Let’s Put Food Security Talk into Action

I, and other agriculturalists, have for years preached the importance of producing as much of our food as possible , but it has mostly fallen on deaf ears. However, more recently, everyone seems to have woken up , and “food security” has suddenly become a become a buzz phrase. On the other hand, there have […]

By Dr. Frances Chandler

May 3, 2012

I, and other agriculturalists, have for years preached the importance of producing as much of our food as possible , but it has mostly fallen on deaf ears. However, more recently, everyone seems to have woken up , and “food security” has suddenly become a become a buzz phrase.

On the other hand, there have been disturbing statements made in the last year by foreign commentators in reply to comments that we should not import crops like cabbages and onions but rather aim to be more self- sufficient. One such comment was “Farming?! You are joking right? A focus on onions and cabbages seems odd to me. Can someone explain? You have a great position, an educated people, good connectivity, and you need to focus on opportunities not onions, creativity not cabbages, banking not bananas, and the internet not the past. Surely?”

Another was “Food security? Do you mean that the benefits of international trade via a concentration on competitive advantage must now play second fiddle to the need for home security in say food’ energy and water? i.e. we must all do our own thing in preparation for war and insecurity? Is this not the road to subsidy and inefficiency? You may be right but it is a tad pessimistic and a move to less efficiency will surely hasten the end to an under resourced world, don’t you think?”

His thinking is of course in line with the WTO whose Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) , according to Debi Barker, Executive Director of the International Forum on Globalisation, “has emerged as the most contentious issue at the WTO because of two basic facts: (1) agriculture is still the primary source of livelihood for roughly half of humanity; and (2) tremendous wealth and political control are derived from agricultural production and trade. Thus, the AOA pits many of the poorest people in the world against many of the wealthiest and most powerful…It requires that countries stop subsidizing their rural communities, and open their economies to industrialized, corporate farming practices. Simultaneously, it allows for the mass subsidization of multinational corporate farms, mainly in the U.S. and European Union, through billions of dollars in “hidden” subsidies such as those for exports. The European Union and the U.S. are committed to the preservation of their subsidies and their protections for domestic farmers”

She goes on to say that AOA’s imposition of an unequal system of global competition on the domestic farm sector has undermined the viability of small farmers around the world who are unable to compete with cheaper subsidized imports. As a result, it is driving millions of small farmers off the land and increasing the concentration of control over agriculture in the hands of a shrinking number of global corporations. The International Forum on Globalisation agrees with peoples’ movements and governments the world over that the answer to this impasse is to remove agriculture from the WTO altogether (www.ifg.org/pdf/cancun/issues-foodsecurity.pdf). I totally agree.

The findings of Olivier De Schutter , UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on the right to food reported in December 2011 to WTO members are also instructive – “Globalization creates big winners and big losers. But where food systems are concerned, losing out means sinking into poverty and hunger. A vision of food security that deepens the divide between food-surplus and food-deficit regions, between exporters and importers, and between winners and losers, simply cannot be accepted.

However, we must ensure that the debate starts from the correct premise. This premise must acknowledge the dangers for poor countries in relying excessively on trade. We must also assess the compatibility of WTO disciplines and the Doha agenda with the food security agenda. Without such a fundamental reassessment, we will remain wedded to food systems where the most efficient producers with the biggest economies of scale are relied upon to feed food-deficit regions, and where the divide only gets bigger.

This may look like food security on paper, but it is an approach that has failed spectacularly. The reality on the ground is that vulnerable populations are consigned to endemic hunger and poverty.

The food bills of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) increased five- or six-fold between 1992 and 2008. Imports now account for around 25 per cent of their current food consumption. These countries are caught in a vicious cycle. The more they are told to rely on trade, the less they invest in domestic agriculture. And the less they support their own farmers, the more they have to rely on trade.

In the long term, poor net-food-importing countries will not be helped by being fed. They will be helped by being able to feed themselves. It is disappointing that the WTO continues to fight the battles of the past.”

So let us all take heed, invest in our own agriculture and be loyal to our own farmers,

The Agro-doc has over 40 years experience in agriculture in Barbados, operating at different levels of the sector.

Dr. Frances Chandler

Dr. Chandler Consultant Agronomist, Director Horticultural Business Solutions Inc. has worked at the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute where she was Head of the Barbados Unit from 1991 to 1994. Her major accomplishment here was the development of an onion industry in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. As a Board member of the Barbados Marketing Corporation in the 1980s she co-ordinated the production , packing and shipping of sweet peppers exported to Holland. Dr Chandler established her own company "Horticultural Business Solutions Inc. in 1997 with a view to upgrading the operations of Caribbean private sector companies involved in food production and marketing. Recognising the importance of succession planning in the agricultural industry, Dr Chandler has supervised a School Garden Competition for Super Centre, and at the Governor General's request, has co-ordinated the Governor General's Agricultural Summer Camp for primary school children for the last five years. In 2006 she was appointed as a member of the local Selection Committee for the Anthony N Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence and this year was appointed to the local Selection Committee for the United World College Scholarships. In 2007 Dr Chandler held the post of Vice President of the Barbados Society of Technologists in Agriculture, and in 2008, President. Dr Chandler is part of the Exhibits Committee for Agrofest and the Chief Judge of the Fruit and Vegetable Exhibit. She has authored/co-authored over 50 publications in addition to being the author of the Agro-Doc column which has appeared in the Nation newspaper for the last four years. In 2003 Dr Chandler was appointed by the Governor General as an Independent Senator in the Upper Chamber of the Parliament of Barbados and was reappointed in 2008.