The year 2016 witnessed a huge population transfer, unprecedented in its range and scope. Millions of people fled areas devastated by war, natural disasters and violence.
Some spill over into refugee camps in neighboring countries, others cross dangerous seas and walk hundreds of kilometers to reach safer lands. Still others seek refuge in countries half a planet away.
Thousands have died on their way to safety, and countless more were victims of violence and abuse, including many women and children.
Armed conflict and violence force residents to leave their communities, leaving them without resources or means to start over. They paralyze the lives of millions of people, depriving adults of their dignity and children of their childhood.
According to the most recent data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced in 2015, a figure that is increasing at a rate of 34,000 people a day.
Of the total, 21.3 million are refugees and half of them under the age of 18, putting enormous pressure on host countries, where the sudden increase in population puts them at risk of food shortages and competition due to limited employment opportunities.
In rural areas, armed conflicts have devastating consequences. These areas, being more sparsely populated and difficult to monitor by authorities, provide relatively safe havens for violent groups to base their operations and terrorize local communities.
This is one of the ways in which conflict and rural development are related. In fact, the relationship between the two is complex and closely intertwined. In addition to brutally affecting rural communities, the conflict often stems from competition for land and natural resources, such as water.
Poverty, lack of jobs and opportunities for a better future fuel resentment and offer extremists fertile recruiting grounds. When conflict breaks out, rural development becomes difficult, if not impossible.
In contrast, prosperous rural areas are more resistant to conflict. Investment in rural areas with the objective of strengthening local communities in food production, business creation, productive and basic infrastructure and conflict mitigation helps prevent their escalation, promotes stability and reduces food insecurity caused by the massive displacement of farmers.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development has considerable experience in preventing conflict and mitigating its consequences by investing in a sustainable and inclusive rural transformation in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. By investing in rural development, we can offer the population the option to stay in the area and the strength to resist the onset of violence.
By focusing on agricultural production and rural business development, countries become more resilient to food shortages and the degradation of natural resources. This is particularly important in states that depend on food imports and have little or no autonomy in their own production.
On the other hand, the development of rural companies offers alternatives to farmers and producers so that they can diversify their activities and sources of income and invest in their territories, which makes them more likely to survive poor harvests, as well as natural disasters or those caused by human activity.
Building rural centers with a diversity of economic activities is key to reducing pressure from highly populated urban areas and creating opportunities for young people to plan their future in the countryside.
Development is a complex process. It is a social, cultural, religious, political, economic and technological puzzle in which the pieces constantly change shape. Investing in inclusive rural transformation strengthens the fabric of society that will put that puzzle together and hold the pieces together for years to come.
In conflict zones, the coordinated work and investment of the international community is crucial and should be directed towards providing tools and knowledge to rural organizations and local institutions to take ownership of the development of their communities.
This work and investment must support local and national authorities that represent the people to generate policies that favor sustainable and peaceful growth, and to acquire the skills and tools to negotiate, enforce and maintain peace and security.
While this contributes to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it is also a moral obligation.
The opinions expressed in this article are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS - Inter Press Service, nor can they be attributed.
Translated by Álvaro Queiruga
Photo: In Burundi, a community-owned livestock project helped build solidarity and reduce conflict between villagers, despite the violent civil war raging in the country. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni