In 2010-2011, the Middle East was the center of riots, protests and revolutions. During the Arab Spring protest were made against oppression, unemployment, corruption and a lack of political freedom. The direct cause: rising food prices. Obviously, because food is a basic human need. Without food no peace.
The global population is increasing rapidly, the climate changes and energy prices only know the way up. At the same time, no less than one third of our food is thrown away and worldwide obesity is a bigger problem than underweight. These are hard facts that only emphasize that the current system of food production is unsustainable. Continuing on the current path will, sooner or later, inevitably lead to new unrest. Or as a top executive of the IMF once put it: 'Questions (about food security) sometimes end in war.’
That something has to happen is clear, but regarding how opinions differ widely. The scientific think tank Feeding Nine Billion proposes a combined approach of four strategies: technological innovations, optimising food distribution, creating local food systems and the strengthening laws and regulations. That sounds very sensible but in reality it is complicated.
Regulating food distribution for example, can actually weaken the competitiveness of local farmers. Also, the past has shown that food regulation in poor areas leads to corruption. In India fraudulent politicians damaged the food aid program for as much as $ 14.5 billion (!), according to the financial consultancy agency Bloomberg.
Those who bet on technological innovation cannot get around genetic modification. That cán be very useful, for example, by cultivating crops that thrive in dry areas. At the same time commercial interests prevail when seeds are developed which lead to a high yield, but can be used only once. As seeds cannot be saved from the previous harvest farmers must continue to buy seeds. That is bad for biodiversity and detrimental to the financial situation of farmers in developing countries.
Also creating local food systems has a downside: it requires huge investments and efforts, and will never be sufficient to alter the food chain. That does not mean that it is not a good strategy, but it is no more than a partial solution.
Adapting legislation finally, is especially effective when there is a global solutions. In this context, increasingly the call for passing on 'externalities' is heard; these are the cost of the impact of economic activity on society (e.g. CO2 emissions). Only: is this realistic? If all actual costs would be passed on to consumers, as a result this would mainly increase in food prices further.
It should be clear now: turning the food provision knobs always creates intended and unintended, positive and negative effects. It is a complex issue where one solution quickly leads to new questions. Situations to almost despair over, but still, there are useful, effective solutions available. In this series of four blog posts they will be explicitly addressed. For a clearer understanding we first must go ‘deep down the rabbit hole’. Next week: The Natural Effect, how marketing spoils our taste.
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