Economics of food: Global vs. local?

My last post ended with a description of the positive feedback loop involved in globalizing commodities – in this case food – as well as a brief description of some of the disastrous consequences. Here I want to detail a little further the ideologies and economic conditions that drive such consequences.

The cycle inevitably leads back to our financial system and the gambles it plays every day with food prices. Not only are we lulled into thinking that the market should govern everything, but we are also led to believe that the market will govern everything fairly. Thus, as Frederick Kaufman writes in Harper’s Magazine, people such as Bill and Melinda Gates and organizations such as the World Food Program (WFP) launch stunningly successful campaigns to channel money and market presence into areas such as Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, home to some of the largest populations of starving people. The aim is to turn small farmers with few resources into members of the global agricultural business.

The amount of money being pledged is huge; for the latest WFP program, it is something to the tune of US $6.4 billion (Kaufman lists the contributions by country). But what rarely receives mention is that global market forces are precisely what drive hunger in most poor regions. Food access may also be exacerbated by environmental factors – desertification, persistent drought, and extreme weather events driven by changing climatic patterns, for example – and local socio-political conditions like civil war or violent anti-government factions. Lack of food, however, is not the fundamental issue; it is lack of money to buy food.

Poor farmers do not have the money to supplement a bad harvest or to sustain a nutritional diet in some cases. The poor in urban areas lack money to buy food period, as well as access to land and supplies for growing food. WFP’s plan to channel money to small-scale farmers so that they can participate in the global food market will help those individual farmers, for sure, but it will not help the millions of people in that very same country who now cannot buy that farmer’s food because he sells at the highest prices possible. We can’t fault the farmer, though; ‘competitively’ pricing his produce is simply good business.

So a distinction emerges between the practices that provide for local prosperity and those required for global success. When it comes to food availability, these values seem to be mutually exclusive.

This entry was posted in Environmental policy, Public Philosophizing, Sustainability, Risk Management, & Long-Term Security, TechnoScience & Technoscientism. Bookmark the permalink.

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