Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Peak Globalization

In my book Garden Earth (2012) I write that there are signs that the pace of globalization is slowing and possibly will reverse. 
The proportion of trade of the GDP is perhaps one of the most straight-forward indicators to look at. 
The WTO reports, that global trade has grown 1.5 times faster than gross domestic product over the long term, and twice as fast when globalization picked up in the 1990s. This year trade will grow only 80 percent as fast as the global economy, the first reversal of globalization since 2001 and only the second since 1982. The WTO sees this as a problem. 

Even if I were a strong supporter in globalization (which I am not) I would find it hard to argue for why trade should take an ever increasing share of the GDP. Where is the limit? Why is it better that trade is half the GDP than 25%?
Other indicators of that we might have reached Peak Globalization are:
  • Fear of global terrorism.
  • Fear of global epidemics (SARS, Zika, Ebola).
  • Brexit.
  • Both main US President candidates oppose the TPP.
  • Popular protests against the TTIP and CETA in Europe.
  • Climate change and awareness that flying is a major culprit for climate change.
  • Financial crisis and how it spread throughout the world.
  • Fear for security and food supplies.
  • Stagnant wages in most early developed countries. 
  • Rise of nationalist parties.
  • Migration crisis (rather the political crisis around migration).
  • Local food movement.
As with globalization itself the reversal of globalization comes with both good and bad things, you have to take the bitter with the sweet.
In Garden Earth I wrote: 

I am not against globalization. I believe that free movement of goods—and of people—are human rights. I believe that, in total, globalization has more benefits than drawbacks, but then I speak about globalization as more than a narrow economic thing. I think of the globalization of human rights, of the Internet, of the fact that dictators all over the world can’t get away so easily any more. I think of globalization as a force undermining the authority of the nation-state and nationalism. So while there are, in general, drawbacks and benefits of globalization, depending on how the rules are bent globalization can be good for one and bad for another. Globalization at present has been driven or, rather, hijacked as a capitalist project, opening up all aspects of human life to exploitation. As such, it deserves the protests.
I am less positive today in the sense that the benefits of globalization seems smaller and the drawbacks bigger.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Global Eating Disorder

Global Eating Disorder
Industrial food and farming has been very successful in producing more food, and cheaper food. But it has come at a very high cost. The practices have wrecked havoc in important biological systems, in particular in bio-diversity and the nitrogen and carbon cycles. The food system squanders its own resource base and the most precious resource on the planet, the soil. Animals are treated in a disgraceful way. While food is abundant, the distribution system, the market, fails to reach 1 billion people which are hungry, while equally many eat too much and loads of food are simply wasted. More and more people are opposing the modern food system, a few have the energy to build a new system.

Global Eating Disorder explains how our food and farm system developed into the system we have today, and how interdependent our food system and society are. Gunnar Rundgren demonstrates how farming and food processing technologies have transformed our lives and our relationship not only with nature, the plants we grow and the animals we raise, but also the relationships among ourselves. The book can be read as an evolutionary cookbook as it explains how and why the stuff on our plate reached there.

The last few hundred years, and in an sharply increasing pace, width and depth, the global market revolution fueled by oil and coal, and shaped by endless competition and rent-seeking has been the factor that has determined the whole food system, from the prairies to the supermarket shelf, from the production of margarine to the emergence of fast food chains. It even transformed the act of eating from an act of confirmation of social relations to individual satisfaction of real or imaginary dietary needs. Global Eating Disorder tells the story with a mix of long term historical perspective and plenty of current day experiences from all continents of the world.

But it left us, the animals and the planet unhappy. Most people feel a profound discomfort over how their food is produced and how this affects both the quality of the food and the world we live in. As a response to this organic farming, fair trade and alike has developed. These systems are by and large still subject to the market imperatives of competition, profit and constant labor productivity increase, and increasingly so the more successful they are. This limits their transformational power.

Real change of our farm and food system must be linked also to changes in social institutions, in particular the market. This has already started with efforts such as community supported agriculture, transition movements, local food movements, participatory guarantee systems and urban farming. A truly regenerative food and farm system will close loops of flow of energy, nutrients and most importantly meaning and culture. It will also have to reflect the role of our agriculture system for management of the planet at large and recreate links between city and land.

Global Eating Disorder shows a path forward. A path of regeneration and co-production of resources, innovation, knowledge and meaning embedded in new social and economic relationships.


Order Global Eating Disorder  for a 10% discount at: https://www.createspace.com/5020215 using the code: GWDZZD8D. It can also be bought from Amazon and many other market places.


See some of the articles on the blog associated to this book

Published by Regeneration 

The book is reworked to Swedish and is published by Ordfront (September 2016). 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Are cows eating the Amazon?



