The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have an intrinsic relationship to peace and stability. Without peace, all other goals—from focusing on youth and women's needs, to addressing climate change and water, energy and food security—will be impossible to achieve. At the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), we have long been aware of the obstacles to development that are posed by conflict and fragility. Nowhere has this challenge been felt more acutely than in our programmes in the rural areas of the Near East and North Africa (NENA), where we have supported US $5.5 billion of investment in agricultural and rural development over the past four decades.

The causes of conflict vary considerably between countries and between regions within the same country, but the effect on food security is uniformly negative. On the other hand, food insecurity can itself lead to conflict. During the Arab awakening in 2011, for example, high food prices were cited as one of the contributing factors to the unrest.

In 2015, the number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) worldwide reached over 60 million, with 5 million displaced in the first half of the year alone. The majority of the newly displaced, and half the world's IDPs, live in the NENA region. These millions of people have been deprived of their livelihoods and forced to abandon jobs, farms and animals in search of safety and security. Active conflicts, stalled transition processes, and long-term development challenges have severely disrupted people's lives and livelihoods in NENA, resulting in a refugee crisis and increased migration and displacement, which threaten the stability of the region and risk undoing decades of development progress. According to recent data from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the conflict in Syria alone has forced more than 11 million people from their homes, with more than 4 million seeking refuge in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The sudden population increase—23.5 per cent in Lebanon and nearly 10 per cent in Jordan-is straining these countries' already limited resources and their food security.

The connection between peace and food security is one of the reasons why investing in rural people is of absolute global relevance today. Development agencies could play a major role in bridging the gap between humanitarian and sustainable development responses, which is critical to addressing protracted crises. Whether we are talking about reducing poverty, improving food security or strengthening resilience to all kinds of shocks, including climate change, the rural dimension cannot be ignored. In fact, the 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda affirmed that rural development could achieve "rich payoffs across the SDGs."1

We also have to ask ourselves, however, how we can aim to achieve the SDGs in countries where peace is the main challenge. For the SDGs to become attainable, development efforts will have to address the spectrum of challenges facing rural people, and be aware of the rural-urban nexus that ties together the fate of cities and the vitality of rural communities. Rural areas, where the majority of people derive their livelihoods from agriculture, account for around three quarters of the world's poorest and most undernourished. Eliminating hunger and poverty is inextricably tied to increasing attention to rural development.


IFAD recognizes that achieving real transformation means taking on a range of challenges, and that change must come from the community itself. Thematic focus areas include rural financial services, natural resource management, employment opportunities for youth, water availability, as well as support for agricultural production, markets and infrastructure. Projects are designed in a participatory and inclusive manner, giving local communities a voice in shaping their own development.

 Sometimes the same factors that drive rural poverty and inequality fuel conflict and instability. Climate change and natural resource degradation threaten food security and increase the risk of conflict. Here again the NENA experience is instructive: these countries have the lowest per capita share of the world's available fresh water, and the largest proportion of their freshwater resources are transboundary. Climate change could further reduce water availability by 30 to 50 per cent by 2050.

As resources become scarcer and populations more food insecure, the potential for conflict rises. Conflicts displace people, increase pressure on scarce natural resources and disrupt food production. When displacement from rural to urban areas occurs, the ratio of consumers to producers also increases, further exacerbating food insecurity. The neglect of large marginalized populations in this context is a further risk. Women and children, especially girls, suffer disproportionately from conflict. Regional youth unemployment in NENA is also the highest in the world: 29.5 per cent in 2014, more than double the global average of 13 per cent. Lack of options and hope fuel further conflict and extremism.


Investing in food security and agricultural and rural development can help reduce the risk of conflict,2 especially when investments are community-led and owned. This is more evident in Arab countries than anywhere else, for several reasons. Arab nations rely heavily on food imports, which increases vulnerability. According to the 2014 Report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development on food security, food imports by Arab countries amounted to US $56 billion in 2011, and are estimated to reach US $150 billion by 2050.3 The impact of conflict on food security is more prominent in fragile States, where institutions are weak and social safety nets are lacking. Also, the environment is a factor where scarcity leads to competition over natural resources.

