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Foro Global sobre Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición • Foro FSN

Re: Examining the linkages between trade and food security: What is your experience?

Susan Bragdon
Susan BragdonQUNOSwitzerland

Dear Contributors,

                  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?