How ethical is the food we eat? Debating Europe will be running a series of debates called Food for Thought, looking at everything from animal welfare and the economics of the food industry, to food safety and GMOs. For our first debate in the series, we want to take a look at food security, farm subsidies, and the impact of Europe’s agricultural sector on the developing world.
We asked you what you thought was the best way to ensure global food security. In response, we had a comment sent in from Tom, who argued that European subsidies were hurting the world’s poorest farmers and undermining food security in the developing world:
Stop agricultural subsidies and tariffs in rich countries. Stop dumping surpluses; even in famine situations it’s often the case that food is available locally, just too expensive for most people, so in emergencies give cash locally to buy food and support local markets… Stop distorting the market with subsidies for biofuels which are replacing food crops.
Between 2014 and 2020, the European Union will spend €95 billion on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), 70% of the which will be spent on subsidies in the form of direct payments to European farmers. The Commission argues that this system guarantees food security in Europe, but does it do so at the expense of food security in some of the world’s poorest countries?
Supporters of the CAP argue that the world’s 50 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are already able to export unlimited quantities of agricultural goods to the EU duty free under the “Everything But Arms” initiative. In addition, the EU has steadily been phasing out farming export subsidies, and agreed during a WTO summit in Kenya in December 2015 to abolish them completely.
Nevertheless, food security remains a concern. When global food prices rose in 2008, it triggered riots that led to the “Arab Spring” and, ultimately, to the Syrian civil war and current refugee crisis. Such volatility could be more common in future, as the world’s population is estimated to exceed nine billion by 2050 with global food demand almost doubling. At the same time, land and water resources are also under pressure for other reasons, including for biofuels. Some reports suggest that European corporations are involved in “land grabbing” in Africa and Asia for the purposes of growing export crops and biofuels (though other analysts question the scale of the land purchases).
To get an expert reaction to Tom’s comment, we recently spoke to Hans van Meijl, Research Director in Food Security & Bio-Based Economy at Wageningen University. What would he say to Tom?
For another perspective, we also spoke to Francesco Tramontin, Director of External Affairs Europe at Mondelēz International, one of the world’s largest food, confectionery, and beverage companies. How would he reply to Tom?
We also had a comment sent in from Marouschka, arguing that food security will ultimately require land reform in the developing world. In other word, should land be redistributed to the poorest farmers? Here’s what she had to say:
[The] main cause of concern is land ownership. Big parts of fertile land are still sold to big investors for big money, without paying attention to the existing rights and needs of smallholder farmers. Large-scale agriculture is not bad per sé, on the contrary as it might improve agricultural productivity and the accessibility of food. But it is harmful when it destroys the little bit of food security local farmers have by chasing them away from the land they lived on for generations or by using up the majority of the water supply available.
How would Hans van Meijl respond to Marouschka’s argument?
Finally, what would Francesco Tramontin say? Did he agree that land reform was a necessary precondition for food security?
Are EU subsidies hurting the world’s poorest farmers? Would land reforms in the developing world be the best way to ensure global food security? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!