Food Aid and Conflict

As a researcher I’m incredibly interested in conflict, its causes, and its effects. It may have started with “how do I get my brother not to get mad at me?” and continues with “how do we get people to not beat up their loved ones?” Though I heard someone mention the other day that the world has less conflict now than ever, it’s still worth looking into the causes of it.

In that vein, Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian have a new NBER working paper examining how food aid causes conflict. In a earlier paper, they presented some relatively straightforward relationships between food aid and need. Essentially, we send food where it is needed, but donor countries respond more to internal shocks than shocks in the recipient country. So, we send food where it’s needed, but mostly only if we have extra. The follow-up paper, or how that food aid contributes to civil war, is the one whose abstract is here.

This paper examines the effect of U.S. food aid on conflict in recipient countries. To establish a causal relationship, we exploit time variation in food aid caused by fluctuations in U.S. wheat production together with cross-sectional variation in a country’s tendency to receive any food aid from the United States. Our estimates show that an increase in U.S. food aid increases the incidence, onset and duration of civil conflicts in recipient countries. Our results suggest that the effects are larger for smaller scale civil conflicts. No effect is found on interstate warfare.

There are plenty of questions about this, but my first thought is why we don’t see an effect on interstate warfare? Particularly in places where tribal allegiances or religious allegiances are more salient than national ones, what makes food aid have a differential effect on different types of conflict? Is there some sort of endogeneity in the places we send food aid based on their form of war? It seems like we might restrict food aid to places who are violating borders, which would pose a problem for their identification strategy.

See also Marc Bellemare for his two cents.

Nunn, Nathan and Qian, Nancy. “Aiding Conflict: The Impact of U.S. Food Aid on Civil War” (January 2012). NBER Working Paper No. w17794.

Nunn, Nathan and Qian, Nancy. “The Determinants of Food Aid Provisions to Africa and the Developing World” (December 2010). NBER Working Paper No. w16610.

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