The 1960’s have become synonymous with a peace movement that swept the United States. Throngs of demonstrators gathered in our nation’s streets to advocate for nonviolence and the country was vocal and visible in their calls to the government to promote peace overseas.

Today, it seems like the world is knee-deep in conflict once again. New wars are being waged, old conflicts continue to fester and lives are being lost. The magnitude of violence and the apathy that seems to surround it has left some asking, what happened to the peace movement?

For Roots of Peace, the peace movement is still alive and well—it’s just not the same. Rather than calling on our elected officials to make peace happen like in the 1960’s, we’re cultivating peace from the ground up: promoting peace that is based on economics.

Strong statistical evidence shows that there is a direct relationship between violence and economic development: countries with low per capita income are at a higher risk of civil war.¹ When looking at countries ranked by GDP, you’ll notice almost all in the top 50 are at peace.² Roots of Peace is taking that evidence seriously and is actively promoting peace by addressing the economic causes of violence.

Founded 18 years ago, Roots of Peace transforms former minefields into thriving farmland. We work with farmers in countries with a history of conflict, such as Afghanistan and Vietnam, to revitalize local economies through agriculture. Farmers in our programs receive valuable training on modern day farming techniques as well as discounted inputs that make their crops consistently better quality. But we don’t stop there. Roots of Peace focuses on improving the whole value-chain to ensure that farmers have a market to sell their produce. We improve packaging so it meets the standards of demanding international markets and then link farmers to traders who will export to countries such as India, Pakistan, UAE, and Canada. As a result, farmers in our programs earn more for their crops and greatly improve their yearly income—some by as much as 300%.

The idea here is that we are actively promoting peace because economic need often is a source of conflict. Giving people the resources and security to provide for their families means that they no longer have to look for alternative sources of income, such as producing poppy in Afghanistan, which often exacerbate conflict. Increased income also means that families can address their basic needs such as shelter, a nutritious diet, and educational opportunities for their children, another factor that makes people less likely to deviate towards violence.³

Take Mohammad Nasir for example. Nasir is a 72-year old farmer who lives in Charikar, Afghanistan. For more than 20 years, Nasir’s farm was on the frontlines of Afghanistan’s conflict. After a mujahidin-fired rocket destroyed his home, he moved off the farm, cutting down his old-growth trees to sell as firewood. The Taliban later destroyed all irrigation leading into Nasir’s village, turning the once fertile farms into dustbowls. Nasir and his family were reduced to begging.

When the violence finally subsided, Nasir and his family finally returned home. Today, he is a proud grape farmer. The use of trellising, introduced by ROP’s CHAMP Program, has enabled him to double his grape yield and improve the quality so that he can export to demanding international markets. With the increased income, Nasir has been able to send his grandchildren to school. He says, “In the place where you are now standing I saw men killed in a rocket attack. I could have given up, but I built this vineyard so that my children would have a better life than I have had. The children are in school and the vineyard is producing. It gives us hope.”

We believe that it is this hope and stability that will create a more peaceful world. And so, our peace movement is grounded in the economic empowerment of those who need it most.

¹“Poverty and Civil War: What Policymakers Need to Know.” Global Economy and Development, The Brookings Institution, December 2006.
²“World Economic Outlook Database.” International Monetary Fun, October 2014
³“The Role of Education in Peacebuilding.” UNICEF, May 2011