Food and nutritional intake are basic human needs and lie at the core of people’s well-being. In most contexts, the security sector has a clear mandate to safeguard people’s safety and security, including acting as a deterrent agent when it comes to security threats. This includes, for example, delivering food aid or ensuring supply chains and securing strategic storage systems. Development and humanitarian-focussed programming typically tends to overlook the security sector, due to multiple factors related to each context. However, the type of security threats the world is currently facing which are ranging from climate, to natural resources shortages, pandemics, and internal struggles for power, requires stronger attention by international partners around empowering local security actors to fulfill their humanitarian functions. This Thematic in Practice explores some entry points for ISSAT’s International Partners Group Members’ to consider, allowing better linkages between food security and security and justice sector reform and governance (SSG/R) programming. 

Food Security as a Precondition for Human Security

As a principal human needs, food and nutritional intake are at the core of people’s well-being and is covered under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2. As provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank, “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. Recently, this was complemented by considering the availability, utilization, stability, agency, and sustainability of food. Human security implies that people and communities are secure from threats and fear, including lack of access to nourishment. Food insecurity is an acute hazard, which is dependent on economic development and stability, but can also compound and escalate other conflict drivers.  Lack of food, diseases or malnutrition is a humanitarian need, that does not only directly threaten people and communities, including through malnutrition and poverty, but also fuels national and societal risks such as civil unrest, communal violence and conflict.

Why is Food Security Relevant to SSG/R Programming

Conflict, fragility and violence are some of the biggest threats to food security. When a country is engaged in conflict, it considerably reduces its capacity and spending on social protection and people’s needs such as ensuring food and other livelihood sources. The bulk of national resources is spent on military capability and readiness. Inter-communal conflicts may also lead to insecure access to food and water, with that risk increasing in case of conflict escalation.

Human security has always been the conceptual cornerstone underpinning security sector reform, both as a concept as well as a framework for programming. Reflecting people’s security and safety needs should inform how international partners support reform processes. People-centred approaches for SSG/R programming ensure that people affected by insecure access to food or lack of clean water are put at the heart of reform processes. As food insecurity and livelihood-related risks are multifaceted hazards, the security and justice sectors need to be part of the response mechanisms to build resilience and ensure long-term stability. 

The Triple Nexus and Food Security

In order to better understand how SSG/R contributes to food security directly, it is useful to use the triple nexus approach to better clarify the linkages at the security, development and humanitarian levels.

Security Dimension

  • Food security could be better integrated into national threat assessments and preparedness. In doing so, food security will explicitly considered as a threat to people and therefore national security. As such, the security sector would then engage in prevention and mitigation measures against civil unrest, violence and conflict. As an example, monitoring risk factors such as food prices, meteorological data, and harvest predictions, could be built into the security sectors early warning mechanisms.
  • The role of the security and justice sector, in the enforcement of laws and regulations, including taking action against looting, illicit activities and smuggling of food, water and cattle is a key deterrent agent.
  • Food security is relevant for security and justice sector personnel, who should remain well-cared for to prevent food embezzlement and ensure sustainable, professional and efficient service. In the event of food insecurity or crisis situations, there is otherwise a risk that the privileged position of security personnel may enable them to use this power more widely and misappropriate food and other goods.
  • Food security considerations need to be integrated in demobilisation and reintegration programs, as ex-combatants without access to food and water, risk engaging in criminal activities fuelling possible relapse into violence. 

Humanitarian Dimension

  • A food security crisis is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis, but at times, it is a slow-onset crisis that can be prevented by good planning efforts. Protecting natural resources from depletion, pollution or disaster impact is one long-term strategy to prevent food crises and the ripple effects it has on national and human security.
  • Despite efforts towards anticipatory humanitarian action and increasing international humanitarian aid, national actors still need to fulfil humanitarian functions, and to strengthen awareness and capacities in supporting crisis responses. The military has a key role in crisis situations to support or lead the distribution of food so as to ensure household food security. SSG/R programming ensures that food delivery and military support are done in a transparent way avoiding embezzlement and misuse of power.
  • Cash-or Food for work programmes are one way to answer humanitarian demands with improved food security and could be expanded to the security and justice sectors. These programs help people in need of food by being paid through food parcels. Such programmes could be expanded to the security and justice sectors, by for example building or maintaining vital infrastructure in the security and justice sectors. In the longer run, it is one way to create employment opportunities to increase peace and resilience.
  • Food security is dependent upon physical access to food, as well as economic and security conditions. Access to food stockpiles to endure crises or pandemics, requires infrastructure, maintaining, and safeguarding containers and silos, protecting transport routes, and supply chains and establishing strategic food storage capacities.  The security sector can also play a role in securing trade of food and fertilizers, in case of acute crises so that the available resources are not depleted or diverged. 

Development Dimension

  • The security and justice sector play a key role to provide safe and secure environments for people to safely engage in food-producing activities such as agriculture, forestry and fishing, as well as have safe access to markets, and provide a stable environment for private sector investments.
  • The security sector and justice sector usually have to share scarce national resources, with other sectors. In many cases, security sector spending takes up a significant percentage of the national budget, leaving little room for other sectors such as agriculture, health, education, or welfare. As such, its role in relation to development by providing employment opportunities, and contributing to construction, maintenance of infrastructure, protection of national assets and national resources is a crucial contribution back to the community and its safety and prosperity.
  • Security institutions are often one of the biggest landownersand they can also be involved in food production. For instance, the Ministry of Defence in Ukraine owned an estimated 500’000 to 600’000 hectares of land, some of which were used to produce wheat. This makes the security sector an important food actor and distributor.
  • Thesecurity sector can support the environmental remediation and restoration of contaminated landso that it is suitable for agriculture. Unpolluted soil and clean water are crucial for food production, not only, but most visibly, in countries where the majority of the population relies on subsistence agriculture. The degradation of arable land and water resources caused by trafficking and illegal disposal of waste, especially toxic and industrial waste, has consequences for agricultural productivity of land, livestock and maritime ecosystems, and a direct consequence of people’s livelihood.
  • Demining is a security related operational undertaking with direct development and economic impact. Where land or sea is inaccessible because of mines, demining operations are a concrete way to enable the return to farming, or for ships to arrive or leave the dock to supply grains.