The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Global Food Insecurity: One Problem, Many Solutions?

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on July 4, 2011

In the past several months, global food security has become the plat du jour of international affairs. A myriad of different voices have contributed to this debate, each offering their own solutions to curbing food insecurity and ensuring that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) ‘right to food’ principle is met. Few of these proposed solutions, however, seem to be in agreement with one another.

The WTO warned in a recent report that restricting farm trade and nations succumbing to protectionism could cause major food shortages, and called for less regulation. In response, an international coalition of farm unions from Europe, Africa, Asia and North America recently called on the G20 countries’ agriculture ministers to oppose further liberalisation of the global agricultural trade. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggested that the African continent’s food production potential be further explored. Annan argued that a doubling of African cereal yields would turn Africa into a major food surplus region, able to feed not just for own inhabitants but also the rest of the world.

Some have proposed that increased public-private partnerships, which would spur on increased investment and innovation into the agricultural sector, would greatly alleviate the food insecurity burden. Others have called for increased diversification of food production, noting that recent data shows that two-thirds of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plant and five animal species, threatening not just global food security but also health and the environment.

Some have also argued that the world’s farmers are more than capable of feeding the world if innovation and technological advances in seed, equipment and farming methods are made available for their use in the marketplace – and for this to occur, policies and regulations to facilitate bringing these scientific tools to growers must be instituted.

Many advocate a sustainability approach, calling for technologically-based modern agriculture to ensure food production while taking measures to mitigate and minimise these modern techniques’ impacts on the environment. This discourse’s opponents argue that this will not solve the key problems that underlie global food insecurity, identified as a reliance on cheap oil for high-tech food production, mal-distribution of existing food supplies, and industry monopolies controlling the amount and type of food available to the people.

While each of these solutions carries merit, they arguably only reflect singular dimensions of the multi-faceted global food insecurity issue and appear representative of the vested interests of those pitching them. Perhaps the solution to the world’s food insecurity woes lies at the intersection of all these propositions. It remains to be seen, however, whether these opposing and often competing voices will be able to put aside their differences and come together towards prescribing a holistic, balanced, moderate and long-term sustainable solution to this problem.

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