Europe and global food security [Archived]


As the world's population approaches ten billion, issues like climate change, growing scarcity of oil and availability of quality land and water are challenging the planet's capacity to produce enough food for everyone - a paradigm shift that could potentially pave the way for a new global 'food crunch'.

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What is food security?

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), "food security exists when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life". This, it adds, involves the following conditions: 

  • Adequacy of food supply and availability;
  • stability of supply, without fluctuations or shortages from season to season or from year to year;
  • accessibility to food or affordability, and;  
  • quality and safety of food. 

According to the FAO, around 923 million people worldwide were chronically hungry due to extreme poverty in 2007, while some two billion more intermittently lack food security as a result of varying degrees of poverty.

Towards food cartels? 

Recent food price increases have lead to violent protests in Latin America, Africa and Asia, demonstrating the immediate impact the rise in basic commodity prices has had on the world's poorest populations. In spring 2008, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia agreed in principle to form a rice price-fixing body, the Organisation of Rice Exporting Countries (OREC), amid soaring costs of basic grain. Such a food cartel, to be set up by 2012, would be similar to the oil cartel OPEC.

Developing countries which are net importers of food have been hit hardest by the hike in food prices, while net food exporting countries are making large profits. However, in the long term, rising food prices could help rural communities in some developing countries to escape poverty, increasing farmers' income. 

Higher agricultural prices could increase public and private investments to programmes that improve productivity and infrastructure and spread production to marginal land. This in turn might stop increasing urbanisation, as higher wages and increased labour demand would incite people to stay in rural areas. 

Europe's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was initially created to support production and overcome food shortages induced by the Second World War. But it lead to overproduction and exported food surpluses to world markets, which in turn meant that developing countries faced unfair competition. 

Nowadays, while the EU has opted to reduce its direct subsidisation of production in favour of redirecting money towards rural development, recent hikes in food prices have prompted renewed debate on the way forward. 

Debate on the CAP's future is just beginning, with major changes to EU agricultural policy expected to be introduced from 2013.