Ascertaining the Impact of WTO Agreement on Agriculture on Regional FSN
The importance of the subject is timely enough to tempt one to answer the three questions FSN Forum has raised without giving much thought to the standards against which the above impact could be justifiably ascertained. These comments are restricted to suggesting such a standard intended to render such an assessment as holistic as possible.
In the context of global FSN, that of Sub-Saharan Africa represents one of its regional components. However, whether it is global, regional or local (national in this context), the possible variations in the impact of WTO agreement on agriculture are only a question of degree with respect to the state of public nutrition and food security. So irrespective of the locale, it is the yardstick one ought to use when considering those questions.
Thus before proceeding, one needs to seek some consensus on as to what may justifiably constitute the state of public nutrition and food security. It would be reasonable to suggest that the adequacy of the former represents how many individuals in a given group are appropriately nourished and how many are not. Such a group may be the population in a part of a country, or in a nation or a group of them.
Those who are not appropriately nourished suffer from its ill effects owing to (availability) the lack of food needed for a a varied, wholesome and balanced diet or it being not affordable, or secondly, because of people’s lack of relevant dietary competence even when suitable food is available and affordable. The second is an important cause of the increasing incidence of obesity among the affluent throughout the world.
In order to pre-empt the possible objections to terms ‘varied’ and ‘wholesome’, it would be salutary to note that during last six millennia, people everywhere have applied a great deal of ingenuity to vary and enhance the dietary enjoyment of their meals by preparing even their staple food in huge number of ways. What to use and how to do so constitute a major part of human food culture, a priceless common heritage not to be just dismissed by advocating the injestion of packets of a fortified powdered algae, or some Ersatz stuff yielding X calories and containing y% of all the needed nutrients per 100 grammes.
As for what is wholesome is obvious, nevertheless it may be defined as a food is wholesome when it is free of known toxic substances as well as chemical additives that are not found in food coming from plants and animals, spices, herbes and condiments of natural origin. It is often claimed that ‘precaution is better than cure’, while in industrialised countries where content of additives in various food stuffs is high, one has observed a declining human fertility, higher incidence of allegies, etc. Hence, developing countries would do well not to tread the same dangerous path.
Meanwhile, food security implies having a sustainable adequate supply of varied and wholesome food needed for a balanced diet. Its sustainability depends on the sustainability of the ecosystem dservices on which agriculture, animal husbandry and food harvesting (fishing etc.) intimately depend. Irrigation, use of fertilizers and biocides merely represent a technically sophisticated supplementation of those services that should be used with caution in order to avoid disastrous consequences (Aral Sea disaster, aftermath of the ‘green revolution’ of the 70-ies, etc.).
Sustainability of those ecosystem services depends on the well-being of our environment. The latter in turn, depends on the biodiversity indigenous to a locale and the sustainable population of each individual species there. This applies with equal force to man as well as to the Water Hycinth that clogs many a stream and irrigation canal.
So much for the availability and sustainability and now one runs into the thorny problem of affordability. Stating the obvious, the availability of a sustainable supply of varied and wholesome food would be of little use, unless it is affordable to all and the people knew how to make use of it, which requires them to have sufficient dietary competence.
Therefore, it would be reasonable to postulate that irrespective of the level involved, an adequate state of nutrition and food security requires that the following obtain:
1. Restoration of weakened ecosystem services by regeneration and preservation of the area’s environment. This requires restoration of the local indigenous bio-diversity as much as possible and undertaking to build-up or reduce its individual populations as is necessary. Actions that have the opposite effect threaten sustainability in ways too well-known to be noted. Such undesirable actions include:
- Utilising the ecosystem services at a rate in excess of the rate they are replenished (intensive irrigation).
- Excessive removal of earth’s green cover through deforestation and ploughing up of grasslands.
- Over and/or non-selective exploitation of sea, lake and river fisheries by foreign and local harvesters.
- Diminution of the area’s agro-biodiversity through monoculture and by introducing methods that deprecate its food culture.
- Use of energy and capital-intensive methods in food production and harvesting it from the environment, and in improvements in infra-structure (especially transport and housing) when proven more energy-efficient and labour-intensive alternatives are available.
2. All are end-users of food, but most of us cannot be totally self-sufficient enough in food to secure for ourselves a varied and a wholesome balanced diet. So, the majority is compelled to procure at least some of their food by purchase, hence the need for a decent livelihood (not to mention the other needs). But a large number of people in both urban and rural areas of the developing countries are unemployed (particularly the youth) or under-employed. A fair number of those, after a relatively short training appropriate in the context, may earn a decent living in agriculture, food harvesting, and suitable related pursuits. If the environment remains felicitous, apart from the shortage of requisite competence and the initial cost of making and implementing the plans needed to remedy the situation, the greatest obstacles to this approach are the following:
- Use of development approaches that depend on energy- and capital-intensive solutions, whose notion of effectivity is highest possible yield/profit at the least possible expense, i.e., less human labour. Any policy on industry and development embodying those would only exacerbate the situation.
- Trade policies that permit the following:
A. Establishment of high capacity locally or foreign-owned food packing/processing installations at a few locations whose products are principally for export. Not only does this ignore to address the employment issue, but it may often reduce the food availability for local consumption.
B. Trade policies that permit the export of local foods for cash when malnutrition exists in a country or would lead to it.
C. Trade policies that permit the establishment and manufacture or import and distribution of industrial foods and beverages that are outside a country’s food culture or known to promote obesity.
D. Any trade policy that promotes the establishment of near monopolies or a limited number of large concerns to engage in food production, processing and storage, transport and sales (chains of outlet) that creates more and more unemployment, hence fewer and fewer people able to afford the available food.
E. Any trade policy that enable vested interests either to infringe on the current laws on land tenure, or prevent their just adjustment towards a fairer sharing of world resources.
F. Trade policies that promote the exploitation of, or the export of materials that will directly or indirectly have an adverse effects on a country’s food production.
G. All trade policies that entail ‘labour efficiency’ in countries where unemployment is a major issue.
H. Any labour policy that deprecates or is inimical to the traditional co-operative movement in food production, preservation, storage and distribution to end-users.
I. Trade policies that do not provide real incentives to family farms, small to medium sized processing units, sales outlets, family-run restaurants, etc., all run on a cooperative basis.
L. Any trade policy that entails even the smallest environmental degradation, for at present, such changes can have unpredictably serious consequences for food production.
It is hoped that those who are versed in the trade agreement in question will trouble to ascertain whether any one or more of its provisions in real life terms will permit A to J above. If any one of those are permitted, the trade policy that embody such a permission will have an inevitable adverse effect on a country’s state of nutrition and food security, not to mention the civil instability that often follows in the wake of persistant high unemployment. At a mere policy-level, permitting A-J will result in a national trade policy that can neither be in harmony within, nor yet with any humane and responsible health, education, security, etc., policies.