Land clearing in tropical countries for production of export crops gets a lot of attention, and rightly so. However, the understanding of the mechanisms involved and how to allocate the effects of deforestation in terms of environmental damage or carbon emissions, is still very low. While it is true that exports are important for this, most deforestation are driven by domestic factors.  A study by Henders et al (2015) show that in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea one third of deforestation was embodied in exports in 2011, up from a fifth in 2000. This means that two thirds of the deforestation is driven by domestic factors.



In the study beef was identified as the main driver of forest loss in the seven countries, accounting for nearly 60 percent of embodied deforestation and just over half of embodied emissions. Soybean production was the second largest source of embodied deforestation area whereas oil palm was the second largest source of embodied emissions.



But one can argue against how to allocate emissions and land use changes. For instance, pasture areas in Brazil have been stable in the last decade, while grazing has moved towards the forested areas because it is more profitable to plow and farm crops in the pasturelands than to graze them. It might be more correct to allocate impacts of land use changes based on the relative expansion of agriculture area for different crops or production in a country. In the case of Brazil, it would mean that soy production would still be a major cause of deforestation, but sugar cane cultivation would carry 20 % of the burden of deforestation and associated carbon emissions while beef from pasture would carry almost none of this, This would be the case despite that there is very little sugar grown in the recently deforested zones and a there are a lot of animals grazing there.



A study of de Ruiter et al (2016) goes a step further and state that “all global LUC [Land Use Change] emissions should be allocated to agricultural land itself, not only to recently cleared land, resulting in a calculated average emission of LUC for every hectare in agricultural use.” This means that an average hectare in Europe would have the same emission factor as a recently cleared patch in the Amazon – LUC emissions of 1.18 tonne of CO2e for every hectare of agricultural land.



One can of course argue back and forth; it is simply not the case that we can say that one way of counting is the correct one. But it can hardly be correct to let any “meat” carry the burden of deforestation in the Amazon; it is not primarily the consumption of Amazonian pastured beef, nor the fact that European pigs eat Brazilian soy beans that drive Brazilian deforestation. It is simply cheaper to import Brazilian soy than to feed European animals with European protein feed. Europe has taken much bigger areas of farm land and pasture out of production than Brazil has opened. It is still correct to allocate the emissions caused by deforestation to the agricultural system, but rather to the globalized trade than to the consumption of any particular commodity. One can make a similar argument about soy bean oil from Brazil or palm oil from Indonesia or Malaysia.



Another complication with all these calculations is that they are based on a rather static view of developments, while the reality is a lot more dynamic. For example in our farm we are now clearing 10 hectares of secondary forest for making pasture for cattle. If we allocate carbon emissions from deforestation per kg meat for a ten year period in a similar way as is mostly done in LCA analysis our meat will be responsible for several hundred kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents per kg! But the wood will, perhaps, replace other wood in the paper pulp industry, or will be used for renewable energy. And regardless of that, the land was open and grazed some fifty years ago, even earlier it was a wetland (emitting a lot of methane). Sweden has lost more than a million hectares of pasture land in hundred years, and previously cattle, sheep and goat also grazed the forest which was not at al as dense as it is now. None of these aspects are covered well with the current approaches, neither with LCA analysis of a particular production, nor with macro-level studies as the ones referred to above. We actually get government (EU) support for restoring this pasture.



de Ruiter H, Macdiarmid JI, Matthews RB, Kastner T, Smith P. 2016 Global cropland and greenhouse gas impacts of UK food supply are increasingly located overseas. J. R. Soc.  Interface 13: 20151001.



Henders S. et al 2015, Trading forests: land-use change and carbon emissions embodied in production and exports of forest-risk commodities, Environ. Res. Lett. 10 (2015)


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Trade in food: It’s the competition, stupid



I have written four posts about trade in food and agriculture commodities.

In the first one I gave an overview of the changing role and scope of international trade. Global food production increased with over 50% between 1986 and 2009. Meanwhile the trade in food for direct human consumption has increased from 15% of total production in 1986 to 23% in 2009, thus about one fourth of food production is traded. Half of the net exports 2010 were originating from just five countries. 

Rich countries are increasingly using land in other regions for their food production. Trade fills an important role for moving produce from areas with excess to areas with deficit. There are, however, many mechanisms in trade which leads countries not to produce food even if they could do so. Europe has let almost 100 million hectares of farm land revert to forest or lying idle, while European farmers buy protein rich feed stuffs from developing countries and European food industries buy palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia. Europe could produce those within its own territory. Only a quarter of the trade is with crops which could not be grown in the importing country.

The increase in trade has big environmental repercussions as well as a big social and cultural impact. For instance, the large flows of agriculture products embed a lot of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. This means that soils in the exporting areas are depleted while importing regions suffer from eutrophication, algal blooms and dead seas.  In the second post I argue that the increasing distance makes it easier for market actors to externalize costs and more difficult to citizens and the political system to influence the way things are produced. Trade is not only a response to market demand, it creates demand and therefore recreates the need for it; trade becomes its own justification. 

