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Agricultural Development, Trade and the Right to Food

The spike in global food prices in 2007-08 was a wake-up call for the international community, highlighting the inadequacies of our global food system. Commodity prices soared, the number of hungry people worldwide topped one billion, and food riots broke out in a number of developing countries. A second price spike in 2010-11 drove the annual global food import bill to $1.3 trillion. A third spike in 2012-13, prompted by drought in the U.S. Midwest, deepened concerns that global policies guiding agricultural development, trade and food security are deeply flawed.

National and global policy responses to these food price crises largely have left unresolved its structural causes, which include misguided biofuels policies and the deregulation of finance. Meanwhile, increasing investment in agricultural development in developing countries has focused on promotion of large-scale, industrial agriculture with heavy use of imported seeds and chemical inputs, including transnational land acquisitions that often are denounced as “land grabbing.”

Trade policies have favored these trends in the name of market liberalization. The ongoing conflicts in the World Trade Organization over India’s National Food Security Act, and in El Salvador over the government’s policy of procuring seeds from local farmers rather than multinational firms, illustrate the resulting tensions. New trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans Pacific Partnership threaten to bring further restrictions on national autonomy.

Senior Research Fellow Timothy A. Wise of PERI's program on development, peacebuilding and the environment analyzes these issues, building on his work on the global food crisis, research supported by an Open Society Fellowship, and collaborative work with Jeronim Capaldo and UNCTAD to develop new and more realistic trade models based on the UN’s Global Policy Model.


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