A CCS Report by Patricia Parera
Edited by Brigitte Hugh, Erin Sikorsky, and Francesco Femia
Table of Contents
- Featured Topics
This event report is the first of a new initiative by the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) dedicated to shining a light on the U.S. national security benefits of addressing climate change, food insecurity, and stability together. The Feeding Resilience: Climate Change and Food Insecurity Impacts on U.S. National Security Project (Feeding Resilience) is framed by the twin premises that international stability is foundational to U.S. national security and that food security is foundational to international stability. Thus, efforts to bolster the integrity of regional and global food systems can be viewed through a security lens, which is especially true in an era of accelerating climate change, instability and conflict.
This report presents the key takeaways of the first policy discussion, Feeding Resilience: Addressing the Interplay of Climate Change, Food and National Security, held in Washington, DC and virtually on 12 June, 2023, in a series of roundtables that CCS is organizing to engage with climate, security, development, humanitarian, and food security policymakers, practitioners, and academics. The purpose of the roundtables is to share experiences about the nexus of climate change, food insecurity, instability and national security in an effort to identify policy gaps and elicit recommendations and best practices that will serve as a foundation for the CCS’s Feeding Resilience project.
To ground these discussions, the roundtables use concrete case studies focused on the nexus of food, climate, and security in specific countries to help understand and document the different issues, approaches, and advances within these sectors and the relevant communities of practice. The roundtables will be one of a number of inputs for a policy report and actionable recommendations to be presented to policymakers in 2024.
The objective of the June 2023 roundtable was to increase connections among policymakers, the private sector, thought leaders, and civil society, and seek to identify holistic and feasible opportunities to increase investment in global climate adaptation, resilience practices, and food systems innovations as a security imperative. The discussion included Ethiopia as a case study to illustrate these themes.
Participants representing multilateral development banks (MDBs), technical agencies of the United Nations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), United States government agencies and the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) team took part in the half-day event. The roundtable was held under “Chatham House Rule.”.The list of participants, agenda, and presentations are available at
The agenda included a set of questionsshared with the roundtable participants to focus the discussion on specific challenges and opportunities. A moderator led the discussion based on questions suggested in the agenda (see Annex 1). Below is a summary of key takeaways from the policy discussion.
- Food insecurity is likely to grow in 18 hunger hotspots across 22 countries during June to November 2023. The ongoing war in Ukraine is a key driver of this short-term risk.
- Food insecurity can lead to broader security risks in countries that have traditionally been stable.
- Security challenges often arise when people from the middle class start “feeling” the threat of hunger.
- Trends in urbanization are important to the nexus of climate resilience, food security, and security.
- Urbanization is changing agrifood systems globally with implications for the availability and affordability of healthy diets, food security and nutrition, and security in general.
- Underinvestment in agricultural research and development (R&D) is a security risk. Investment in U.S. public agricultural R&D has fallen by a third over the past two decades. China has tripled its investments and it has become the largest funder of agricultural R&D in the world.
- Climate change creates disproportionate and adverse effects on vulnerable populations, exacerbating insecurity on the African continent and accelerating additional challenges.
- Climate change will increasingly affect instability, migration, food security, and resource availability across the continent, requiring increased focus on building climate resilience.
- Need for targeted approaches to address the socio-cultural and geographical diversity of African countries.
- Each day of a violent conflict event registered within any community in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas of Ethiopia increases food poverty by more than 12 percent.
- The international community is not addressing food insecurity with the targeted funding it needs.
- There is a need for private capital for adaptation and resilience investments and right incentives to mobilize it.
- Use existing money more strategically and layer investments to address original drivers of risk.
- Policymakers need to use existing budget resources more effectively by mainstreaming climate-related priorities into existing programs to incentivize win-win spending decisions.
- The amount of money needed to transform food systems so they survive and thrive under climate change is beyond what public sector investment alone can cover.
- There should be an increased focus on preventative, systemic interventions.
- Policymakers need to get ahead of food-related instability.
- The negative impact of climate change in local livelihoods and competition for resources and erosion of social cohesion can increase vulnerability of young people to radicalization or recruitment by violent extremist organizations.
- DoD should have a supporting role, and not a leading role, on humanitarian, emergency, climate change and food insecurity issues.
- Women are often the first to bear the heaviest burden of climate-related adversities, surging food prices, and inflationary pressures.