Competition drives farmers in to more and more specialization and larger scale in order to cut costs. This leads to that farms go into monocropping and, ultimately, economies of scale will turn whole landscapes to one or a few lines of production/commodities. The implication on bio-diversity is huge and ironically some of these bread baskets are increasingly becoming food deserts. The harmonization of standards which follows liberalized trade has a number of non-desirable side effects, and will lead to sub-optimal production in most parts of the world.

On the level of the individual farmer trade is keeping up the pressure. In the third post, I explain how mechanization has crushed the comparative advantage of poor countries and poor producers. Poor farmers can only be competitive in crops which have not yet been successfully mechanized, such as coffee, tea, flowers, avocados and green beans. Because of productivity gains in developed countries, agriculture prices dropped by some 60% in the period 1960-2000. As the productivity of the poorest farmers remained much the same, it is obvious that they have lost out. Their value of production, regardless if they eat it themselves or sell it, has gone down considerably, making them poorer both in relative and absolute terms. 

The fourth post starts on a positive note with my experiences from linking African small-holder to global organic markets. Only limited numbers of farmers can benefit from that, however. First because poor farmers are only competitive in a limited number of crops and second because only a small share of the farmers will benefit from linking into modern value chains (be they organic, fair trade or normal) - and it will be those with the greatest assets. Of the farmers forced off their farms, some will become farm laborers at the farms of the more successful, or in huge agri-business plantations, others will only get a better life if there is some place for them to go – but in many places the prospects in the cities are not too promising and the future as an economic migrant is uncertain.

The effect of of trade is complex and depends on a variety factors, which makes it difficult to generalize. The theory of comparative advantage which underpins the arguments for international trade builds on assumptions that do not hold in today’s global economy. Capital and labour is highly mobile between countries through global value chains while the agriculture sector is highly inflexible, and mobility of agricultural labour and capital is low.  Meanwhile, self-sufficiency is not feasible for all countries and agriculture protection measures may have extraterritorial impacts that can harm food security of others, i.e. when countries exports surpluses with subsidies, they might undercut local producers.

Of course there are many other aspects of trade, for instance if it is based on a fair exchange. There are clear signs that trade is not only based on difference in production factors or endowments but also in power, leading to a unequal exchange. For instance, there are more people engaged in producing coffee for the Swedish market than the total number of people employed in the whole Swedish food and agriculture sector. This is obviously only possible because the work of the coffee picker is valued very low.



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It is difficult to sum all this up. Large scale trade in agricultural goods has clearly a number of huge disadvantages. And the economic blessings are mixed. There are some potential positive aspects, such as the possibility to move goods to areas of shortage, the possible improvement of diets and a better ecological adaptation of farming. Modern food trade doesn’t, however, deliver much in terms of those advantages. 

The higher proportion of food that is globally traded, the bigger dependencies will be created when regions that could produce their own food cease to do that. More and more people will be structurally dependent on global trade. The possibility to move food from areas of surplus to areas of shortage (food aid) should be a backup measure which will not be supplied by the market but by governments. The food security argument for global trade is therefore not valid. 

Fresh fruits and vegetables and high protein food, such as meat, is nowadays readily available for those that can afford it. Meanwhile, it is hard to argue that global trade in foods have improved diets for most people if we look at what people actually eat. 

As for the ecological adaptation argument, there seems to be some merit in this as considerable areas of marginal land has been taken out of production and reverted to forests. But as the mechanization and specialization continues the ecological conditions in agriculture deteriorates rapidly, so any possible advantages are erased by much bigger damage.


*


In order to get a better understanding and perhaps a strategy for intervention, I believe we should disentangle the components of trade. There is a physical component, the movement of goods, there is a profit component, i.e. trade will only take place if there is a potential profit in it (which is why food aid is not trade but public distribution), there is a component of competition and there is a component of exchange (that is I exchange my labor, or other goods for the stuff I want to buy).

All components have their set of issues. The displacement of nutrients is a problem with the movement of goods, regardless if there is a profit motive or not. Profit and the terms of exchange are related to accumulation of capital and terms of trade and therefore with the whole economic hierarchy of societies.

