We would like to share a commentary that we published in our website recently. The commentary reacts to a book published by Oxford on Nutrition, but fits perfectly into this discussion.
We should abstain from identifying only urbanization and an increasing population as root causes of food insecurity. Economic access to food plays a dominant role in explaining food insecurity. By overemphasizing nutritional and population aspects and downplaying or even ignoring income poverty and other factors affecting access, the food security perspective becomes economically and socially myopic and politically blind.
Food insecurity is a muddled and dynamic interplay of various elements, many of them heavily anchored to poverty. Poverty is a result of extremely low (or lack of) incomes in the majority of the population and/ or a lack of economic transfers, either based on social relations or by government transfer systems.
Without neglecting other reasons for low incomes in rural areas – such as low land and water endowments – incomes in rural areas are low because productivity in agriculture is low. In many poor countries smallholder yields are only 15-30% of their potential. This reduces the amount of production for subsistence and for selling on markets to purchase other much needed products and services, from food to education to health to communication. These are all required to improve basic living conditions including food security and nutrition. Low agricultural sales and income also reduce local economic dynamics, do not create demand for labour and inputs, keep wages low and do not contribute to vibrant economic off-farm activities. The deeply needed social and cash transfers in poor countries are often lacking because a large part of the population is poor, lives off the informal sector , has no resilience against shocks such as droughts, floods and war, does not pay taxes and has only little political influence. This is poverty!
The engine for improving agricultural productivity and higher incomes for rural population often lies in a better integration into markets. To be integrated into the market, smallholders have to produce substantially higher yields through intensifying their production. This requires increased efforts of, for example, land, water, labour, biological resources and knowledge. If smallholders rely more on internal resources such as mulching, composting, manuring, multi-storey cropping, agro-forestry or irrigation, this usually requires more labour during critical periods which poor households do not have. They have to hire labour or invest in mechanization, which only is possible if additional capital is available.
Cash earnings from agricultural production require good and predictable marketing channels, as well as remunerative and stable prices . Assuming that indeed, a marketable surplus is achieved, the hurdle of bringing the produce to the market and selling it at competitive prices still needs to be overcome. They compete with other providers, either locally or internationally. In the case of communities that live in peripheral areas with negligible market access, integrating them into the value chains is a barrier that is extremely challenging to overcome.
Again, the link to the site is: http://www.die-gdi.de/en/the-current-column/article/cherry-picking-the-reasons-for-hunger-1/