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War and Crop Diversity

Research reports

For there to be productive and stable agricultural livelihoods, there must be crop diversity, on- farm. Growing a number of crops and different varieties of each crop helps farmers to fine-tune their cropping systems to local ecological conditions, to enhance the food security of their households and to exploit a range of crop-related products or benefits (for example forage or medicine production and enhanced soil fertility).

Despite these well-known observations, crop diversity is generally narrowing in farmers' fields. A number of factors lie behind this trend, including, among others: the spread of commercial agriculture, acute natural phenomena (such as drought and floods), and war and civil strife. The frequency of the latter, in particular, is on the rise. For instance, each of the ten countries in the Greater Horn of Africa has experienced either drought or civil strife and war - or both - since 1980 alone (ASARECA, 1996).

Though crop diversity is declining, international understanding of the differential nature of the stresses it faces, and how to deal with them, remains under-developed. This argument was elaborated at the 1996 International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources: ‘No formal mechanisms exist to monitor such [stress] situations, assemble information or initiate appropriate action' (FAO, 1996:45). In order to protect and enhance crop diversity, it is necessary at least to understand the particular nature of the problem; useful aid and development interventions in the area of crop diversity can only derive from more targeted knowledge.

The four papers presented in this volume focus on one potential stress to crop diversity, namely war and its accompanying civil strife. Taking a farmer-centred perspective, the case studies examine the effects of war on crop diversity through the same set of guiding questions: ‘what were the biological, social, and political factors which shaped crop diversity prior to the war?'; ‘which defining characteristics of the war itself seem to have influenced the way in which crop diversity evolved and was managed?'; ‘how do pre- and post-war crop production systems compare?'; and ‘what key lessons can we draw from these studies, for both development practitioners working at the grassroots level and policy- makers involved in shaping research, development and relief interventions in agriculture?'

By presenting comparative cases, this volume aims to stimulate analytical thinking about the links between war and changes in cropping systems. The studies themselves can but suggest the complexity of the term ‘war' and how the set of events that go to make up war can be linked to crop and varietal changes. They are preliminary (as is study of the subject as a whole) rather than definitive. They are also rather different in scope. The Cambodian and Nicaraguan studies provide overviews of the effects of war and civil disruption (which lasted a decade or more in both countries) on broad cropping systems and the rice crop, respectively. The Rwanda and Sierra Leone cases, in contrast, focus on the effects of fairly short-lived wars and pursue more micro-level analyses of varietal diversity issues in one or two crops.

Edited by Louise Sperling