The carrot for trade is profit, but the much bigger driver is the stick of competition. On the level of the individual basic actor in the food system, the farmer, the main influence of trade is competition. It is competition that drives mechanization and structural transformation of the farm sector, it is competition which makes it necessary for farmers to externalize costs to the environment, to workers or to livestock. It seems to me that reducing competition would be an important objective for a food trade policy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Food: trading away our future? - path IV



In the period 1996 to 2011 I worked a lot with various efforts to link smallholder farmers to markets, mainly organic, in developed countries. The biggest engagement was in EPOPA. By 2008, 80,000 farmers in the programme sold organic products to exporters for approximately US$ 15 million per year. All farmers received higher prices due to the organic premium, which ranges from 10-25% over the conventional price. Taking into account the size of households, 600,000 people have benefited from the programme. You can read a whole book about this successful project here. Overall EPOPA was a success. 

Today, linking farmers to markets is an overarching policy for almost all development agencies as well as governments. It also fits very well with a development model that assumes that more markets and more capitalism is the best path to development. While I do think it works quite well under certain conditions, it has, unfortunately, been oversold.

A report from Hivos, Small Producer Agency in the Globalized Market, looks deeper into if and how smallholders can benefit from globalized markets. In short the answer is that a few of them will - and they will soon not be smallholders as the recipe for success is to grow, mechanize and buy up your neighbours farms. This should be no surprise, this is how the farm sector developed in other parts of the world. The report estimates that linking farmers into modern value chains (be they organic, fair trade or normal) may benefit only about 2-10 percent of the farms - and it will be those with the greatest assets. Of the farmers forced off their farms, some will become farm labourers at the farms of the more successful, or in huge agri-business plantations, others will only get a better life if there is some place for them to go – but in many places the prospects in the cities are not too promising and the future as an economic migrant is uncertain.

A recent report from the FAO, The State of Agriculturarl Commodity Markets, does a good job in untangling the contradictory views on the impacts of agricultural trade on food security. Trade affects each of the four dimensions of food security: food availability,  food access, food utilization and stability of food suply. The effect of of trade is complex and depends on a variety factors, which makes it difficult to generalize. Among others it is influenced by the way food markets work, by the ability and willingness of producers to respond to the changing incentives that trade can bring, and by the geography of food insecurity, each of which needs to be accounted for in the formulation of trade policy interventions.

The report clarifies that theory of comparative advantage builds on assumptions that
do not hold in today’s global economy. Capital and labour is highly mobile between countries through global value chains while the agriculture sector is highly inflexible, and mobility of agricultural labour and capital is low.  Competitive advantage prioritizes short-term conditions versus long-term structural transformation and efficiency gains are prioritized over other social goals. Meanwhile, self-sufficiency is not feasible for all countries and agriculture protection measures may have extraterritorial impacts that can harm food security of others.

Perhaps surprisingly to some, the majority of hungry people live in rural areas; many of them are farmers, others are landless laborers. According to the FAO, 50% of those suffering from hunger and mal­nutrition are small-scale peasants, 20% are landless, 10% are pastoralists or fishermen and 20% live in city slums. Clearly these groups are affected differently by the increasing globalization of food. Low food prices may initially look like a good proposition for the poor as it makes food more affordable. Falling prices, however, can lead to a worse situation for the rural poor, who make up the majority of those hun­gry. Most of them are dependent on farm incomes, either as small­holders or as landless individuals seeking employment by farmers. A surplus of food, with falling prices, creates a bigger prob­lem as it drives small farmers off the market so that they cannot buy the things they need for produc­tion or for their families. 

There are many side effects of the integration of farming in global markets, and those side effects may have far reaching implications. For instance, modern markets and global competition force farmers to adopt uniform high-yielding types of plant or animal. But when food produc­ers abandon diversity, valuable traditional varieties and breeds may die out, along with their specialized traits. For the poorest farmers, the diversity of life can be their best protection against starvation.

There is no silver bullet that in itself can guarantee food security. It seems clear to me that food security, poverty and equality are intrinsi­cally linked, and that the root cause of food insecurity is found in an unjust society and unequal access to resources. As such, the main path to food security involves correcting those injustices. 

This is the fourth post on the trade theme.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Food: trading away our future - Part III



Because of productivity gains in developed countries, agriculture prices dropped by some 60% in the period 1960-2000. As the productivity of the poorest farmers remained much the same, it is obvious that they have lost out. Their value of production, regardless if they eat it themselves or sell it, has gone down considerably, making them poorer both in relative and absolute terms.

In two previous posts I discussed the impact of the rapid growth of international trade in food and agriculture commodities. This globalization of food commodities has led to, or enabled, an increasing disconnection between human populations and the land and water resources that support them through crop and livestock production. The increase in trade has big environmental repercussions as well as a big social and cultural impact. Trade is not only a response to market demand, it creates demand and therefore recreates the need for it; trade becomes its own justification.

In this post I will discuss the impact on producers from the global competition.

