September 24, 2013
Governments aiming to achieve greater food security are unlikely to achieve it through greater self-sufficiency in food production. In fact, pursuit of self-sufficiency is likely to be a major cause of global food insecurity. The risks of food shortages are likely to be greater if barriers are raised against food imports and there is greater reliance on domestic production. In addition, such policies are likely to harm consumers and increase the taxation burden of agriculture policies. This view of the geopolitics of food is reinforced by the latest report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the development of agriculture policies around the world.
The Organisation points out that: “A narrow focus on self-sufficiency has high economic and social costs”. It says that any link between higher self-sufficiency and improved food security is hard to find. Food security can be achieved much more effectively and with much less cost by other methods. Poverty reduction and improved social security schemes, combined with increased public and private investment in sustainable domestic production capacity are likely to be much more effective. Improved access to imports and to the global food market, combined with the maintenance of emergency food reserves, are also more likely to improve food availability.
Restricting imports and fixing internal prices to encourage producers, on the other hand, is likely to have the effect of raising prices and cost to consumers and taxpayers – with no guarantee of increased supply. When harvests fail, as they too often do, due to factors outside government control, prices rise even further. Reduced demand for food imports decreases the world’s overall food production and export capacity. Unfortunately , the pursuit of such policies has recently been most prevalent in emerging economies where people can least afford high food prices.
Ironically, as developed countries like the European Union have been scaling down their support to agricultural production and liberalising their food trade policies, the developing and emerging economy countries have been going in the opposite direction. The OECD ‘s figures show that as OECD country support levels have almost halved since the turn of the millennium, support levels have been rising in the less developed economy countries. State and consumer support to farmers in developed countries has fallen from over 40 per cent of farm income in the late 1990’s to around 20 per cent today. In important countries in the world food system such as Russia, China, Kazahkstan, Brazil and Indonesia, support and protection levels have been rising. <24/09/2013>