The pandemic will have shown many realities, some of which were hardly known up to now. Among these are the limits of our global food systems and the vulnerability of local populations depending on them. As a result, many countries around the world have imposed travel restrictions, making food supplies difficult or even impossible in some places. Hit by droughts, large exporting countries like Brazil have seen their agricultural production decrease. Rich countries have immediately invested in supplying their populations. As a result, food prices have highly risen. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in May 2021, they have increased by nearly 40 percent over one year, reaching their highest level since September 2011.
Hit hard by the economic and health crisis, millions of people, mainly in the South, no longer have access to sufficient and quality food. The situation is not about to improve. The number of people affected by severe food insecurity may exceed one billion this year. The annual report on food security published on July 12 and written by five United Nations agencies paints a bleak picture: approximately 9.9 percent of the population was undernourished in 2020, compared to 8.4 percent in 2019.
In this alarming context, well-known practices have proven their effectiveness, both in the North and the South: giving priority to local seeds, agriculture and processors, promoting markets that are less dependent on the international situation and agricultural practices that are more resilient to the effects of climate change. In other words: agroecology.
Local markets vs. the giants of the global food trade
In this third webinar of the “Build back better food systems” series, SWISSAID invites you to take a look at the key role of local markets.
First, Diamnda Merci Memhodjim, Program Officer for Civil Society Capacity Building at SWISSAID Chad, reviewed the difficulties faced by local populations in Chad to access sufficient and quality food during the pandemic. She then talked about the role of local markets for the regional economy, their contributions, the important role played by women but also the difficulties that stand in their way.
The situation is complex: Local markets, so much praised during the Covid-period, face the giants of the global food trade. The latter operate in a sector marked by speculation and international rules that favor low-cost agricultural imports. Mathias Binswanger, professor of economics at the University of Applied Sciences of Northwestern Switzerland and author, will discuss this aspect as well as the consequences of free trade for the countries of the South and food sovereignty.
Eventually, Dr. Dino J. Martins, biologist and Executive Director of the Mpala Research Center in Kenya – providing examples of farmers in Kenya – offered a vision of biodiversity as an essential element of local markets.
Many questions underlay this discussion: Can international markets be a way for small-scale producers to increase their production and their income, especially by producing for export? Or do they threaten their existence? What do they really bring? Between these two perspectives, local and international, is there a way? And if so, which one? What can we expect from the World Food Summit in New York in September? How can it help transform our food systems?