According to economic theory, poor countries should compete in trades that require a high labor input and have low capital require­ments. Histori­cally, agriculture has been such a sector. But today’s agriculture, in the rich countries at least, is characterized by a low labor input and very high capital input. Mechanization has crushed the comparative advantage of poor countries and poor producers. Poor farmers can only be competitive in crops which have not yet been successfully mechanized, such as coffee, tea, flowers, avocadoes and green beans. At the beginning of the 1960s developing countries had a trade surplus in agricultural produce of around US$7 billion, but by the beginning of the new millennium that balance had shifted to a deficit of around US$20 billion and, if we exclude Brazil this figure is much higher, at US$27 billion.[i] [ii] It is not only the money flow that has drastically changed direction, but also the flows of calories. In the late 1960s developed and developing countries were more or less producing their own calorific needs, but in 2009, many more develop­ing countries had become net importers of food. Sub-Saharan Africa went from a four­teen percent surplus of calories to a thirteen percent deficit.[iii]

In 2012, I visited two very different farmers; Bob Stewart in Illinois and Susan Mkandawire in Zambia. Bob farms in the Corn Belt, south of Chicago and Susan farms not far from the international airport in Zambia. They are both maize growers, and as farmers they shared worries over the weather, prices, access to labor and many other things. They were also very different, or at least they operate under very different conditions. Bob’s yields of maize are regularly more than 10,000 kg per hectare while Susan, in a good year, gets around 2,000 kg per hectare, i.e. Bob harvests more than five times as much per area unit. That is remarkable. But what is much more remarkable is how much land they farm; Bob’s farm is 3,200 hectares while Susan manages less than half a hectare.  

Bob grows maize in Pana, Illinois
Bob works the farm with a brother and three full time employees, their father and Bob’s wife are also involved in the operation. In peak season they have four more helpers; each person thus manages more than 400 hectares, i.e. they spend less than five hours of work to manage the total land area that Susan farms with her husband, Fred. Because they are very poor, Fred takes on other jobs outside the farm when he finds them; at the time of my visit he was occasionally working as a watchman. Apart from the maize they also grow vege­tables which are sold in the market in Zambia’s capital Lusaka. But let’s focus on the maize. Together they spend some 266 hours per year tending their 0.4 hectares of maize. They hire a team of oxen to do the land preparation; which saves them 120 hours on land prepara­tion by hand, still the dominant method in Sub-Saharan Africa. 
Susan grows maize in Zambia


Through the ease of transportation and storage (mainly driven by the fossil fuel economy), there is more or less a global market for grains, pulses and oil crops, with similar prices all over the world, tariffs or other government interventions being the only other factor of importance. These prices are determined by the producers who can combine large areas with mechanization, i.e. those than can use a lot of resources and a lot of external energy. The dramatic increase in labor productivity we have seen in the farm sector is linked to the increased use of external energy sources, be it for pumping water, driving tractors and combine harvesters or making chemical fertilizers. It is almost self-evident that Susan in Zambia has not a chance in hell of competing with Bob in Illinois. This example begs the question of whether global food markets really work to our advantage. Poor people and poor countries are supposed to get a comparative advan­tage from low labor costs. But this mechanism is totally broken when the cost for labor is depressed far below sustenance levels, not to speak about reproduction, that is raising a family. Because of productivity gains in developed countries, agriculture prices dropped by some 60% in the period 1960-2000. As the productivity of the poorest farmers remained much the same, it is obvious that they have lost out. Their value of production, regardless if they eat it themselves or sell it, has gone down considerably, making them poorer both in relative and absolute terms.

(this post is almost entirely drawn from my book Global Eating Disorder)



[i]                   Regmi, A. and M. Gehlhar (editors) 2005 ‘New Directions in Global Food Markets’, USDA Agriculture Information Bulletin Number 794.
[ii]                   FAO 2007 The State of Food and Agriculture 2007 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
[iii]                  FAO 2012 Statistical Yearbook 2012. FAO Statistics Division Metalink: P2.HUN.FAO.TFS.SSCAL, p. 165
[iv]                  National Cotton Council of America 2013 US and World Cotton Outlook September 2013 NCCA.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Food: Trading away our future - part II



The increase in trade has big environmental repercussions as well as a big social and cultural impact. The increasing distance makes it easier for market actors to externalize costs and more difficult to citizens and the political system to influence the way things are produced. Trade is not only a response to market demand, it creates demand and therefore recreates the need for it; trade becomes its own justification.

In a previous post I demonstrated the rapid growth of international trade in food and agriculture commodities. Global food production increased with over 50% between 1986 and 2009. Meanwhile the trade in food for direct human consumption has increased from 15% of total production in 1986 to 23% in 2009, thus about one fourth of food production is traded.

