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We are now at the end of our discussion and we wanted to thank you for rich, detailed and thought-provoking inputs. They certainly provide motivation for further thinking, discussion and debate.
The discussion has also highlighted the need for more analysis as well. Of course, different desires, motivations and interests can be the cause of a difference of opinion or a perspective on an outcome. But we note that sometimes the existing data and evidence are missing so an assertion is in fact more of a supposition on cause and effect rather than something that can be substantiated on current knowledge. Hopefully this dialogue will help us in defining ripe areas for future analysis!
We both have particularly enjoyed and learned a great deal from the experiences in specific regions, countries and projects. We were pleased that so many of you took the time to share your experience, using that to address the questions posed. For us, it is this kind of sharing that makes online consultations like the FSN so valuable (thank you to FAO and FSN!!) Many of you have highlighted certain lessons that can only be learned from hands-on experience, and we highly value that. For example, the situation in the Near East and North Africa region as explained by Isin Tellioglu and the case of peanut trade in Senegal and Cameroon shared by Lal Manavado.
Many problems with trade have been highlighted, including land grabs, resource degradation and the loss of small farmers’ livelihoods due to the changing structure of agricultural production and trade, skewed towards large farms and corporations. Ekaterina wonders if trade, in this case, is the root of these problems, or these are wider issues that need comprehensive policy response and certainly a more stringent regulation to correct directly for the market failures that cause them.
We both note how many contributors spoke of the need for a need for more coherence between trade rules and food security measures. Dr. Mishra calls for trade rules to give priority to food security measures. After giving us some historical perspective, Jasmin Marston calls for a realignment towards a fairer trading systems where agriculture and food security are concerned. Andrew MacMillon feels it is wrong to blame global trade rules for the fact that more than half the world’s population is malnourished but goes on to say that trade rules are not helping matters. Professor Dhar appreciated the moderators raising the issue of non-trade measures and states “carving out non-trade measures is indeed a task that the trade regime has not addressed despite being asked to on numerous occasions.” He specifically notes that the architects of the WTO AoA stated in the preamble to the Agreement that the “reform programme [initiated by the AoA] should be made in an equitable way among all Members, having regard to non-trade concerns, including food security…”
Ekaterina felt that a lot of the debate focused on protecting domestic farmers from external competition, which is only one side of the story. In addressing food insecurity, she argues that one should not neglect the income opportunities that trade provides, including those for the rural poor. There are many positive and well-documented cases that deserve attention. This is not to say that the gains are automatic or that everyone gains from trade. On the contrary, these cases show what is needed from market participants and government institutions to succeed in seizing the opportunities in trade, and that it is essential to ensure that producers benefit from the export earnings.
Another point Ekaterina would like to make is that the implications of trade agreements for domestic agricultural policy are often overestimated. Under the current domestic support rules of the WTO, there is still substantial space for supporting agriculture in developing countries. Countries should indeed have the liberty to design their agricultural policies as they see fit, to achieve their food security goals. However, if they also want to benefit from market access in other countries, they would be expected to offer something in exchange. That is the underlying principle of any international public good. What becomes critical then, is what type of support should be provided, to whom and through which means. In general, one of the weakest points in this regard has been the lacking support to infrastructure, market development and supporting the farmers to get organized, working through cooperatives or other structures, to professionalize their marketing functions and integrate vertically, capturing a larger share of the value added generated in the sector.
Susan appreciated the exchange around whether or not a food security strategy that explicitly included support for small-scale farmers in agro-biodiverse settings could be compatible with a global market-based approach to food security. Several contributors simply said no, that global markets undermine small-scale farmers in agrobioverse settings. This related to many of the posts on the need for coherence and non-trade measures to promote food security. Susan is uncertain of the role that global markets can play in overall food security without non-trade measures. It is not a trade or anti-trade or a market or anti-market stance. It is about understanding the appropriate role and boundaries of the different approaches. Raising incomes is not synonymous with food security though this sometimes underlies pro-market stances.
And returning to her well-worn subject, small-scale farmers in agrobiodiverse setting, Susan argues that food security over the long run will require support to these systems and an ability to prioritize measures related to them over trade rules. Our world is facing increasing and unpredictable change. The best defence against unpredictability is diversity. The vast majority of genetic and species diversity is maintained on-farm in the form of diverse portfolios of landrace varieties and crop wild relatives adapted to local conditions and continuing to evolve in situ. However, the shift away from traditional production systems and the cultivation of landrace varieties (FAO 2010) has resulted in a loss of 75 percent of plant genetic diversity, and is most reported in the case of cereals where modern breeding efforts are most concentrated. Wale et al (2011) explain that farmers have financial incentives to replace diverse sets of landrace varieties with monocultures of uniform, high-yielding varieties, and abandon traditional agricultural systems. Repercussions will be felt in terms of nutrition, resilience against environmental stress and loss of traditional knowledge. Just to be clear, modern varieties can offer immense public benefit. However the paradox remains: breeding new varieties adapted to increasing and erratic global change is predicated on the availability of allelic variation within and between crop species, while their dissemination contributes to the erosion of this diversity. Insofar as trade and market incentives result in the replacement of landrace varieties, long-term food security requires measures to balance and support these systems.