While some problems are similar across Arab countries, there is no corresponding one-size-fits-all solution. Yet the IFAD experience demonstrates how investments in inclusive and sustainable rural transformation, reduction of food insecurity and conflict mitigation can address some of the common challenges of fragile and conflict-prone situations.


Armed conflict destroys infrastructure, including water supply systems, roads, farmlands, crops, fisheries and public health facilities. In Syria and Yemen, for example, this has severely compromised the provision of basic services and access to food and income-generating activities.

In Yemen, more than 2.5 million families have lost their incomes due to the suspension of social safety nets and public works programmes. In Syria, crop production has fallen drastically, and the resulting need for food imports has pushed up food prices. Farmers have been unable to source supplies, equipment and irrigation systems have been damaged, and fuel has become scarce. The pressure continues to mount on displaced families and vulnerable farmers, with long-term consequences fur their food security, health and, of course, survival.

At this level of conflict, humanitarian and emergency assistance are paramount. Experience suggests that community-based programmes can build the basis for enhanced food security and resilience to conflict. IFAD-supported projects have proven effective in promoting stability and enhancing resilience to conflict in rural areas, and the IFAD community ­driven approach allows effective implementation even under challenging security conditions in highly fragile contexts. IFAD and its partners can play a major role in bridging the gap between humanitarian and sustainable development responses.

In fact, in Syria people continue to benefit from the previous investments of IFAD in the sanduq4 microfinance activities. The 30 sanduqs established by the Idleb Rural Development project (IRDP) are still operational, and the more recent Integrated Livestock Development Project (ILDP) has promoted the same microfinance sanduq scheme. Until recently, ILDP succeeded in creating job opportunities and increasing food security; especially for families headed by rural women. In 2014, the project reached more than 9,400 beneficiaries, including 4,455 rural women.


In other countries of the NENA region, such as Sudan and Somalia, protracted crises are intertwined with environmental pressures and climate change. Between 1997 and 2009, temperature variations may have affected one quarter of violent events in Sudan.5 Pastoralists are particularly vulnerable.

It is estimated that the risk of conflict in Sudan will increase by 20 to 30 per cent by 2030 owing to the combined adverse effects of climate change and competition over natural resources. Resilience-building strategies, engagement with national Governments and strengthening the role of local communities are crucial, as are investments in water supplies, irrigation, pasture resource management and early warning systems for herders. This is only possible through community-based development, which complements the top-down strategic approach with participatory practices that promote local democracy.

In Sudan, there is growing competition between farmers practising rain-fed agriculture and pastoralists for use and access rights to water, land and grazing. Climate change effects—decreased rainfall and greater rainfall variability-have led to severe rangeland degradation. Insufficient coping mechanisms as well as social and political conflict are combining to increase the vulnerability of rural farmers. Here, we are working to reduce disputes between nomadic communities, settled communities and farmers over natural resources in five target areas in the country. State-level dialogues facilitated by local leaders are being used to settle land disputes and identify new arrangements and satisfactory agreements regarding user and access rights. This is coupled with major investment in land demarcation, restoration of grazing routes, rangeland restoration, community adaptation plans and support to small businesses to promote diversification.

One example is the Western Sudan Resources Management Programme (WSRMP), financed by IFAD, which promoted the development of a natural resources governance system spanning North and South Kordofan. Civil society took the lead in community mobilization, negotiating stock routes. Water points along the routes were rehabilitated or constructed, the range was seeded and trees were planted. Local courts were created where natural resources-based conflicts could be resolved.

