Agro-warfare has been called many things, including agro-terrorism, and it is a form of warfare that involves attacking the food or food supply of an enemy (the “agro” referring to agriculture). Typically, when people think of targeting food supplies or agriculture, they think of the “scorched earth” tactic, which essentially means destroying all potentially useful resources as you withdrawal through enemy territory. The scorched earth policy is basically: if we can’t have it, no one can.
Agro-warfare is a little different. To start, it’s a more general term and is a tool that can be used in a variety of ways. It can “soften” a target, in the way a mortar team or machine-gun team can soften a target before an assault force hits it, just in a much larger sense. It can also knock out critical infrastructure in a nation or enemy force that hinders its ability to operate effectively. It tends to be more controversial, as it is a blunt weapon that, depending on how it is used, is likely going to hit the civilian population just as hard, if not harder, than the military population or intended target.
As was stated earlier, it is often classified as “agro-terrorism,” though this is not really an accurate name. The FBI has a fairly broad definition when it comes to terrorism, but needless to say it does not include acts of aggression between two warring nations in a conventional war. Civilian deaths in this sense, while still terrible, don’t fall under the “terrorism” definition, nor should they. Agro-warfare can be brutal and devastating, but its objective is not always to terrorize some population — it might be used to cut off food from enemy troops or to control a local population.
SOFREP spoke to Simon Bollin, an expert in agricultural industry in the U.S., regarding the definition “agro-warfare.” He said:
Agro-warfare is action/s that negatively impact the production, processing, transportation, marketing, and/or consumption of agricultural products of one’s adversary. This could be destruction of a crop in the field on at on farm storage. Disruption of logistics, manipulating market conditions, or contaminating of the food supply.
This happens in various forms even today:
- China sells volumes of soybean futures, dropping the market price of soybeans. Then they buy boat loads of soybeans at the now greatly reduced price.
- Terrorist groups force/coop local farmers to plant illicit crops (poppies, coco), then anti-drug task forces come in to destroy the fields.
- As we saw in Somalia, the warlords intercepted/accepted food aid, and then only distributed it to whomever they saw fit, manipulating the hungry/starving population to their will.
- Fulani herdsmen are killing farmers in Benue and neighboring states in Nigeria over grazing rights.
- Groups like the Animal Liberation Front, Earth Liberation Front, PETA, and other similar type groups have caused extensive property and personal injury damage to animal production and research facilities in the past 40 years.”
In 2006, BBC reported on some concerning vulnerabilities in the United States. The primary thread there is essentially the U.S.’s ability to mass-distribute food and drink to all corners of the country in small periods of time, and that an attack starting from one of those originating locations could be devastating. They talk about poisoning milk and beef, for example.
However, this is not just a threat to the United States — it’s also a potential weapon. Sure, releasing an invasive species into a foreign country and watching the whole place fall apart is one way to do it, but there are other more creative, less-destructive ways to use those weapons to our advantage. For example, one could infect local food shipments to a Taliban fortress up in the Afghani mountains with a biological agent and no one would be the wiser.
Bollin also pointed out that “most SOF operations are in countries with totally or mostly agrarian based economies,” making them a lot more accessible targets for agro-warfare than many realize. A blow to agriculture in say, Afghanistan or Yemen would be far more devastating than the same blow in the U.S. or Russia. Bollin writes:
Afghanistan, GDP 20% agriculture, Workforce 78.6% agriculture
Iraq, GDP 3.4% agriculture more oil revenue, Workforce 21.6% agriculture
Syria, GDP 16.9% agriculture, Workforce 17% agriculture
Yemen, GDP 7.9% agriculture, Workforce 75%+ agriculture
By comparison, United States, GDP 1.2% agriculture, Workforce 0.7% agriculture”
SOFREP will continue to explore the methods and variations of agro-warfare and how it has been used in the past.
Author’s note: this article contains no classified information and was gathered from civilian sources and online materials.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.