One area that certainly needs more reliable evidence and analysis is the implication of trade for diets and nutrition. Some situations mentioned by the contributors raise red flags, as worsening nutrition is sometimes a result of greater involvement in trade. Ekaterina points out that in such cases it would be useful to understand what the underlying problem is – if incomes from exporting cash crops rise, presumably this additional income (in households that benefit) should be spent on more nutritional products. So the question becomes: Are these products not available? Or is this a question of educating households about nutrition, choices, food preparation? When Ekaterina worked in the FAO Regional Office in Santiago, Chile, there was a wonderful initiative that involved renowned chefs, who published easy recipes and demonstrated to the wider population how to cook nutritious and tasty food with relatively low-cost products: Beans, maize, potatoes. We also worked closely with street markets on promoting fruit and vegetable consumption through awareness raising actions. These types of initiatives can make a big difference.
As Ann Steensland mentions, “trade cannot address all of the socio-economic and political challenges that influence food security and nutrition”, but we think this discussion demonstrated that there is certainly a relationship, whether positive or negative. It is a challenge for researchers, policy makers, NGOs, farmers and consumers to figure out the priorities and the policy actions in each particular country case.
As we noted in the start of this summary, there is a need for more information and analysis. As Dr. Mishra elegantly and succinctly put it:
- First, the points of intersection between food security and the agreement should be clarified.
- Second, the relationship between international commitments to food security and commitments to trade liberalization must be assessed in order to have coherence.
- Third, ways to broaden the definition of food security and its application within trade agreements should be explored.
As your moderators, we apologize for not being able to call out each one of your contributions individually in our comments and in this summary. We have both learned a lot and you have given us both a lot to think about in our work. We hope you all feel the same way.
Thank you so much for your participation and we are glad to keep up the conversation bilaterally if you want to contact either of us individually.
All the best,
Susan and Ekaterina
The interesting discussion continues. It is wonderful to be able to share thoughts and experiences regarding the relationship of trade rules to food security. I have put some questions that seem worth exploring further in italics and bold in the body of the text below.
I believe the isolation/”free” trade dichotomy is a false or at least an unhelpful one. It keeps us from having the richer, more nuanced conversation about the relationship between trade and food security, what trade can and cannot do, what role it can appropriately play in food security, and where/when/how it needs to be regulated or complemented to ensure food security. As Ann Steensland notes in her contribution, trade is not a zero sum game.
Ms. Steensland’s post seems to argue that with an appropriate enabling environment, participation in a global export market is good for food security. Can participants in this dialogue (or Ms. Steenland) provide examples:
1. Where participation in a global export market has led to an increase in food security for the exporting country, how this increase in food security was measured, and what was the impact on diets?
2. When has participation in a global export market not resulted in increased food security for the exporting country and what happened in those instances?
3. Are there complementary policies that can ensure that participation in an export market benefits those in need? And getting back to our original question 3,
4. What evidence and experience exists on the affect of a country’s participation in export markets on small-scale producers in agriculturally biodiverse systems?
Again, I want to avoid unhelpful dichotomies and this is not meant as pro-trade/anti-trade or pro-market/anti-market but to stimulate a conversation about the appropriate role for each and how they interface with one another so the result is better food security for all.
The global market may provide some tools to achieve the objectives of food security, but it cannot by itself fully satisfy the objectives related to food security and poverty alleviation. In the market, demand correlates with an ability to pay rather than to human need. Markets don’t consider access to those most in need, distribution, research direction for the neediest, inequality, or justice.
Would a human rights impact assessment of trade rules as suggested by Dr. Schuftan help us in understanding what trade and global markets can and cannot do, and hence what other measures need to be taken and be (made) allowable by trade rules?
Mr. Castrillo states that free trade agreements contradict regional policies that support bio-farmers and processes seeking sustainability. He mentions the need for better governance and land tenure rules to generate favorable conditions to achieve more equity.
