Friday 27 December 2013

Global Food Supply, The Imbalance Of Trade

While many have been over indulging in food during the last few days there have been some who have not, a few by choice but many because the food is not there; or they cannot afford it or because of the economics of food supply and demand.

In the discussion about food supply there is a great deal of opinion as well as a lot of moralising but real research is thin on the ground and is often affected by the interested parties.

However, the journal Plus One has featured an academic study into global food supply which attempts to take a balanced look into how the world has changed in the last fifty years.  It has lessons not just for the past but for the future.

It is a long academic document but the conclusions are:

"In this article, we investigated past global trends in food availability by quantifying country-level dietary energy supply and production during 1965–2005. Further, we examined how food self-sufficiency has developed globally, and analysed the role of food trade in improving food security.

We found that food availability has improved considerably while food self-sufficiency has remained relatively low during the entire study period. Trade of food products has, thus, soared in importance in securing an adequate food supply.

In many parts of the world, diets are increasingly abundant in calories and animal source foods.

Within the past 50 years, the world has thus moved from food insufficiency towards an increasing dependency on food trade. This has improved food availability, but mainly in regions with a sufficiently strong economy to be a notable player in the trade markets.

While a secure food supply has been intentionally outsourced in various parts of the globe, a large share of global population is still living with insufficient food supply. Food security is not merely a question of food availability but increasingly also a question of access to food.

At global scale food supply would be sufficient to feed the entire population but its uneven distribution leaves a notable proportion of population food insecure while others live in abundance of food.

Thus, while global food supply could be increased by e.g. novel technological solutions, reform of current agricultural practices and reduction of food waste [4], [55], any substantial improvement in food security will require real efforts for a more equal distribution of global food supply."


What happens in those territories where the food supply is not sufficient and the population still increasing rapidly?  What could happen if other territories moved suddenly from surplus to deficit?


  1. The irony is that global warming would tend to improve food security. More realistic threats come from significant global cooling or a major volcanic eruption.

    Both together could be very serious as the rich outbid the poor in world food markets.

  2. A major disruption to the financial system could have as obstructive effect as the submarine blockades of two world wars on Britain's food supplies. We have had a consistent balance of payments deficit for thirty years and there is no guarantee that we could continue to borrow to finance food purchases. The situation is getting worse as immigrants flood in. As Kipling wrote in "The Big Steamers" " If anyone hinders our coming, you starve"

    We need a return to a specifically British agricultural policy, promoting a considerable increase in domestic production to lessen an increasing gap.

  3. It isn't just financial disruption, it all kicks off in the middle east and the price of oil shoots through the roof, you can kiss goodbye to NZ lamb, Chilean merlot, tea/coffee and all the Chinese crap toasters and shit for a fiver. People seem to forget that tea in the days of "Clippers" the price of tea was worth it's weight in gold. Who in their right mind would be paying £4k for a quarter of tea?

    Edward, your comment is bang on the money..