Food (in)security

OECD Observer

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Food security seems to have improved on average, over the past four decades, with food availability in terms of daily calories and protein per capita rising some 30% in developing countries between the 1960s and the 1990s.

The number of malnourished children under five fell by about 37 million between the 1970s and the mid-1990s, and the incidence of malnutrition dropped from 47% to 31%.

But some countries and regions remain at risk, and some have become more food insecure over the past 40 years. Average calories per capita per day in industrialised countries rose from 2,956 in the 1960s to 3,359 in the 1990s, but in sub-Saharan Africa they were at 2,160 in the 1990s.

This was not only below the industrial world level 30 years earlier, but also below the overall world average calorie consumption in the 1960s of 2,347 per capita per day. Protein consumption per day has meanwhile held basically unchanged in sub-Saharan Africa at around 53 grams, though it is in protein consumption that the gap with the developed world remains widest, with least developed countries receiving half as much as developed ones.

Clearly, the World Trade Organization cannot make sure that everyone on the planet gets enough to eat, but it can help to prevent unfair competition that might hurt the poor. That is one conclusion of Agricultural Trade and Poverty: Making Policy Analysis Count, a collection of papers presented at an OECD Global Forum on “Agricultural Trade Reform, Adjustment and Poverty” held in May 2002 and published recently.

One of the main imbalances in world agriculture, according to one paper, is that industrial countries have enough legal room under the WTO to subsidise their agriculture, and the resources to be able to do so, while developing countries lack the financial, human and institutional resources to do the same, even if they were legally able to. So agricultural trade negotiations should be accompanied by increased funding for agricultural and rural development, food security and poverty alleviation, the paper argues.

©OECD Observer No 236, March 2003

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