More and more people living in rural areas have to secure their livelihoods in a context of political instability, warfare and despotic regimes. In a view of these livelihood crises, this article intends to do two things: on the one hand, it wants to assess how civil warfare affects household livelihood security. On the other hand, it wants to illustrate how development theory and practice can enrich each other and how this collaboration can help design better food security interventions in times of war. These issues are discussed taking the civil war of Sri Lanka as an example. The article assesses theoretical concepts which help analyse local livelihoods in the political economy of war and presents empirical results from four village studies. These livelihood studies then allow framing appropriate intervention strategies for food security which do not simply cure symptoms by providing gifts to war victims, but work on the root causes of violent conflict - the distorted local rules system. While development agencies cannot break the logic of warfare, they can at least contribute to create localised islands of civic engagement to enhance livelihood security.