About the conference
1. Setting the scene
Food production has always been present in the economic debate because of the concern about the outcomes of population growth and demographic changes. In this respect, one of the most famous references is the book Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), written by the British economist Thomas Malthus, that describes the challenges of unbalanced growth of food production in relation to the population rate of growth. In his view, the outcomes of this unbalanced growth were seen as catastrophic because of the social problem of hunger. At that time, population control was considered to be one of the proposals to face food challenges (Malthus, 2008).
Although the Malthusian theory has not yet been proven to be true, there is a global challenge related to people’s access to food. Access to food refers to the lack of financial resources that prevents households from purchasing food, mainly in urban areas, in addition to the lack of financial resources in small business to buy land and inputs and also to adopt modern technologies.
Through history, new methods of food production have emerged which allowed increases in food supply. Technological changes, however, have not occurred uniformly throughout the world (Friedmann, 1993). Indeed, some countries have expanded their agricultural production and met their food needs while the lack of access to food still creates situations of hunger that remain a reality in many parts of the world. Therefore, the current challenges in food production mean that, even with a larger supply of food, many people, mainly the poor ones, still live in a situation of starvation. Data from the United Nations World Food Program (World Food Program UN-WFP-UN) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization-FAO-UN) have shown that hunger turned out to be greater in some groups such as women, children, especially in rural areas of the world (United Nations, 2012).
Political issues have also limited the access to food. Wars and social conflicts not only prevent people from growing or purchasing food, but also promote social vulnerability in situations of hunger (Webb & Braun, 1994). Other political problems involve, for instance, the appropriation of land (land grabbing) by hegemonic groups and corruption (Borras et al, 2011).
In truth, the current food challenges need to be considered in the context of the promotion of economic sustainability and social justice.
2. The globalization of capital in agriculture and food production
Agriculture and food industries are part of the list of “global” sectors. Indeed, a global network of institutions supplies the worldwide food markets. In this scenario, one of the major outcomes of the expansion of the global supply chain is the changing role of the local farm sector under the high pressure of international competition.
The process of globalization of capital in agriculture and food production raises other problems related to the growth of big investment projects led by transnational companies, nation states and institutional investors that purchase land in various parts of the world. In truth, these investments often expose small farmers to a situation of hunger and food insecurity by expelling them from the land where they live.
Today, contract farming and integrated supply chains are deeply transforming the structure of the agriculture and food industries. In addition to these changes, the advance of the biotech revolution and the introduction of genetically improved varieties of seeds have also fostered structural changes in the global agriculture and food industries. It is worth remembering that these systemic changes are linked to financial and trade flows largely driven by the search for wider markets and less expensive sources of raw materials.
3. Food challenges and policies
International organizations have been discussing the challenges of hunger since the 1940s and organizations such as FAO have been created (Shaw, 2007). To reduce the problems of hunger, the United Nations, other international organizations and non-governmental organizations have shaped programs oriented to food distribution and to school feeding programs, among others. In addition, hunger reduction projects have been widespread through international cooperation aimed at incentivising food production and local shopping. More recently, targets for poverty and hunger reduction were defined for inclusion in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). In truth, the discussion about the problem of hunger is linked to poverty and, thus, political and economic actions are required to combat extreme poverty and hunger.
Actions to facilitate food access have encouraged local production, financial strategies and market regulation (Morgan & Sonnino, 2008). Policies to combat extreme poverty and hunger have involved the distribution of financial resources (transfers) and even the distribution of food to poor people. As hunger is primarily linked to income access, other issues such as the slowdown of the economy, unemployment and rising food prices can put thousands of people on the road to poverty and hunger. For example, the increase in food prices that occurred mainly in the years 2007-2008 caused many people to return to situations of poverty and hunger (United Nations, 2011). In this scenario, international organizations also aimed to control agricultural commodity speculation in order to prevent thousands of people from becoming exposed to food vulnerability (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2011). Another relevant issue is the competition between food and biofuels, since agricultural products that are used as food can also be oriented to bioenergy production.
In addition to the challenges related to food access, another relevant issue is food waste (Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 2013; HLPE, 2014). Actually, a large percentage of the world food production is lost at different stages of production, transportation, processing and consumption. Indeed, among the main current concerns, there is the need to search for actions that can reduce food losses in order to defeat global hunger.
Although the challenge of hunger has not been widespread in developed nations, other concerns have been part of the agenda of these countries, such as the type of food to be supplied. In this debate, the concern is centred on the excess of fats, salts and sugars that increase health problems such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, among others. As a result, in some developed countries, the food debates have stimulated new strategies of fiscal policy oriented towards unhealthy products and the regulation of marketing strategies, for example (WHO, 2013). Other actions involve the protection of food sovereignty in relation to decisions about food production methods, such as the acceptance or otherwise of pesticides or even of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Borras, Saturnino M. et al. Towards a better understanding of global land grabbing: an editorial introduction. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 38(2), 2011.
Friedmann, Harriet. The Political Economy of Food: A Global Crisis, New Left Review 1(197), 1993.
High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition – HLPE. Food losses and waste in the context of sustainable food systems. A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, Rome 2014. Available on line at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3901e.pdf. Accessed 29 July 2016.
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.
Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Global food waste not, want not. London, 2013. Available on line at: http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/global-food—waste-not-want-not.pdf. Accessed 29 July 2016.
Malthus, Thomas. An Essay on the Principle of Population. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Morgan, Kevin; Sonnino, Roberta. The School Food Revolution: Public Food and the Challenge of Sustainable Development. London: Earthscan, 2008.
Shaw, D. John. World Food Security. A History since 1945. New York: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2007
United Nations. The Global Social Crisis. Report on the World Social Situation 2011. Available on line a at: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/rwss/docs/2011/rwss2011.pdf. Accessed 20 April 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.
Webb, P.; Braun, J von. Famine and Food Security in Ethiopia: Lessons for Africa, Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 1994.
World Health Organization – WHO. Marketing of foods high in fat, salt and sugar to children: update 2012–2013. WHO Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2013. Available on line at: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/191125/e96859.pdf. Accessed 29 July 2016.
In relation to the number of Americans participating in food-stamp programs, see: https://rwer.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/graph-of-the-week-number-of-americans-participating-in-food-stamp-programs/. Accessed on 20 April 2016.
A discussion about Food, Fuel, Forests and Climate can be fund at https://rwer.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/food-fuel-forests-and-climate/. Accessed on 20 April 2016.