Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Food features heavily in G20 talks

Despite the dismissal by various commentators of commodity prices as a factor in driving up the costs of food, it appears France has putting it front and centre on the G20 meeting agenda. Of course, people on the other side probably over-exaggerate the role of commodities markets, but when it comes to making sure less people starve, it doesn't seem unreasonable to have the conversation about whether more regulation is needed.

And while we're having conversations about food prices, perhaps some broader discussion on the issue of agricultural subsidies? The focus has, for years (Doha, etc.), been on persuading rich-world nations to drop agricultural subsidies. But there is another side to the discussion. One South African analyst argues strongly that South Africa, at least, should seriously look at bringing back agricultural subsidies, both to increase jobs and to do something about food security.

The logic is fairly straight-forward: Europe and the US achieve and maintain food security by subsidizing agriculture. The rest of the world, including South Africa, would quite like to achieve food security. It seems reasonable to imitate those who have been successful. Further evidence is (at least) a very strong correlation, probably a causal link, in that after South Africa dropped agricultural subsidies, it became a food importing nation for the first time ever. Also, Malawi: subsidized fertilizer, increased production, less people hungry.

Food prices have shown incredible volatility in the last couple of years and current costs are simply too high to allow poor people in many countries to access sufficient, and sufficiently varied, food. It's good to see France taking the lead on getting some discussion going but more debate is needed, in more places, with more openness to previously 'taboo' options, if this situation is going to be remedied.

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