- Women producers are less able to adopt sustainable and resilient production practices or methods due to their limited access to inputs, including land, time, labor, information, and technologies.
- Social sustainability is as important as infrastructure for tackling the food, security and climate change nexus.
- Policies and potential solutions and implementation are impacted by social sustainability, i.e., healthy social interactions, social cohesion, trust among different actors and partners, good governments and governance.
Climate change affects the security environment in dozens of ways, ranging from direct impacts on military infrastructure and operational capabilities, to its indirect role in exacerbating risks of instability and conflict: undermining food security, increasing water scarcity, and destabilizing entire regions of the globe. Climate change puts lives and livelihoods at risk, increasing the likelihood of instability and conflict. The roundtable focused on one instability pathway climate change is amplifying—that of food insecurity and the international, national, and individual security risks that it creates.
The number of conflicts around the world has grown by more than 60 percentover the past three decades, often waged between states and non-state actors. Food insecurity is not only a byproduct of such conflict, but also a driver of it. Hunger and loss of agricultural livelihoods, for example, are recruitment opportunities for violent extremists. While there is almost never a single cause of conflict, food insecurity is capable of driving or exacerbating it.
Today, the climate crisis is a leading driver of the steep rise in global hunger as droughts, land degradation, and extreme weather destroy crops, livelihoods, and lives. Impacts from climate change are threatening the world’s food, water, and other resources; endangering lives and ecosystems; and combining with other factors such as poor governance to devastating local economies and infrastructure. In the Horn of Africa, for example, climate change, social unrest, and the search for a better life are push factors for migration, and they could seriously exacerbate security risks in the region. The current U.S. National Security Strategy (October 2022) states that “Global food systems today are under threat from a variety of sources, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate events, and protracted conflicts.” In particular, the food insecurity crisis has become dangerous because of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which took much of Ukraine’s grain off the market. At the time of writing, Russia has pulled out of the Black Sea grain deal for the third time since the deal was struck in July 2022, in a potential blow to global food supplies.The deal proved vital for stabilizing global food prices and bringing relief to the developing countries which rely on Ukrainian exports.
Following are the key topics addressed during the roundtable discussion and considered to be a priority for policymaking action. The discussion was based on the original questions suggested to the participants (see Annex 1) prior to convening the meeting. However, some of the topics presented below surfaced as the conversation became more focused on specific constraints that need to be addressed by the development, humanitarian and security community. This is particularly relevant to the United States in order to play an effective leadership role in assessing, improving and scaling up foreign policy tools, prioritizing resources, and taking urgent action to avoid being too late to make a difference.
Food insecurity is likely to grow. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP) warn that food security is likely to deteriorate further in 18 hunger hotspots across 22 countries during June to November 2023, with more joining the 349 million people already food insecure globally.Participants noted that the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is a key driver of this short-term risk because it is preventing the export of synthetic fertilizers and staple cereals, causing food supplies to suffer and prices to fluctuate.
Food insecurity can lead to broader security risks in countries that have traditionally been stable. One participant noted it is not the poorest of the poor or the chronically undernourished who riot or protest. Instead, security challenges often arise when people from the middle class start “feeling” the threat of hunger. When food shortages hit the middle class, that is when young people in urban areas become involved in protests and in more serious instances join violent actors. This means that there is a need to focus on preventive and anticipatory approaches to avoid increased discontent and conflict.
Trends in urbanization are important to the nexus of climate resilience, food security, and security in general. The FAO publication The State of Food and Nutrition in the Worldindicates that urbanization is changing agrifood systems globally. The changing pattern of population agglomerations along a rural–urban continuum, and its interface as a place of exchange and socioeconomic interactions, is reshaping and being reshaped by agrifood systems, with implications for the availability and affordability of healthy diets, and in turn, for food security and nutrition, and security in general. Rural-urban migration studies have shown that most people leaving rural areas for more economic opportunities and better livelihoods become the urban poor.
Underinvestment in agricultural research and development is a security risk. Investment in U.S. public agricultural research and development (R&D) has fallen by a third over the past two decades, lagging behind major trade competitors.Public agricultural R&D from 1900 to 2011 generated, on average, $20 in benefits to the U.S. economy for every one dollar of spending. Comparatively, China has tripled its investments and it has become the largest funder of agricultural R&D in the world.