This globalization of food commodities has led to, or enabled, an increasing disconnection between human populations and the land and water resources that support them through crop and livestock production. The graph of global agricultural trade below from Graham K. Macdonald et al 2015 (reproduced with permission), says more than thousand words. [1]
Click to view


















Trade has improved food access, but primarily for those that are rich. In 1965 insufficient domestic production meant insufficient food supply, but in recent years the deficit has been increasingly compensated by rising food imports.[2] Of course, you have to afford food in order to buy it in international markets; the average per cap GDP in countries that achieve sufficient food supply by imports was approximately tenfold compared to countries with insufficient food supply and production.[3]

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But isn’t it more efficient that countries with good conditions produce food for those with less good conditions?

Perhaps, but this is really not driving trade. For example, Sweden has good conditions for arable farming and even better for livestock production. Despite this it imports almost 50% of its beef and a lot of other agriculture products it could grow. Meanwhile Sweden has let more than 1 million hectare of arable land and even larger areas of pasture revert to forest or lie idle. The reason that beef is imported is simply that it is cheaper to produce somewhere else.

As I showed in my previous post trade can very well go from places with scarcity of resources to places where these are abundant, as other economic factors (or government support programs or tariffs) will determine where production will be most competitive. The water use efficiency of food trade (i.e., food calories produced per unit volume of water used) has declined in the last few decades.[4]

The global food trade has also affected agricultural landscapes, fully in line with trade theory. Competition drives farmers in to more and more specialization and larger scale in order to cut costs. This first leads to that farms go into monocropping and, ultimately, economies of scale will make whole landscapes devoted to one or a few lines of production/commodities. The implication on bio-diversity is huge and ironically some of these bread baskets are increasingly becoming food deserts. 
*
Trade puts pressure towards harmonization of standards which has a number of non-desirable effects.
First, the development of international (harmonized) standards is dominated by the richer countries and as they are the main markets, exporters and exporting countries tend to go along with the standards demanded by main markets. This puts producers in exporting countries in a disadvantage as their needs are mostly not listened to. Other stakeholders in exporting countries, such as consumers or farm workers have even less say in the development of these standards.

Second, while some environmental problems are global (global warming), most are local or regional in scope. For example, in some countries, limiting erosion or water use in agriculture may be a primary objective, in others eutrophication or pesticide contamination of waterways might be central and in a third country with intensive agriculture the loss of bio-diversity in the agriculture landscape. It is highly unlikely that international standards can encapsulate all this. It is equally unlikely that the various social and cultural situations will be well reflected in international standards.

Third, there is a tendency for international standards to move towards lower standards. For example, the EU farm lobby in Copa & Cogeca requests that the license for glyphosate as a pesticide shall be renewed as a ban would “put us at an unfair  competitive disadvantage vis a vis non-EU countries who export to the EU.” Similar arguments can be heard in almost all countries. 

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Trade can allow population densities larger than those that would prevail if these regions would have to rely solely on domestic supply. But the increasing distance between consumers and producers comes with a lot of problems. As Jeniffer Clapp[5] outlines in Distant agricultural landscapes,  ”…distance enables certain powerful actors to externalize ecological and social costs, which in turn makes it difficult to link specific global actors to particular biophysical and social impacts felt on local agricultural landscapes. Feedback mechanisms that normally would provide pressure for improved agricultural sustainability are weak because there is a lack of clarity regarding responsibility for outcomes.” Consumers are mostly unaware of the ecological and social consequences of their consumption choices and even if they wanted to it makes it hard for them to influence.

There is a similar effect on the political level. When the costs associated with a products are externalized onto other actors and landscapes that may be half way around the world, the politics of addressing those problems is fraught with challenges and governments in the country where the products are consumed have no jurisdiction in the places where it is produced. This is one of the drivers behind the efforts to use “the market” and “consumer choice” to favour sustainable production. But the ability of “consumer choice” to have a real influence on the production in distant places is very limited (I elaborate my arguments around this in the post Ethics for sale? and even more in my book Global Eating Disorder).

Trade can and is more often a means to sustain affluent lifestyles of wealthy nations, while reducing negative environmental impacts of crop production on their own territories, allowing them to shift burdens elsewhere.[6] Meanwhile, trade often perverts the consumption of the resource-poor. In the article Taking Political Ecology Global antropologist Richard Wilk shares his observations from the Kekchi in Belize: ”I watched mothers selling the eggs from their family’s chickens, to spend the money on Coca-Cola and candy, while their children clearly needed protein more than sugar. I saw men selling their pigs to get money for a boom box, or a carton of cigarettes, when they could have been sending their kids to school, or building a latrine, or improving their corn storage, or planting some cocoa.”[7]
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Trade is not only a response to market demand, it creates demand and therefore recreates the need for it; trade becomes its own justification. The argument goes along these lines:
“Development makes people happy. Trade is good for development. We need free trade in order to promote more trade. Thus, free trade makes more people happy”



This post will be followed by two more on the trade theme, please stay tuned.

