By Josefina Stubbs
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic and ROME, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)
The year 2016 has seen a massive population flow, unprecedented in its range and reach. Millions of people have fled war-torn communities, natural disasters and violence, some overflowing neighboring countries’ refugee camps, some crossing perilous seas and walking hundreds of miles to reach safer grounds, others seeking refuge in countries half a world away. Thousands have died on their way to safety, countless more were victims of violence and abuse, among them many women and children.
Conflict and violence force people out of their communities, leaving them without resources or means to start afresh. They stall the lives of millions of people, depriving adults of their dignity and children of their childhood. According to the most recent UNHCR data available, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced in 2015 and that figure has been growing at a rate of 34,000 people per day. Of these, 21.3 million are refugees and half of them under the age of 18. Refugees put enormous pressure on receiving countries, where this sudden population increases puts their host countries at risk of food shortages and competition for limited employment opportunities.
In rural areas, conflict has devastating consequences. Being more sparsely populated and more difficult to police, rural spaces offer relatively safe havens for violent groups to gain ground and base their operations, terrorizing rural communities in the process.
This is one way that conflict and rural development are related. In fact, the relationship between the two is complex and tightly intertwined. In addition to brutally affecting rural communities, conflict often stems from competition for land and natural resources, such as water. Poverty, lack of employment and opportunities of a better future fuels resentment and offers extremists fertile recruiting grounds. When conflict erupts, rural development becomes difficult, if not impossible. Conversely, prosperous rural areas are more resilient to conflict. Investing in rural areas with the aim to strengthen rural communities in food production, business creation, productive as well as basic infrastructure and conflict mitigation helps prevent conflict escalation, promotes stability and reduces food insecurity that results from massive displacement of famers.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has considerable experience in preventing conflict and buffering its impact through investments in inclusive, sustainable rural transformation in Africa, the Middle East and in Latin America. By investing in rural development, we can provide rural people the option to stay and the strength to resist the onset of violence. By focusing on agriculture production and rural business development, countries become more resilient to food shortages and natural resource degradation. This is particularly important in countries that heavily depend on food imports and who have little or no autonomy in food production. On the other hand, rural business development offers alternatives to farmers and producers to diversify their activities and income sources, and invest in their territories, making them more likely to survive bad harvest as well as natural or man-made disasters. Building rural centers of diverse economic activities is key to reducing the pressure from highly populated urban areas and to creating opportunities for youth to plan their future in the countryside.
Development is a complex process – a social, cultural, religious, political, economic and technological puzzle in which the pieces constantly change shapes. Investment in inclusive rural transformation strengthens the fabric of the society that will build the puzzle and hold the pieces together for years to come. In conflict zones, the coordinated work and investment of the international community is crucial and should be geared toward providing the tools and knowledge to rural organizations and local institutions to take ownership of their communities’ development. It should support local and national authorities how represent the people to create policies that favor sustainable and peaceful growth, and to gain the skills and tools to negotiate, enforce and maintain peace and security. While contributing to achieving Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, it is also a moral obligation.