into agricultural areas already occupied by other people, which has provoked violence;
  • In the Sahel region of Africa and the Middle East, among other places, environmental change, man-made environmental destruction, or wasteful resource practices have exacerbated conflicts over fresh water for irrigation, agricultural land, and other scarce resources.

The report singles out Mauritius and Botswana as examples of countries that have comparatively high per capita incomes and growth rates within Africa, and which have been relatively peaceful. Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos, on the other hand, are low-income countries within the East and Southeast Asian regions, and these states have been conflictive.

Currently, most of the new type of armed strife is found in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and in Latin America.

The report says that the conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Azerbaijan and Armenia, which arose directly out of the dissolution the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, are likely to be short-lived in comparison to the “subsistence wars” on which the report focuses. “The new nations of Central Asia could experience armed conflict in the future, depending on how their economies develop, ” de Soysa said.

The Growing Food Gap

While food is taken for granted in industrialized countries, many parts of the developing world suffer serious food shortages. The report cites research that shows that the food gap is most acute in Sub-Saharan Africa and large parts of Asia where population growth has outpaced the capacity to produce enough food. Africans consume 20 percent less food in absolute terms today than they did in the 1950s.

This food gap is expected to double in the developing world, and the report says that this trend could prove to be ominous if armed conflict continues to disrupt agricultural production and if more wars are generated by food insecurity and rural vulnerability. The report adds that efforts to increase food production and eliminate poverty will require new technologies. Much of the agricultural technology developed in the industrialized countries is not appropriate for the conditions of these agriculturally dependent countries, according to the report.

The Indian Example

The report details how India, despite its pervasive poverty, has been able to escape much of the conflict that is affecting other poor states, such as Somalia, where poverty, deprivation, and vulnerability regularly leads to mass violence.

India accounts for about 15 percent of the world’s population and about one quarter of the total population of the developing world. Approximately 65 percent of Indians earn their living within the rural sector of the economy, and the incidence of rural poverty in the region is high, with 53 percent of Indians living on less than $1 per day.

“The degree and scope of rural poverty in India suggest that the rural poor have ample reason to protest their conditions and seek to change them through whatever means available,” the report says. “Many instances the grievances have boiled over into armed insurrection and violence. However, despite widespread poverty, India has by and large escaped endemic violence.”

The Green Revolution technologies and policy innovations were first implemented in the mid-1960s in India in response to major food-production crises that were forcing the government to import massive amounts of grains. These technology packages provided Indian agricultural producers with improved, high-yielding seed varieties, fertilizers, modernized irrigation systems, and training and extension programs that supplied additional practical knowledge. The immediate goal was to give farmers the means to increase their agricultural output by expanding the areas under cultivation and use multiple cropping techniques on a large scale.

The Indian government also adopted a multi-faceted approach to food security that integrates a number of institutions and policies.

India and Sub-Saharan Africa each produced 50 million tons of food in 1960, but by 1988 India was producing 150 million while food production in Sub-Saharan Africa had remained at the same level. A free press, political opposition parties and a functional civil society — in short, democratic norms of governance — serve to enhance food security and prevent famine, according to the report.

The report notes that developing new technologies and farm management techniques that will help poor farmers lower their costs, raise production, and protect the environment is a good investment and will contribute to reducing poverty.

“This report demonstrates that providing developing world farmers with the fruits of research, when combined with other measures, not only helps to end hunger, but can also contribute to ending the increasingly vicious warfare that the world has seen during the 1990s,” says Dr. Soysa.

Future Harvest builds public understanding of the role of agriculture in international issues through research and outreach on behalf of the 16 centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Category: Press Release