Mr. Kent summarizes the division between advocates of trade liberalization and its critics in terms of two connected points: 1) global markets are beneficial mainly to the rich and powerful and 2) strategies for self-sufficiency protect the weak from potentially exploitive relationships with those who are stronger.
Professor Haberli notes that farmer security is not food security. I would certainly agree, but also have concern that farmer security seems to be the piece most often left out of the policy equation and that is not sustainable for food security. And I guess I am really talking about small-scale farmers in agrobiodiverse systems being left out of the policy equation. Small-scale farmers not only produce a great deal of the food consumed in the world, given a supportive policy environment, they capture nutritional, health and other benefits such as the maintenance of social and cultural values and increased resiliency. What seems to go unrecognized in international public policy is the global public benefit, equally crucial to food security, that is provided by these small-scale farmers. They maintain, and many develop, genetic diversity in a dynamic, evolutionary setting responding to change providing the foundation to adapt crops to changing circumstances (and this cannot be replaced by the static system of gene banks though they are important complementary measures to on farm and in situ development and conservation). The management practices of these farmers are similarly evolving and responding to changing circumstances. They are, in reality, millions of experimenters/entrepreneurs at the frontlines of responding to new pests and diseases, changing water availability, climate variation etc.
Mr. Kent suggests that trade agreements include elements to protect the vulnerable rather than relying on markets alone. He mentions non-trade measures such as safety nets as part of a packaging of trade proposals with protection programs.
A few questions arise from this:
1. What are some of the non-trade measures needed?
2. Is there sufficient policy space in current trade rules for these measures?
3. Is policy space enough, and if not, what more is needed?
Thank you for the thoughtful contributions to this dialogue. With a couple of exceptions, it seems that most of the contributors are skeptical that a food security strategy, including components that explicitly support small-scale farmers in agro-biodiverse settings, can be made compatible with a global market-based approach to food security (Question 3 of the Topic Note.)
One contributor indicated there is a danger of crop diversity loss if farmers grow crops that are in international demand in order to gain profits. Another contributor described a food security strategy as described in question 3 and trade rule compatibility as an “oxymoron.” Another answered the question by stating “It is simply not possible.”
I am wondering if we can dig a bit deeper with some of the suggestions for how a food security strategy that supports small-scale farmers in agro-biodiverse systems can be made compatible with a global market-based approach to food security.
Dr. Claudio Schuftan suggested the need for research that “points towards the provisions that should be included in [trade and investment] agreements to guarantee food security and food sovereignty.”
The question is, what would these provisions need to look like? How in particular would the biologically diverse systems piece be supported and still be compatible with global market based approach?
Dennis Bennett notes that what is often missing from the trade/food security debates is an understanding of what motivates farmers, including small-scale farmers, to grow specific quantities and types of food.
Can we explore this a bit more? Mr. Bennett seems to be focusing on producing a surplus that can then be traded. He stressed the need to work bottom-up, starting by looking at the local Food Security Value Chain (FSVC), and treating all actors along the value chain with dignity and respect, valuing human rights.
A few of questions arise from Mr. Bennett’s thoughtful presentation.
How can the FSVC approach address what is grown from a bottom-up perspective (rather than a market demand perspective)?
How is what is grown determined so that diversity, including dietary diversity, is encouraged and how does this approach ensure that food gets to the hungriest regions?
How does the FSVC approach encourage the continuous process of developing and maintaining agriculturally biodiverse systems (one of the components mentioned in question 3)?
Mr. Bennett’s mentions the example of the transformation of agriculture in the mid-west of the United States from 1825-75. Changes that contributed to the transformation from subsistence to food surplus farming included things like the John Deere plow, the McCormick harvester, the steam-powered grain elevator, the Erie Canal amongst others. But this transformation also led to a huge decrease in the diversity of what is grown in this same area.
The market-based, traded system created in the US is also resource intensive with negative environmental externalities beyond the loss of biological diversity.
Can one use the FSVC approach and support small-scale farmers in agro-biodiverse systems? How is specifically does it do this?
I look forward to our continuing dialogue.
Greetings to everybody, I wanted to add my welcome to my co-facilitator Ekaterina. I feel very lucky that Ekaterina has joined as a facilitator -- though it means you all are now in the hands of an economist and a lawyer!
As Ektaterina points out, the relationship between food security and trade rules is complex. We welcome input from all disciplines and from all stakeholders to help us gain a better understanding of how these two broad areas relate to one another. Given the diversity of situations amongst and within countries we want to hear your experience with how trade rules have helped, challenged, hindered your quest for food security and a sustainable food system.
Let us know if there are particular ways in which we can help facilitate the conversation. In the meantime, we look forward to your contributions and will jump in with our comments and questions as well.