[1] Graham K. Macdonald et al 2015, Rethinking Agricultural Trade Relationships in an Era of Globalization http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org
[2] Porkka M, Kummu M, Siebert S, Varis O (2013) From Food Insufficiency towards Trade Dependency: A Historical Analysis of Global Food Availability. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82714. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082714
[3] Porkka M, Kummu M, Siebert S, Varis O (2013) From Food Insufficiency towards Trade Dependency: A Historical Analysis of Global Food Availability. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82714. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082714
[4]  D’Odorico, P., J. A. Carr, F. Laio, L. Ridolfi, and S. Vandoni (2014), Feeding humanity through global food trade, Earth’s Future, 2, 458–469, doi:10.1002/2014EF000250.
[5] Clapp, J. Distant Agricultural Landscapes, Sustain Sci (2015) 10:305-316
[6] Thomas Kastner, Karl-Heinz Erb nd Helmut Haberl 2014 Rapid growth in agricultural trade: effects on global area efficiency and the role of management, Environ. Res. Lett. 9 (2014) 034015 (10pp)
[7] Wilk, R. 1998, Taking Political Ecology Global, Indiana University.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Back soon...

Hi, I have been quite busy lately with a consultancy in Mongolia, a job with the Sami in the North of Sweden, editing the Swedish version of Global Eating Disorder, spring work in our farm and last but not least a project to restore a pasture along the shore of the lake. First step of that is clearing the bush and forest that has encroached the land since it was grazed some fifty years ago.Two weeks ago we had thirty friends helping us,  but there is a lot more to do before we can start fencing. 
Burning shrubs for making pasture

Plants waiting for summer
I plan to continue blogging on the trade theme in a week or two, or three....

Monday, April 4, 2016

Food: Trading away our future? - Part I



We may not always think about it, but the origin of trade is found in ecology and not in economy. The merchant was an ecological plumber moving supplies from an area of surplus to one of shortage, greasing the cogs of ecology as well as human society. Trade made it possible for human beings to establish themselves even where some basic resource was absent. One tribe had access to a resource that the other was missing. In some places flint or obsidian was abundant, and in other places hunters had no access to those stones for making spears and arrows. In other areas there was no salt, which was important for preserving meat and curing skins. In some rare cases this situation might have led to war, but more often it led to peaceful exchange.

The role of trade in ecological adaptation has, in some cases, meant that communities have been able to specialize in forms of production that are very well adapted to their ecological context. Through trade with the plains, the peasants of the Alps could shift entirely to pasturing livestock thus avoiding the need to plow fragile mountain slopes while their Mediterranean colleagues occupied themselves with viticulture and olives. In this way, trade in agricultural produce, even staple food such as grain, promoted sustainability, long before the term was coined.[i]

But how is it today? I will explore the status and implications of global food trade in (I believe) four posts. This first one gives an overview of

the actual status of global trade in food. The second on its implications on diets, environment, water, land use, carbon emissions. Thirdly, I will discuss it from the perspective of the agriculture producer in exporting and importing countries, and finally, I will discuss the drivers, which changes are either caused by internal mechanisms or external conditions and what developments would be desirable.

Global food production increased with over 50% between 1986 and 2009. Meanwhile the trade in food for direct human consumption has increased from 15% of total production in 1986 to 23% in 2009, thus about one fourth of food production is traded. Half of the net exports 2010 were originating from just five countries, USA (17%), Brazil (9.9%), Argentina (8.5%), Indonesia (5.9%) and France (5.9%).[ii] At the global level, land for export production grew rapidly by about 100 million hectares between 1986 and 2009, while land supplying crops for direct domestic use remained virtually unchanged.[iii] Production of commercial agricultural commodities for domestic and foreign markets is increasingly driving land clearing in tropical regions. Henders et al (2015) show that in the period 2000–2011, the production of beef, soybeans, palm oil, and wood products in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea was responsible for 40% of total tropical deforestation.[iv] At the same time large tracts of land is left idle or used for development in the advanced economies.[v]

Rich countries are increasingly using land in other regions for their food production. The UK is currently importing over 50% of its food and feed, and 70% of the associated cropland is located abroad. Between 1986 and 2009 the global cropland footprint associated with the UK food and feed supply increased by 2022 kha (+23%).[vi] Of course, you have to afford food in order to buy it in international markets; the average per capita GDP in countries that achieve sufficient food supply by imports was approximately tenfold compared to countries with insufficient food supply and production.[vii]

Mostly, international trade flow from high-yield to low-yield regions: For that reason, one can argue that trade lowered global cropland demand by almost 90 million hectares according to a study by Thomas Kastner, Karl-Heinz Erb and Helmut Haberl (2014). However, area-efficiency gains through trade do not imply that international trade reduces total global land demand. For instance, if trade reduces price levels, consumption of agricultural products will increase, especially for products with elastic demand.[viii] Clearly this is what has happened with the rapid increase of trade in poultry meat, palm oil and soybean meal.