Thus, a spectrum of interventions can be designed that have mutually reinforcing benefits fur economic development, food security and social stability-even when fragility is persistent and institutions are weak or non-existent. What is important is to harness the strength inherent in the community itself: its people. In Somalia, one of the most food insecure countries in the world, decades of instability and civil war have degraded the agricultural sector and disrupted pastoralists' migratory lifestyle. Shrinking natural resources and repeated droughts and floods further increase vulnerability. Yet, even in these unpromising circumstances, rural development can take place, improving food security and stability. IFAD interventions have emphasized making water available for irrigation and livestock, as well as providing access to rural finance, which was previously non-existent But given the situation, strengthening institutions had to be a major focus. Local communities-particularly elders and leaders-helped to create effective, grassroots links between people and local authorities. This helped fill the void created by the absence of the state, thereby creating a more peaceful environment fur project implementation, and more effective targeting of the population's needs.


Building poor people's capacity, empowering them through community organizations, and promoting participation, social inclusion and gender equality, are at the heart of IFAD's work. This has been dramatically demonstrated in projects that have literally planted new agricultural communities in marginal, underutilized lands.

In the wake of the revolutions of 2011, Egypt and Tunisia have undergone political upheaval, due to many factors, including a lack of economic opportunities and social inclusion, especially among young people and women. As our investments were fully owned by local communities, IFAD continued to engage in Egypt and Tunisia during the period of uprising.

The Government of Egypt set about to reclaim arid land for agriculture, which had the dual benefit of providing settlers, including unemployed graduates from urban areas, with livelihood opportunities, while also increasing the country's agricultural base. Currently, IFAD is the sole development partner supporting projects in the new lands, which despite difficult conditions have shown success: a fourfold increase in the average annual household income; an increase in farm-gate prices of up to 33 per cent; and establishment of marketing associations and collection centres for agricultural produce. This initiative also helped community organizations to sustainably manage the health and education infrastructure, continuing to provide services after the project ended. Challenges remain, such as gender inequity and youth unemployment. In particular, women graduates, as well as women from small farm households, play a critical role in the development of the new lands. However, they have limited opportunities fur productive work beyond the farm, and IFAD is pushing for policies to create better opportunities fur women and youth.


IFAD's experience shows that responsible and targeted investments in agriculture and rural development can make an important contribution to reducing conflict and achieving peace and stability in NENA. With a rising population and growing demand for food, there is an ever greater need to invest in agriculture and rural development. Investment in agriculture is two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than investment in any other sector,6 and can help boost employment and stem labor migration. Thus, all dimensions of food security are tackled, from availability, to access, to utilization and nutrition, maximizing the peace dividends of agriculture and rural development.

Ultimately, investing in food security is also an anti­conflict remedy. But food security and social stability also depend on strengthening institutions and the policy environment for sustainable agriculture. Such an enabling environment will encourage responsible investment and business in rural areas, spur innovation, and drive increased productivity, job creation, and rural economic growth-all of which are key factors for achieving the 2030 Agenda.

With thanks to Bruce F. Murphy, Abdelhamid Abdouli, Nerina Muzurovic, Dina Saleh, Rami Salman, Mohamed Abdelgadir and Leon Williams.


1 Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 13-16 July 2015  (New York. United Nations, 2015), p. 7. Available from

2   See findings from the IFAD-financed grant programme on building resilience to conflict in the Near East and North Africa: Clemens Breisinger and others, "Building resilience to conflict through food-security policies and programs: an overview", 2020 Conference Brief 3, 15-17 May, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Washington, D.C., International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), 2014). Available from

3  Abdul-Karim Sadik, Mahmoud El-Solh and Najib Saab, eds., “Food security: challenges and prospects”, Arab Environment-7: Food Security, Annual Report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development 2014 (Beirut, Lebanon, the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), 2014), p. 21. Available from

Sanduq (pl. sanadiq) Is a “savings box”. In the context of IFAD programmes in Syria, the term sanduq refers to an autonomous mlcrofinance institution that is owned and managed by its members—a novel concept in a centralized banking system.

5   Jean-François Maystadt, Margherita Calderone and Liangzhi You, “Local warming and violent conflict in North and South Sudan,” Journal of Economic Geography, (September 2014), p. 19.

6   World Bank, World Development Report 2008: Agriculture and Development (Washington, D.C., 2007). p. 6. Available from