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The presence of a border, however, allows for that market to become closed. Nations that can feed themselves will continue to do so even if there is unmet demand elsewhere, because ultimately food is more important to survival than money. The value of money for survival, after all, is dependent on the ability to exchange that money for the means of survival. During the food price run-up in the spring of 2008 many nations restricted trade in key foodstuffs, a trend that is likely to escalate in the face of rapidly increasing demand.
In Monsanto's 2009 Annual Report the company points out that a farmer today must feed 130 people, whereas 30 years ago a farmer only fed 25 people. The company's mission, therefore, is predicated on increasing the yield of agricultural land in order to help meet the needs of a growing population. Innovation is at the core of this strategy to improve yields (Monsanto 2009 Annual Report). There is a tacit recognition in this strategy that demand is beyond our control, so we as a species must work to increase supply. There are risks inherent with Monsanto's innovations, of course, but agribusiness does offer the hope of increased yields and with it the ability to feed the world's growing population.
Imperialism and Neo-Colonialism
The application of the comparative advantage model of trade on the world can be viewed as an act of imperialism. The concept may be universally true but its application is rooted squarely in Western thought. The modern global trading system was designed by Western nations and it, more or less, serves to meet the needs of Western nations. The food price shock impacts illustrate this -- we see it as a source of inflation while the world's poor see it as a threat to life. In times of food shortage, we can still afford food. Moreover, many Western nations have done a better job of protecting their food supplies than the developing world. This has occurred because weak governments in the developing world have had little impact on global trade policy and have little power over the actions taken by multinationals on their soil due to rampant corruption. Ultimately, the solutions proposed for hunger in the developing world are those proposed by agribusiness and bodies rooted in Western thought such as the World Trade Organization.
Western food interests have also guided consumption patterns in the developing world, to the detriment of food security. The example of swapping lentils for white beans is important, because aid agencies imposing diets on people have the ability to make such substitutes based on pragmatism. In many parts of the world, however, traditional foods are being replaced by heavily marketed foreign foods (Streitfeld, 2008). Nations that do not grow wheat now eat bread, causing trouble when the price of wheat escalates if local producers of substitutes have exited their businesses due to falling demand. Likewise, a wheat price increase causes crisis a land where noodles or pasta are the norm, because consumers will be reluctant to switch to rice or other cheaper substitute. At the low end, consumers dependent on rice have few if any lower-priced options in the event of a rice price shock.
The patterns of food consumption and food production that evolved over time around the world have been dramatically disrupted by modern global food markets. Nations consume more than they can produce, and they consume items for which they must trade. This dependence on trade for survival is a challenge for government both at the national level and the international level. The shifting patterns of food consumption represent neo-colonialism because they are typically influenced by either Western interests or Western ideas, both of which may be applied roughly to a foreign nation in a manner that is incompatible with long-term success. While agribusiness and free trade offer the promise of food security across the globe, they do not address the issue of rapidly increasing demand, and may ultimately compromise food security in poor nations so strongly that future food shocks will be met with more starvation and crises than occurred during the food price run-up in 2008.
Monsanto 2009 Annual Report. Retrieved July 16, 2010 from http://www.monsanto.com/investors/financial_reports/annual_report/2009/letter_to_shareowners.asp
Streitfield, D. (2008). A global need for grain that farms can't fill. New York…[continue]
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