On October 16 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization celebrates World Food Day – and this year’s theme is “The Right to Food”. As well meaning as this campaign may be, it ignores the real reasons why the majority of farmers in developing countries are poor. In order to set out a better way for agriculture and development, The Sustainable Development Network is releasing a list of the worst myths which afflict the debate, two of which are below:
1. Myth: A country must produce its own food in order to feed itself in times of difficulty.
Reality: Markets and the freedom to trade are the best ways to improve food security and to reduce the cost of food. Trade means that resources are used more efficiently in each place – countries like Hong Kong, who cannot grow food, use their labour, capital, and knowledge to produce other goods and trade. On the other hand, many Sub-Saharan countries are nearing self-sufficiency – but hunger and poverty remain high.
The World Bank estimates that global free trade would add $287 billion to world income each year, half of that accruing in poor countries. Much of this would come from agriculture. Access to markets would allow poor farmers to generate income for themselves and their families, making it more likely for them to escape subsistence farming and poverty.
2. Myth: Wealthy countries should eliminate subsidies and trade barriers, but developing countries should not
Reality: Agricultural subsidies and regulations hurt the poorest farmers and consumers, while benefiting the elite – in rich and poor countries alike. As subsidized farmers in wealthy countries overproduce commodity crops like sugar and dump the surplus on world markets, prices are driven down – to the ultimate detriment of farmers in poor countries.
Moreover, around 70% of tariffs paid by developing countries are actually paid to other developing countries. This makes food difficult to obtain and artificially expensive.
Douglas Southgate, an agricultural economist at Ohio State University, commented:
“Governments need to get out of the way, cut restrictive tariffs, and remove state marketing boards, to allow businesses to work — because people are perfectly capable of feeding themselves, if only they were allowed to.”
For more myths and realities about agriculture, read:
“Agriculture and Poverty- Myths and Realities”, by the Sustainable Development Network– available for download at http://www.sdnetwork.net/files/pdf/Agriculture_and_Poverty.pdf