Civil war and armed conflicts around the world have had grave impacts on farmers as they often mainly affect rural areas. Violence and the uncertain environment that comes with it depress agricultural productivity and increase food insecurity.
But what are the channels through which this happens and what strategies do farming households adopt to cope with increased risks and uncertainty?
In the scope of his doctoral studies, Rafael Parra-Peña, a public policy analyst in CIAT’s Linking Farmers to Markets team, identified one such channel. He studied the impact of violence on farmers’ capacity to sustain market linkages and found that terrorism in Colombia at the start of agribusiness is a major cause of small-holder contracts failure. In other words, violence has had a negative effect on the duration of agribusiness contracts and thus, a degrading effect on the overall agribusiness climate.
Coca plantation. Many farmers substitute crops for illicit crops during conflict. (photo credit: Neil Palmer, CIAT)
But a shorter duration of agribusiness contracts is not the only channel through which violence has affected agricultural productivity and we would like to use this blog post to provide an overview of an issue which has affected Colombian farmers for many years.
Farmers have been found to adapt their behaviour in a variety of ways to cope with increased uncertainty from violence and conflict. While optimal in the short run, given their circumstances, many of these responses are sub-optimal in terms of agricultural production, investment and land use in the long run.
Besides the obvious loss from the destruction of physical and human capital, violent shocks in Colombia have led farmers to grow less perennial crops such as coffee and instead more seasonal crops which are less risky but often also less profitable.
Additionally, not only did violence in the 1990s in Colombia reduce the overall agricultural production of coffee growers but it also led to farmers allocating an increased proportion of their land to the production of illicit crops such as coca. Increased coca production and thus cocaine exports in turn, further fuelled and prolonged the conflict by providing guerrillas with important financial resources from drug-trafficking.
Furthermore, conflict often discourages farmers from accumulating livestock which in normal times can be seen as a valuable asset. For example, research found that during Mozambique’s civil war, it has become unfeasible and risky for farmers to maintain livestock. This is firstly, because markets for livestock collapsed during that time and secondly, because livestock increased farmers’ visibility and vulnerability to looting and armed attacks.
Livestock increases visibility and vulnerability of farmers during conflict. (photo credit: Neil Palmer, CIAT)
So we have learnt that the costs of conflict to agricultural productivity and farmers go way beyond the destruction of physical and human capital. Risk and uncertainty make production decisions sub-optimal, destroy market linkages and depress the overall agribusiness climate. As a result, internal conflicts, such as the one in Colombia, have long-lasting consequences for a country’s agricultural sector.
This makes the current efforts for peace and conflict resolution even more important. The on-going negotiations for a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the rebel group FARC is expected to lead to improvements in the agricultural sector as violence in rural areas decline.
In the aftermath of conflict, policy-makers must focus on creating conditions that reduce uncertainty, incentivizing farmers to abandon sub-optimal production strategies, and on re-establishing farmers’ lost market linkages. Since 2002, one such program in Colombia is the Rural Productive Partnerships project which has been sponsoring agribusiness contracts in post-conflict zones and beyond.
Jana Bischler, Visiting Researcher, University of Oxford, and Rafael Isidro Parra-Peña S., Economist and Policy Analyst, Linking Farmers to Markets Theme of CIAT’s Decision and Policy Analysis (DAPA) Research Area.