According to analysis from U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM), climate change creates disproportionate and adverse effects on vulnerable populations, exacerbating insecurity on the African continent and accelerating additional challenges. The U.S. National Defense Strategy and the National Military Strategy both instruct the Department of Defense (DoD) to consider how climate-linked security risk impacts planning, strategy, and activities in the field. As described in the roundtable, USAFRICOM takes a risk-based approach by assessing how climate-linked security threats change the strategic field of operations. USAFRICOM assesses that climate change will increasingly affect instability, migration, food security, and resource availability across the continent, requiring increased focus on building climate resilience. It also recognizes that the continent comprises 54 different countries, with different constraints and opportunities. Thus, the combatant command has identified the need for targeted, actionable solutions.
One participant noted there are no “ungoverned spaces” in Africa because there is always a group willing to come in and take control. For example, USAFRICOM assesses that in Somalia “Al Shabaab has leveraged the current drought and risk of famine to advance its operations: levying taxes on drought-affected communities, attacking relief efforts, and destroying critical infrastructure.”
Roundtable participants indicated that there is a greater understanding of the food, climate and security nexus at senior levels of the military. That is not the same case in the field, where operators have a difficult time conceiving the connection between climate change and security, for example. To help address this gap, USAFRICOM is also working to build out a menu of defense cooperation activities that complement humanitarian and development community activities.
The international community is not hitting the problem of food insecurity with the targeted funding it needs. Participants agreed that finance will be the most binding resource constraint for the foreseeable future, with substantial competing demands for each available dollar. There is a need to scale up private capital for adaptation and resilience investments. However, the international community and governments need to design the right incentives to mobilize private capital. Two example countries where the right investments were identified to make healthy and nutritious foods more available, affordable and accessible are Tanzania and Ethiopia where improved irrigation has enhanced productivity, lowered prices for consumers and increased farmers’ income.
There is a need to use existing money more strategically and layer investments to address original drivers of risk. Public spending should focus on value for money and resilience to climate risks and shocks. Participants argued policymakers need to use existing budget resources more effectively by mainstreaming climate-related priorities into existing programs to incentivize win-win spending decisions. One example of a win-win spending decision given in the workshop was the financing of airstrip improvements in an African country that both allowed for easier access for food aid while also providing the infrastructure needed by the U.S. military. By layering in various kinds of investment, a whole suite of interventions and targeted private sector cooperation have the chance to “move the needle” on different hard statistics.
The amount of money needed to transform food systems so they survive and thrive under climate change is beyond what public sector investment alone can cover. There is a need to mobilize capital investment and to scale up private sector capital. Public and private investment are not mutually exclusive. Participants noted that the investment needed from the private sector will require catalytic capital from government sources, so that it supports funding in a layered manner.
More investment is needed in preventive and adaptive programming. One participant said the ratio of adaptation funding to climate mitigation funding is around 1 to 8 in the case of the World Food Program. Additionally, it is less expensive to address affected populations’ needs in a proactive and sustainable manner than to provide humanitarian assistance in response to a catastrophic event or instability caused by conflict. There has to be a paradigm shift, from after the fact, responsive funding to proactive, adaptation and resilience funding, and a better balance between adaptation and mitigation funding in the climate space.
The high debt levels in low and middle-income countries, global inflation, and local currency depreciation make it extremely challenging for developing countries to finance longer-term development and resilience, which in turn exacerbates social tensions and competition for scarce resources, and puts national and global human security at risk. Targeted liquidity is required to enable adaptation to the impacts of extreme weather, and assurance of security in light of increasing future climate impacts.
Existing U.S. Initiatives to Address the Climate-Food-Security Nexus
USAFRICOM is carrying out a number of dialogue activities and consultations with its partners and allies as well as conducting stakeholder mappings, designing data and support tools; and a number of consultations such as the African Partner Perspective. It also carries out Tabletop Exercises, Wargaming and OAIs & Institutionalization Operations, such as Weather & Climate Data Aggregation; Causal Chain Analysis; Organizational Process Integration, Workforce Education, among others.
The President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE) was launched in November 2021 as the cornerstone of the U.S. foreign policy response to address the impacts of global climate change. It aims to help more than half a billion people in developing countries adapt to and manage the impacts of climate change by 2030, including food insecurity, via emergency early-warning, adaptation financing, private sector engagement, and capacity building. PREPARE provides $3 billion in U.S. adaptation finance annually by FY2024. It supports multiple climate and disaster risk finance strategies, strengthening capacity to access finance for adaptation, and developing bankable investments by creating incentives and reducing risk for private investment. This includes doubling the amount of private sector investments for adaptation and resilience in 20 countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change stresses.