Trade fills an important role for moving produce from areas with excess to areas with deficit. In 1965 insufficient domestic production normally meant insufficient food supply, but in recent years the deficit has been increasingly compensated by rising food imports.[ix] There are, however, many meachnisms in trade which leads countries not to produce food even if they could do so. Europe has let almost 100 million hectares of farm land revert to forest or lying idle, while European farmers buy protein rich feedstuffs from developing countries and European food industries buy palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia. Europe could produce those within its own territory.[x]

Many assume that exports goes from countries with relatively more efficient production than importing nations, including land use, water use, and nutrient use. However, Macdonald et al (2015) suggest that higher resource endowments in some major exporting countries may facilitate land- or water-intensive exports despite lower efficiency. Research on embodied water trade demonstrates many examples in which trade occurs despite relative disadvantages.[xi]  In many countries agricultural production and trade patterns are driven by other factors than availability or water and land resources. In some cases scarcity of resources can even be intensified by the production of agricultural products for export. There are some countries which rely on food imports due to land and water constraints on domestic food production, but many countries import a lot without having particular resource constraints. For example, in Mexico, per capita freshwater and land resources are still quite abundant despite the rapid population growth. Yet, in recent years it has become a high net importer of food, with over 1800 kcal/capita/day imported in 2005. [xii] Partly this is because Mexico imports high calorie commodities such as maize, soybeans and wheat and export high-value vegetables. Despite this, Mexico is a net importer also calculated in values; see graph.
Three quarters of the global food trade is with crops which are grown both in the exporting and importing countries, i.e. only a quarter of the trade is with crops which could not be grown in the importing country, e.g. coffee imports to Europe and United States.[xiii] Sometimes very similar products are exchanged between countries, e.g. bottled lager beer can be both imported and exported from the same country. Sometimes there are some differences in quality between the imported and the exported goods. For example, the United States imports land-intensive pasture-grazed beef from Australia but simultaneously exports predominantly grain-fed beef to other countries.[xiv] Sweden both import and export wheat, normally it imports lower quality and imports higher quality. In many cases it is just the price which determines if a product will be traded or not.



[i]  This introduction is extracted from my book Global Eating Disorder, which discuss food trade extensively. The data in this post are however even more recent and was nbot part of the research for the book.    
[ii]  D’Odorico, P., J. A. Carr, F. Laio, L. Ridolfi, and S. Vandoni (2014), Feeding humanity through global food trade, Earth’s Future, 2, 458–469, doi:10.1002/2014EF000250.
[iii] Thomas Kastner, Karl-Heinz Erb nd Helmut Haberl 2014 Rapid growth in agricultural trade: effects on global area efficiency and the role of management, Environ. Res. Lett. 9 (2014) 034015 (10pp)
[iv] Sabine Henders et al 2015, Trading forests: land-use change and carbon emissions embodied in production and exports of forest-risk commodities, Environ. Res. Lett. 10 (2015)
[v] Rundgren, G 2014, Global Eating Disorder.
[vi] de Ruiter H, Macdiarmid JI, Matthews RB, Kastner T, Smith P. 2016 Global cropland and greenhouse gas impacts of UK food supply are increasingly located overseas. J. R. Soc.  Interface 13: 20151001. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2015.1001
[vii] Porkka M, Kummu M, Siebert S, Varis O (2013) From Food Insufficiency towards Trade Dependency: A Historical Analysis of Global Food Availability. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82714. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082714
[viii] Thomas Kastner, Karl-Heinz Erb nd Helmut Haberl 2014 Rapid growth in agricultural trade: effects on global area efficiency and the role of management, Environ. Res. Lett. 9 (2014) 034015 (10pp)
[ix] Porkka M, Kummu M, Siebert S, Varis O (2013) From Food Insufficiency towards Trade Dependency: A Historical Analysis of Global Food Availability. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82714. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082714
[x] Rundgren, G 2014, Global Eating Disorder.
[xi] Graham K. Macdonald et al 2015, Rethinking Agricultural Trade Relationships in an Era of Globalization http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org
[xii] Porkka M, Kummu M, Siebert S, Varis O (2013) From Food Insufficiency towards Trade Dependency: A Historical Analysis of Global Food Availability. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82714. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082714
[xiii] Thomas Kastner, Karl-Heinz Erb nd Helmut Haberl 2014 Rapid growth in agricultural trade: effects on global area efficiency and the role of management, Environ. Res. Lett. 9 (2014) 034015 (10pp)
[xiv] Graham K. Macdonald et al 2015, Rethinking Agricultural Trade Relationships in an Era of Globalization http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org