More Trade, Less Hunger

GENEVA – The recent sharp spike in food prices and growing concerns about food security have sparked anxiety worldwide. The possibility of being unable to put food on the table fills parents with a deep sense of foreboding. And, because the world’s poorest people spend a higher proportion of their income on food, they are the worst affected, raising the risk that years of progress in reducing poverty could be reversed.

The seemingly unalterable factors generating these record-setting rises in food prices – a shift to higher protein diets in many countries, growing populations, greater use of biofuels, and climate change – suggest that elevated food prices are here to stay. In the absence of solutions that alleviate growing pressure on supplies, hunger and malnutrition will increase.

Clearly, investment in food production must be increased in the medium and longer term. But there is a policy prescription available to leaders today that could help remove supply-side obstacles: more trade. This proposal may puzzle some, but the logic is straightforward and irrefutable.

Trade is the transmission belt through which supply adjusts to demand. It allows food to travel from lands of plenty to lands of little. It allows countries that can produce food efficiently to ship it to those which face resource limitations that hinder food production.