Peacebuilding starts with a seed

Westengen is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Landscape and Society and an expert on seed security.

“It is fantastic that the prize is awarded to a UN organization that works to fight famine. Famine is violence. I do, however, think the award should go to the three Rome-based UN organizations together. The other two, IFAD [International Fund for Agricultural Development] and FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations], work more long-term with food and agricultural development, whilst WFP is a humanitarian actor that comes in when the crises actually occur” he says [translation of comments in Bondebladet].

Access to food is a human right

Westengen warns against simplification of our understanding of how war arises.

“The Nobel Committee should not contribute to making food a security issue - that is, the rationale for fighting hunger should not be just to fight war. Fighting hunger is a goal in itself. Access to food is, in fact, a human right.”

Westengen is positive to the Nobel Committee's choice of prize winner, but explains that it can be dangerous to make food a security issue, because we can then lose sight of the main drivers of food insecurity and war, namely social inequality and political factors.

“If we point to food shortages as the main cause of conflict, we take responsibility away from political leaders. Conflict and war are not due to food shortages, but to the authorities not doing their job. But to build peace, it is incredibly important that food systems work. I would therefore warn against a simplified picture that war and migration in the world are due to food shortages. At the same time, I want to emphasize that food security is a prerequisite for peace” say Westengen.

“Food and a functioning food system are essential for rebuilding a country after war and conflict. Peacebuilding starts with a seed. But looking at causality the other way around - what starts a war - is not quite so clear” he says.

Support for international cooperation

Ruth Haug, Professor at NMBU’s Department of International Environmental and Development Studies, is also positive towards this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

“We are facing increasing hunger in the world, and there is a great need for humanitarian efforts for food security. The award also supports multilateral and international cooperation” she says Haug, one of Norway's foremost experts on the connections between agricultural policy, the economy, food security and nutrition.

“The four main reasons why world hunger is increasing are conflict, economic conditions, climate change and the effects of Covid-19. The World Food Program makes hugely important efforts to provide the hungry in the world with food. In addition, it is important to do something about the underlying structural conditions that contribute to hunger still being such a large and serious problem in the world”, says the professor.

Attention to agricultural development in poor countries

This year's Peace Prize can raise awareness of the importance of investing in the research and development of the agricultural sector in poor countries, claims Teshome Hunduma Mulesa, PhD Fellow at NMBU’s Department of International Environmental and Development Studies.

“The fact that WFP won the Peace Prize contributes not only to food security in general, but also to agriculture. The WFP does not only work with food distribution. Work with the agricultural sector in poor countries is significant and will only become more important in the fight against hunger. The recognition that the WFP receives now will also help other actors and the agricultural sector to receive political and financial support in the future” he says.

Mulesa makes a connection between this year’s prize and last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed:

“It is unfortunate that a leader who received the Nobel Peace Prize then failed to keep his promises, went to war and created hunger. The 2019 Peace Prize winner has closed access to humanitarian aid organizations, including the 2020 Peace Prize winner. Abiy Ahmed denies the humanitarian organization WFP access to distribute food in the affected areas of northern Ethiopia. It is tragic” says the seed security researcher.

Ethiopia is now facing a possible famine. “Seed safety is essential to fight hunger. Seeds grow into food, so we must ensure access to seeds, at a time when climate change in addition to war also threatens food security”, he says.

Peace Prize for the Seed Vault!

Mulesa reveals how Ethiopian farmers with knowledge of storing seeds managed to save some crops when Ethiopia was hit with famine in 1984-85:

“Many farmers had to flee from the drought-hit areas in the north of the country. Before leaving, they put seeds in large ceramic pots that they dug into the ground. They marked the place they were buried before travelling south and west. When the farmers returned, in some cases after two or more years, the seeds were still there and could be dug up and re-planted”.

“The seeds had been preserved in the cool soil”, Mulesa explains. Knowledge on the preservation of seeds was handed down by farmers so that it could save some future crops.

“It is in a way the same thing that happens in the Seed Vault on Svalbard, where seeds are stored and preserved safely through war and conflict, and then distributed to farmers around the world for sowing. Recently, we have witnessed the first seed restoration in war affected areas of Syria from Svalbard. I hope that the Seed Vault and the Global Crop Diversity Trust will receive the Nobel Peace Prize sometime in the future!” he says

It is not inconceivable that this wish can come true. This is not the first time that food security has been propelled to the top of the agenda by the Nobel Committee. 50 years ago, the Norwegian-American Norman Borlaug received the Peace Prize for processing wheat varieties that increased the world's food supply.

Borlaug's research has inspired many NMBU researchers over the years. He was appointed Honorary Doctor at NMBU (formerly the Norwegian School of Agricultural Sciences) the same year he received the Peace Prize. Borlaug has visited NMBU on several occasions, most recently in 2002.

Åsmund Bjørnstad is one of the NMBU researchers inspired by Borlaug's research on wheat. He writes about this inspiration in the Norwegian newspaper Dag og Tid.

Norman Borlaug visits NMBU (then NLH) in a gathering of former Nobel Prize winners in Norway, February 2002.

Norman Borlaug visits NMBU (then NLH) in a gathering of former Nobel Prize winners in Norway, February 2002.

Håkon Sparre, NLH

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Published 10. December 2020 - 11:33 - Updated 10. December 2020 - 13:06