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close this bookNews & Views - A 2020 vision for food, agriculture, and the environment - September 1999: Pushing back Poverty in India. (IFPRI, 1999, 10 p.)
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First Step Toward Peace Is Eradicating Hunger

Jimmy Carter

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter is chairman of the Carter Center. This commentary appeared in the International Herald Tribune on June 17, 1999. It is reprinted with permission.

When the Cold War ended 10 years ago, we expected ah era of peace. What we got instead was a decade of war.

The conflict in Kosovo is only the latest to embroil the international community. Conflicts have raged in Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia in the 1990s, often involving the entire international community in costly relief operations and peacekeeping missions, frequently under hostile conditions. These conflicts - mostly civil wars - have been extraordinarily brutal, with most victims being children, women and the elderly.

Why has peace been so elusive? A recent report sponsored by Future Harvest and generated by the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo examines conflicts around the world and finds that - unlike that in Kosovo - most of today's wars are fueled by poverty, not by ideology.

The devastation occurs primarily in countries whose economies depend on agriculture but lack the means to make their farmland productive. These are developing countries such as Sudan, Congo, Colombia, Liberia, Peru, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka - places with poor rural areas where malnutrition and hunger are widespread. The report found that poorly functioning agriculture in these countries heightens poverty, which in turn sparks conflict.

This suggests an obvious but often overlooked path to peace: Raise the standard of living of the millions of rural people who live in poverty by increasing agricultural productivity. Not only does agriculture put food on the table, but it also provides jobs, both on and off the farm, that raise incomes. Thriving agriculture is the engine that fuels broader economic growth and development, thus paving the way for prosperity and peace.

The economies of Europe, the United States, Canada and Japan were built on strong agriculture. But many developing countries have shifted their priorities away from farming in favor of urbanization, or they have reduced investments in agriculture because of budget shortages. At the same time, industrialized countries continue to cut their foreign aid budgets, which fund vital scientific research and extension work to improve farming in developing countries.

Unfortunately, much of the farming technology developed in industrialized nations does not transfer to the climates and soils of developing nations. It is not a priority for agricultural giants in affluent nations to focus on the poor regions of the world or to share basic research advances with scientists from poor nations.

This neglect should end. Leaders of developing nations must make food security a priority. In the name of peace, it is critical that both developed and developing countries support agricultural research and improved farming practices, particularly in nations often hit with drought and famine.

For example, the report finds that India, one of the world's largest and poorest nations, has managed to escape widespread violence in large measure because the Indian government made food security a priority.

Beginning in the 1960s, farmers in India were given the means to increase their agricultural output with technology packages that included improved seeds, fertilizers, irrigation and training. Today India no longer experiences famines as it did in the first half of this century. India's food security contributes to its relative political stability.

While food is taken for granted in industrialized countries, many parts of the world - sub-Saharan Africa and large parts of Asia, for example - suffer serious food shortages. Today, per capita food production in sub-Saharan Africa is less than it was at the end of the 1950s. The report concludes that new wars will erupt if the underlying conditions that cause them are not improved.

The message is clear: There can be no peace until people have enough to eat. Hungry people are not peaceful people. The Future Harvest report is a reminder that investments in agricultural research today can cultivate peace tomorrow.

Future Harvest is an initiative of the 16 centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research to build understanding of the importance of international agricultural research to global peace, prosperity, environmental renewal, health, and population growth. The report mentioned in this commentary can be downloaded from the Future Harvest website (, or it can be ordered from International Peace Research Institute (PRIO), Fuglehauggata 11, 0260 Oslo, Norway, telephone: (47) 22 54 77 00, fax: (47) 22 547701, e-mail:

New Book by 2020 Advisory Committee Member

David Beckmann, a member of the 2020 Vision International Advisory Committee and president of Bread for the World, is the coauthor with Arthur Simon, founder of Bread for the World, of a new book, Grace at the Table: Ending Hunger in God's World. In an easily understandable question-and-answer format, the book describes the causes and effects of hunger, places hunger in a broad economic and political context, and suggests what individuals can do to end it. The book is published by the Paulist Press and is available from bookstores or from Bread for the World, 1100 Wayne Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910, U.S.A.; telephone: 1-800-822-7323; e-mail: