WTO, price crops and global hunger

Current food challenges involve issues ranging from land and food access to commodity price volatility, besides national and international regulation. Although the scope and intensity of these challenges vary according to the different economic and social situations of countries, the debate has been global.

Today, once again, these issues arise deep concerns on behalf of the 2017 WTO ministerial conference  that has just been closed, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Indeed, the WTO has not seemed to enhance effective actions on long-standing proposals. Agriculture negotiations remain among the most important and challenging issues. These negotiations began in 2000 as part of the mandated “built-in agenda” agreed at the end of the 1986-1994 Uruguay Round and, then, they were incorporated into the Doha Round launched at the end of 2001.

The process of globalization of capital in agriculture and food production has shaped a global network of institutions that supplies the worldwide food markets. Contract farming and integrated supply chains are deeply transforming the structure of the agriculture and food industries and, as a result, they have put the local farm sector under high pressure. Further, the expansion of big investment projects, led by transnational companies and institutional investors, has expose small farmers to a situation of hunger and food insecurity by expelling them from the land where they live. In addition to these challenges, the biotech revolution and the introduction of genetically improved varieties of seeds have fostered structural changes.

While the agriculture and food systemic changes are linked to financial and trade flows – mainly profit-driven – international organizations and non-governmental organizations have shaped hunger reduction projects. More recently, for example poverty and hunger reduction targets have been included in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). In truth, hunger and poverty are correlated issues. They are primarily linked to land access, income distribution, employment and food prices, among other factors.

In this scenario, even with the global financial crisis, international prices for agricultural commodities remained substantially above historical averages. Some factors contributed to these high prices:  growth of the world’s population, growth of the Chinese GDP and the urbanization of China. As a result,  at the end of the 2000s, the FAO predicted the global challenge of “a decade of high food prices” and pointed out the need to increase food production.

Since 2014, global commodity crop prices have come back to pre-food-crisis levels. Indeed, the pre-crisis rising food prices turned out to draw investment into agriculture, mainly in the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine, and other exporters of commodity crops, such as corn and soybeans. However, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), the American exports of corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton at prices has been characterized by significant “dumping margins”.

What seems relevant to recall is that the financialization of cop prices and their volatility are systemic challenges. On behalf of these challenges, there has been a global increase not only in the vulnerability of small farmers but also in the number of chronically hungry people – that amounts more than 800 million. Considering this background, after a decade of high prices, current low crop prices and dumped crops – without effective WTO proposals and actions – will drive the most vulnerable people even more into hunger and poverty.

References

FAO. The future of food and agriculture – Trends and challenges. 2017. Rome.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Excessive Speculation in Agriculture Commodities: Selected Writings from 2008–2011. Ben Lilliston and Andrew Ranallo (Editors). IATP, 2011. Available on line at: http://www19.iadb.org/intal/intalcdi/PE/2011/08247.pdf.  Accessed 29 July 2016.

United Nations. The Millennium Development Goals Report 2012. Available on line at: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/MDG%20Report%202012.pdf. Accessed 20 April 2016.

WTO. 2017 Ministerial Conference. Agriculture. https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/mc11_e/briefing_notes_e/bfagric_e.htm

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