Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created a global food crisis. According to the FAO food price index, prices reached record high levels in March and still remain at levels that are beyond the price reached in the month preceding the war.
In the Central African Republic (CAR), food poverty has been an issue long before the war in Europe. Since the Seleka coup of 2013, the country has experienced nearly a decade of insecurity, and despite external support from the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA, a French force and now Russian military presence, the country remains locked in conflict between a government struggling to control its territory and a plethora of armed groups. Both French are Russian forces were, and have been, mired in human rights abuse allegations.
The World Food Programme’s (WFP) recent announcement has offered a stark picture of a food situation that is deteriorating rapidly. According to the WFP, main commodities such as rice, wheat flour and oil are all set to increase by 30%, 67% and 70%, respectively. Of a population of around 4.8 million, the WFP has around 79% living in poverty. Food commodity increases of the numbers mentioned above could be catastrophic and increase this already high percentage.
More concerning is the lack of funding available to support organisations like the WFP to provide food security to those in need. In June, it was announced that the WFP was cutting rations for refugees in Sudan due to funding shortages. Sudan is a country reliant on wheat and fertilizers from Ukraine and Russia, which means that we can expect to see further food insecurity in the country with the disruption of imports from the conflict and the reduction in WFP support. The WFP has asked for USD 59 million to restore full food rations in Sudan, while the CAR it is asking for USD 68.4 million to tackle the ever-increasing food insecurity.
In wealthier countries, we have seen the relinquishing of the state’s responsibility for its citizens when it comes to food. For example, in England, the Trussel Trust reported an increase in the need for Food Banks of 81% over the past five years. Food insecurity in countries such as England and the United States is being tackled by community action, with donations to food banks or other food providers.
Yet, in countries such as the CAR, where poverty is widespread, and food insecurity is increasing, this option doesn’t exist. Rather than relinquishing this responsibility to tackle food insecurity, the CAR government does not have the means to tackle it. Close relationships with Russia, and especially the mercenary Wagner group, have caused some donor countries and organisations to review and rescind financial support. Therefore, they are reliant on organisations such as WFP to feed their population.
Yet while there has been an increase in food banks in the likes of the UK and the United State of America, has this translated into a lack of support to tackle food security internationally? In 2013, when the CAR conflict began in earnest, the United Kingdom was the second highest donor to the WFP at around USD450m. Fast forward to 2021, and that contribution has reduced to USD 376 million, while in 2022 this is down at USD 250 million. Between 2021 and 2022, the WFP has also seen a decrease of USD 3 billion in total contributions across the board.
Where CAR can find enough food to feed the population is a question many will be frantically trying to answer. Clearly, bringing a peaceful resolution to the current conflict would go a long way to dealing with the food crisis. According to IFAD, agriculture in CAR employs around 80% of rural people, yet the conflict has caused major disruption to the ability of farmers to cultivate their land and produce food for the population. Given that much of the rural population itself is reliant on food handouts, the prospects of internal production to deal with the shortage created by funding cuts is hardly a likely solution.
Moreover, even prior to the current call from the WFP, the organisation was struggling to hit its own targets. When we take rice, for example, the organisation was looking to provide 37375 metric tonnes of rice, yet the actual number provided was only 17783, under 50%. It is little wonder that the WFP is predicting a catastrophic food situation if funding is not provided. The deficit also exists in the commodity voucher provided by the WFP, where only USD 20 million has found its way to people, out of a planned USD 36 million. Given the budgetary hole that the WFP is predicting, we can assume that these numbers will be well below the planned provision over the next couple of years.
Furthermore, if the conflict begins to subdue, which is the hope of many, there will be a return of displaced peoples to towns and villages, which could put further pressure on food situations in these areas. The food crisis in the CAR is one that is exacerbated by conflict, but given the duration of the violence, we may well see it as an issue once peace is achieved.
Next year will see the 10th year of the current CAR conflict. Despite numerous interventions and peace deals signed, there appears to be no definitive end in sight, and the current situation internationally is likely to make the situation worse. The international community needs to make sure that the food crisis in the CAR is not allowed to deteriorate to the levels predicted by the WFP.
Ben Jackson holds a BA in International Relations from Leeds University and an MSc from SOAS University in African Politics and has worked on human rights issues in the Central African Republic and other sub-Saharan African countries for a human rights NGO. He currently works as a Senior Project Support Officer at the Institute of Development Studies. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.