There are three hierarchical levels at which the food insecurity paradigm can be considered to be acting so as to generate environmental insecurity, which then generates additional food insecurity. At the top is the state; the midlevel is the village or community; and at the bottom are households, the level at which the actors usually have greatest influence on the environment. Some notable and recent exceptions to this generalization regarding the primacy of household impacts exist, for the state level in Liberia and Cambodia is the one responsible for rapid and unprecedented environmental degradation. Massive deforestation in both countries has been used to finance civil conflict.
- The breakdown of the state and its institutions. Examples at this level include the active use of food and/or its denial as a weapon of war (Keller, 1992), the presence of civil strife exacerbating an already-tenuous situation (Samafar, 1992), or the deliberate efforts of elites to profit from regional food insecurity (Olsson, 1993). In many instances of food insecurity, the turmoil precipitated by state instability and disempowerment is worsened by interethnic tensions, frequently the result of a shrinking environmental base (“environmental scarcity”) arising from the exhaustion of renewable natural resources. Often such environmental insecurity is attributable to a huge growth in rural population over the past several de
cades with insufficient correspondence of agricultural intensification (Boserup, 1965). The figure below shows these interconnections; missing is the feedback loop suggested first by Bryceson (1990), in which the weakened state directly impacts food security either because of its withdrawal from control over rampant capitalism (Olsson's example), or its inability/unwillingness to provide infrastructure or services to the rural agrarian sector. Nonetheless, the model in this figure should strike a chord
with anyone carefully following African news over just the past 10 years.
- Within rural communities. Considering this level highlights the issues behind environmental scarcity. The figure below summarizes the results of a participatory rural survey conducted by the private voluntary organization World Vision. Clearly, villagers of Gnigning, Sahelian Senegal, recognize their role in land degradation, and perceive the impact of drought on their agroecosystem. Note that in accordance with Homer-Dixon's model (the figure above), Gnigning villagers understand that environmental scarcity leads first to food insecurity and then to social conflict. The figure shows the linkages among demographic pressure, drought, degradation processes, desertification, and food insecurity.
- The role that food-insecure households have in promoting environmental scarcity. The figure below illustrates how each stage in the descent of the coping options curve (refer back to food security) has a concomitant impact on the resource base. Thus, food insecurity begets environmental scarcity, which begets further food insecurity. The net result is environmental insecurity, a downward spiral of poverty and environmental degradation. Eventually, the degradation can become sufficiently severe to result in severe land degradation, (“desertification”). All reversal alternatives
may vanish at this stage, for in a timeframe of significance to its human inhabitants, the land has been effectively destroyed.
Boserup, E., 1965. The Conditions of Agricultural Growth. Chicago: Aldine Press.
Bryceson, D.F., 1990. Food Insecurity and the Social Division of Labour in Tanzania, 1919-85. London: The Macmillan Press.
Homer-Dixon, T.F., 1994. Environmental scarcities and violent conflict: evidence from cases. International Security 19:1, 5-40.
Keller, E.J., 1992. Drought, war, and the politics of famine in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Journal of Modern African Studies 30:4, 609-624.
Olsson, L., 1993. On the causes of famine – drought, desertification and market failure in the Sudan. Ambio 22:6, 395-403.
Samafar, A.I., 1992. Destruction of state and society in Somalia: Beyond the tribal convention. Journal of Modern African Studies 30:4, 625-641.
The correct citation for this page is:
Milich, L., 1997. Environmental Security. http://ag.arizona.edu/~lmilich/envsec.html.
The Table of Contents of my work on Sahelian food security, including several potential loci of intervention to mitigate environmental insecurity, is available.
This site last updated April 7, 1998.