What Causes Food Insecurity: Part II

Previously, in What Causes Food Insecurity: Part I, I started with one of the factors that contributes to low food stocks: natural disasters.

Today, I’d like to point out another common argument for low food stocks: Government Policy.

One such policy is an import or export bans.  In order protect their national interests, governments often place bans on importing or exporting certain commodities.  For example, in April of 2008, the government of Kazakhstan banned the export of wheat in order to curtail domestic inflation and prevent bread shortages that had occurred the previous year, essentially in an effort to “assure the country’s food security.” Here it’s important to note that Kazakhstan is a large producer of wheat in the region.  While intending to protect their own population, this action potentially hurts neighboring nations that depend on purchase of Kazakhstan’s exports for their food consumption.  See article quoted here.

Other policies that affects the supply of food are import or export tariffs.  In 2008, the government of Argentina increased export taxes on crops in order to keep food prices down.  The idea was that a tariff on exports would make that exported crop more expensive in other parts of the world as compared to Argentina since consumers generally incur the cost of tariffs.  Thus the supply of food would remain high and the price lower within the country.  Argentina’s tariff increase was followed by a wave of farmer protests.  You can read more about it in this NY Times article from 2008.

These policies can promote hoarding of food and can exacerbate a food insecurity problem.

For this reason, the US, EU, WTO and others promote the removal of trade barriers (i.e. tariffs) to ensure the easy flow of food (and other goods) across national borders.

Coming up:  Part III, the final section of low food stocks/more government policy, the current hot topic: corn production/subsidies and biofuels/food for fuel debate.

What Causes Food Insecurity: Part I

In developing nations, I believe a large problem regarding food security is the economic issues associated with food security.  I plan on having another post about international agriculture, trade and the World Trade Organization (WTO), but for now I’ll try to explain some things that affect the price of food.

Some of these are quite contentious and people can argue the effects of one or the other on actual food prices and access to food.  That being said, I will try to provide an unbiased look at food issues.

I decided to break this topic into multiple posts, as there’s kind of a lot to say and I really don’t want to bore you all (not that any of this is boring!!) or oversimplify it to the point of making it inaccurate.

So I’ll start with one cause

Potential Cause #1:  Low Food Stocks

As the supply of a certain good decreases, the price increases if demand does not change.  Today I will only cover one of the things that influences the supply of food in the world.

Natural Disasters: Natural disasters and weather patterns can negatively or positively affect the harvest in any given year.  However, this may not be a particularly strong argument as, generally speaking, countries with adverse weather patterns generally are aware of these possibilities and therefore can often mitigate negative outcomes.

Bad harvests in certain areas are often offset by good harvests in other areas, as was the case in 2007.  Bad harvests the EU and the Ukraine and Australia were offset by good harvests in Argentina, Kazakhstan, Russia and the US.  While weather issues can contribute to decreases in food production and subsequent increase in prices, the impact should not warrant a global food crisis.
(Source: Jenifer Piesse and Colin Thitle, “Three Bubbles and a Panic: An Explanatory Review of Recent Food Commodity Price Events.” Food Policy 34)

Next time… Government Policies that affect food prices

What are your thoughts?

What the World Eats

A while back, Time Magazine had a really interesting photo essay based on Peter Menzel’s book Hungry Planet: What the World Eat.

I thought I would share it here because I thought it was extremely interesting.  It shows 15 families around the world with a week’s worth of food spread out on their table.

Click the picture or here for the link!

In my opinion, some of the most interesting parts of this photo essay were:

1. The amounts of food and quality of food.  Certain countries/cultures had more fresh produce than others, as well as the most obvious… different quantities of food.

2.  Take note of the living space.  Most of the pictures are taken where the family eats.  It’s interesting to try to guess how people experience food based on their environment. Who has a TV in the room?  Who has a table?  I think a lot of this is also based on income but still kind of interesting to think about.

3.  The family unit.  Not necessarily food related, but it’s interesting to see what different cultures consider to be the immediate family.

I should also say that I understand that this is by no means representative of countries or cultures.  Every household is different but I think it’s useful to get a glimpse into the way other people live and eat.

Any other thoughts?