Food Is a Security Issue

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Food Is a Security Issue
By: Scott Aughenbaugh

Food is at the core of most security crises of the day, from events such as the Arab Spring to places like Syria, Ukraine, Russia, and the resource disputes of the South China Sea. Yet the availability of and access to food has been largely absent from U.S. and international discussions of these issues. The long-term reality is that if we do not improve the availability of and access to food and other resources, we will continually be plagued by a never-ending list of challenges in far off places.

Earlier in 2015, ISIS was rebranding and redistributing food aid from the World Food Programme with photocopies of the ISIS logo. Its efforts were in recognition of the role that food access can play in demonstrating governance capacity and establishing loyalty. In many areas of the developing world, citizens pay upwards of 50 to 70 percent of their incomes on food. When a price spike hits, it increases the chances of riots and civil unrest. Below is a chart from the New England Complex Systems Institute that maps out dates of food riots and price spikes.

Food Security Chart

The problems of food and security are not found only in the poorest areas of the world. In China, where per capita income has risen, there is increased pressure to provide access to protein, with fishing boats fighting over resources further and further away from home in the South China Sea. As suggested in a recent intelligence community assessment, “the overall risk of food insecurity in many countries of strategic importance to the United States will increase during the next 10 years because of production, transport, and market disruptions to local food availability, declining purchasing power, and counterproductive government policies. Demographic shifts and constraints on key inputs will compound this risk. In some countries, declining food security will almost certainly contribute to social disruptions or large-scale political instability or conflict, amplifying global concerns about the availability of food.”

Just as we were on September 11, 2001, our ally, France, was recently hurt in Paris by the actions of an evil organization, but we are still attempting to respond to a multigenerational development issue with diplomacy and short-term military means. If we truly want to defeat groups such as ISIS, we will need an additional range of tools to address the root causes of food insecurity. To add to this dialogue on the challenge of the past, present, and future of food, we have put together a short video to offer some further ideas and solutions.

Scott Aughenbaugh is a deputy director of Strategic Futures at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Other posts by .


  • May 26, 2016, 2:26 am  Reply

    Issues such as whether households get enough food, how it is distributed within the household and whether that food fulfils the nutrition needs of all members of the household show that food security is clearly linked to health.

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