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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?

Florence Egal
Florence EgalFood Security and Nutrition expertItaly

I have spent most of my carrier working on food security and nutrition (that is from a micro entry point) in an institutional context which privileged national and global policies and saw international trade as an important dimension of food security.  It is revealing that I realized only late in my carrier that only 11% of the food consumed in the world came from international trade, and that somehow the tail was wagging the dog. 

As we were trying to understand why people were malnourished and food insecure in specific areas, again and again we faced 1/ changes in diets related to globalization and reduced use of and consideration for traditional foods and 2/increased precarity of livelihoods as local farmers  were encouraged to "take advantage of the opportunities of globalisation"and concentrate on commodities which would meet the needs of mass distribution. Food products were not food anymore but a means to generate income, and the environmental impact, in particular on biodiversity didn't come into the picture. Socio-economic differences, indebtedness and poverty increased and people migrated away from their areas in search of jobs. Societies break up, rural areas die progressively and consumers health is undermined by inappropriate diets. 

Another interesting dimension related to trade is that of food standards. It was never clear to me why a unique set of food safety standards would be required, since some foods have to travel for months exposed to heat and humidity while others were commercialised locally in very different specific contexts. One clear impact has been that smallholder farmers in many areas were not able to access the market any longer and that production was concentrated in the hands of those who could afford to garantee these standards. Recent developments include institution of food fortification standards that exclude non-fortified foods, and sustainability is now the new item on the agenda.

I am increasingly convinced that sustainable development and resilience can only be achieved if we re-localise policy making,  build on existing experience, making the best use of local natural resources and engaging all actors in the process.  It is not acceptable that promotion of local foods to protect and create jobs, maintain culture and environment, and contribute to more healthy diets is seen as a violation of the principle of free circulation of goods. This of course does not mean replacing one approach with the other but finding the right combination in specific contexts and ensuring micro-macro linkages through real dialogue.  Trade certainly has a role to play in food security but should be held accountable for its social, environmental and health impact.

As Carlo Petrini said at the 7/2 event "Le idee di Expo verso la Carta di Milano", free market cannot apply to food. 


I am not sure that anybody adheres any longer that markets should be free of any control are a contribution to public good. But it should not apply to food.