There should be an increased focus on preventative, systemic interventions. There is a vicious feedback loop between conflict and hunger: war drives hunger and hunger drives war. Development practitioners, the security community, humanitarian organizations and governments need to get ahead of food-related instability. In general, food insecurity and conflict arise because of structural inequalities, economic shocks, and the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable populations and resource competition. While food insecurity is often mentioned as a byproduct of climate change and it is seen as a precursor to instability, policies and interventions addressing food insecurity are rarely framed as, or developed to be, security-enhancing. Recent research indicates that it is necessary to focus on urban centers, especially those with large youth populations and their relationship to conflict or discontent. As stated in the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023, “The negative impact of climate change in local livelihoods and competition for resources and erosion of social cohesion can increase vulnerability of young people to radicalization or recruitment by violent extremist organizations.”
Following along those lines, one participant noted the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is trying to build a menu of defense cooperation activities that complement the U.S. government’s humanitarian and development community activities. The participants recognized that if Congress does not fund USAID and other development and humanitarian/emergency programs in the fight against climate change and food insecurity, then DoD will have to engage more, which is not the best use of DoD. The group agreed DoD should have a supporting role, and not a leading role, on these issues.
The nexus between climate change, food security and gender issues should be addressed. The attendees made it clear that it is not possible to address the issue of food security without acknowledging the role of women and the inequalities associated with gender, ethnicity and age which restrict many people’s access to healthy foods. Women, being the caretakers of household food and nutrition security, are often the first to bear the heaviest burden of climate-related adversities, surging food prices, and inflationary pressures. Women producers are less able to adopt sustainable and resilient production practices or methods given their limited access to necessary resources, including land, time, labor, information, and technologies.
If female-headed households in Southern Ethiopia, for example, had the same resources as male-headed ones, their productivity in maize would increase by 40 percent.
Protecting the land rights of smallholders, women and Indigenous peoples is paramount when discussing the impact of climate change, competition for natural resources and management of conflicts associated with it. In addition, climate change will increase undernutrition through increased food insecurity from extreme weather events, droughts, and shifts in agriculture.
Social sustainability is as important as infrastructure for tackling this nexus. Resilience is more than better infrastructure, adaptation of improved seeds, better water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), landscape management, and funding. Those are necessary but not sufficient solutions. The group agreed that policymakers need to realize that policies and potential solutions and implementation are impacted by social sustainability, i.e., the importance of healthy social interactions, social cohesion, trust among different actors and partners, in addition to good governments and governance.
Ethiopia was discussed in the roundtable as a clear example of the compounding effects of the food, climate, and security nexus. Climate change threatens many sectors in Ethiopia, including agricultural productivity. One participant noted that Ethiopia is likely to lose more than six percent of crop output each year going forward due to the impact of climate change. It was also noted that the country has experienced six consecutive poor rainy seasons, and more than 22 million people are estimated to be food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance, while 11.8 million have experienced significant livelihood losses.
Data from a recent World Bank survey in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas shows that each day of a violent conflict event registered within any community increases food poverty by more than 12 percent. Participants also noted that conflict in Ethiopia creates access challenges for domestic food supply chains and the delivery of food assistance. Population displacement due to conflict has exposed pockets of internally displaced peoples to increased drought or flood risks. The group identified a range of actions to address these issues, including a combination of policy and institutional reform, investments in new technologies, skill development, investment in R&D and extension to produce climate resilient crops and improve resilience of value chains and strengthen insurance mechanisms. Such efforts must take into account the multiple existing threats: armed conflict, political unrest, violent extremist organizations’ activities and malign influence.
Overall, the workshop highlighted multiple pathways through which it is in the national interest of the United States to promote global food security and climate adaptation and resilience at home and abroad.
The roundtable underscored the need to establish a platform of solutions or a layered approach to address the climate, food, and security nexus. The interconnected world is going through multiple, simultaneous crises, so these wicked problems—climate change, food insecurity, conflict, migration—must be treated holistically, taking advantage of synergies, and connecting policies and actions. When applied sensitively and sustainably, interventions that properly consider climate change and food insecurity—such as agroforestry,climate-smart irrigation, implementation of resilient crop strains, proper use of fertilizers, and early-warning systems—can decrease land degradation, increase food security, and prevent livelihood loss and instability.
