Friday, January 17, 2014

Works in Progress: Exporting Food Amidst Hunger at Home

I have started working on a couple of new projects.  Most immediately, I'm working on a book about the geopolitics of grains. As I'm writing and doing research for this manuscript, I will periodically post some tidbits about some of the ideas and arguments in the book, and especially some of the interesting things that I find along the way.

For example, when I wrote the proposal for this book on grains, I emphasized how the geopolitics of grains is linked, in a variety of ways, to issues such as world hunger and food insecurity.

I gave a few examples of the connection between the political economy (i.e., the market dynamics and national policies) of grains and food insecurity. One example was about how the market economy directs grains toward profitable destinations. This is something of an obvious point because grains are commodities -- just as all foods are commodities.  But, the point here is that this can lead to countries exporting grains even while a significant portion of their population suffers from hunger and malnutrition.

One observer commented that this was a ridiculous argument.  Countries don't export grains when a portion of their population is starving. In fact, this person observed, during the global food crisis of 2008, rice-exporting countries imposed restrictions on exports.

Well, that's true. In 2008, countries did impose export restrictions. Nonetheless, there are many examples -- in history and today -- of countries exporting significant amounts of grains despite high levels of hunger.

So, here's what I found as I looked at trends in world exports of maize, rice, and wheat. The world's number one exporter of rice from 2011 to 2013 was India. I found this to be very interesting, given malnutrition is a significant problem in India.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) studies global hunger and food insecurity, and it created the Global Hunger Index (GHI) to measure various aspects of hunger. The IFPRI categorizes India's food security status in 2011 to be "alarming."

The United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimated there to be 217 million people in India suffering from hunger in 2010-2012, which is about 17.5% of the countries population.

In other words, at the same time that hundreds of millions of people in India suffer from hunger, that country is the world's leading exporter of rice. As it turns out, then, sometimes countries do export significant amounts of grains even while hunger is a significant problem.

The reasons for such exports are complex, and I'll save that for another time. For now, I just wanted to offer this clear illustration of this point.

No comments:

Post a Comment