“Enhancing Resilience to Conflict in Arab Countries through Research and Arab Spatial 2.0,” a workshop hosted earlier this year at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) headquarters in Rome, Italy, explored the ways in which policymakers and development agencies can better address poverty and hunger in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Special attention was paid to examining the circular nature of food insecurity and conflict and how research tools may be leveraged to examine and devise solutions to these problems. In aprticular, the workshop welcomed the launch of Arab Spatial 2.0, an open access, interactive online mapping tool that provides food security and development-related data in the Arab world at national and subnational levels. The tool provides policymakers and development practitioners better access to reliable data about regional development patterns; policymakers can use this data to make accurate assessments about food insecurity and poverty and to craft strategies to address the problems.
Arab Spatial 2.0 is the first tool of its kind to aggregate reliable data of more than 200 development indicators for 22 member countries of the Arab League of Nations in the MENA region. The database enables users to customize maps that will allow them to examine the relationship between specific development variables such as conflict and drought. Arab Spatial 2.0 will also allow users to track the progress of IFAD development projects.
“Building resilience to conflict requires improving food and nutrition security through a smart and country-specific mix of trade, agricultural and social policies and interventions,” says Clemens Breisinger, project leader and research fellow at IFPRI. According to studies published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and in Stability: International Journal of Security and Development, the relationship between food insecurity and political conflict in a given region is nuanced and is impacted by social and economic variables. For example, research in Yemen and Egypt presented at the workshop suggested that food insecurity at national and household levels is one of the leading causes of conflict in Arab countries, more so than factors such as income inequality and poor governance, the primary motivators of conflict in other regions. The project also found that civil conflict over livestock prices in Somalia and Sudan is caused by drought and erratic weather. Researchers suggested that policymakers should focus on climate change adaptation strategies for smallholder producers to mitigate conflict fueled by climate change.
The workshop was coordinated by IFAD, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM) and was attended by ambassadors and representatives from Arab countries, researchers, and development partners. The workshop was part of “Reducing Vulnerability to Conflict in the MENA Region,” a three-year research project helmed by IFAD, IFPRI, and PIM; its aim is to illuminate the causes of and promote new approaches to addressing rural poverty in conflict areas.