The correlation between climate change, national security, agri-food systems and food security is a big challenge for the diplomatic, defense and development communities. There is a need to develop a common agenda and promote dialogue and cooperation with donors and development partners on climate and food security and share best practices. This will provide the opportunity to establish a comprehensive framework within the climate and food security landscape that reflects their interests and can identify opportunities for defense and security actors to engage as well. It would further provide partners with entry points for engagement and to coordinate initiatives to mitigate, adapt to, and prepare for climate realities.
Suggested Questions for Discussion
- Given the central role that international peace and stability plays in U.S. national security, can you identify risks to U.S. national interests that arise because of the confluence of climate change, agricultural negative externalities, food and nutrition insecurity?
- In vulnerable nations globally, and in the Horn of Africa specifically, are there food or climate resilience activities already present which have been noted for their security benefits?
- How should the U.S. government focus and prioritize funding and engagement on food security and climate adaptation in the developing world? If more funding were available, where might it be most impactful? Are there ways that current funding could be shaped to have a greater impact on food insecurity challenges?
- What are the challenges for militaries, for infrastructure, and for rural farmers in accessing and adopting alternative technologies needed to adapt their practices for climate change, and what can be done to overcome those challenges?
- Which policies and programs have proven effective for closing gender gaps vis-à-vis the social, environmental and security dimension of climate change?
- The lingering COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, rising levels of conflict, and a global economic slowdown are inflaming deep-rooted systemic inequities. Addressing these challenges will require social sustainability in addition to economic and environmental sustainability. What role does government legitimacy play in muting or exacerbating the stresses that climate change and food insecurity impose on vulnerable populations? How can the security community promote social cohesion, inclusion, resilience, and process legitimacy so that people feel part of the process and help address the challenges of our time?
- Lt. General John Castellaw, USMC (ret.)
Center for Climate and Security
- Dr. Chelsea L. Cervantes de Blois
U.S. Department of State
- John Conger
Center for Climate and Security
- Ambassador Ertharin Cousin
Food Systems for the Future
- Ousmane Dione
The World Bank
- Tom Ellison
Center for Climate and Security
- Sukhraj Kaur
U.S. Department of State
- Dr. Marcus D. King
- Francesca Lenzi
- Laura Malenas
International Committee of the Red Cross
- Eric Muñoz
- Chloe Noel
Save the Children
- Dr. Zitouni Ould-Dada
Food and Agriculture Organization
- Patricia Parera
Center for Climate and Security
- Oshani Perera
- Claudia Sanchez de Lozada
- Erin Sikorsky
Center for Climate and Security
- Colonel Neil Snyder
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff
- Chase Sova
World Food Program USA
- Joanna Veltri
International Fund for Agricultural Development
- Ann Vaughan
U.S. Agency for International Development
- Michael Werz
Center for American Progress
Munich Security Conference
1 The Chatham House Rule is used around the world to encourage inclusive and open dialogue in meetings. The Chatham House Rule helps create a trusted environment to understand and resolve complex problems. Its guiding spirit is: “share the information you receive, but do not reveal the identity of who said it.”
2 See Annex 1 for questions shared with participants prior to the policy discussion.
3 Chase Sova, Galen Fountain, Eilish Zembilci, and Tia Carr, “,” World Food Program USA, 2023, Washington, D.C.
4 Sova, Fountain, Zembilci, and Carr, “.”
5 Michelle Nichols and Guy Faulconbridge, “,” July 17, 2023, Reuters.
6 Rob Picheta, Mick Krever, and Anna Chernova, “,” CNN, July 17, 2023.
7 WFP, Joint Statement by the Heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group, World Food Programme and World Trade Organization on the Global Food and Nutrition Security Crisis. 8 February 2023.
8 FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2023. : Urbanization, agrifood systems transformation and healthy diets across the rural–urban continuum. Rome, FAO.
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10 Kelly P. Nelson and Keith Fuglie, “.” Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, June 06, 2022.
11 Nelson and Fuglie, “.”
12 FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2023. Urbanization, agrifood systems transformation and healthy diets across the rural–urban continuum. Rome, FAO.
13 “,” Joachim von Braun, Kaosar Afsana, Louise O. Fresco, Mohamed Hag Ali Hassan, Editors, 2023.
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