The annual Cape Times special feature on Exports, Imports and International Trade was published this week. The feature aims to provide business with a snapshot as to where current issues and debates are at with regards to international trade. Hilton Lambert was invited to provide an editorial commentary with regard to agribusiness and food trade. We placed ourselves in the shoes of the biblical minister of food security of ancient Egypt and pondered how his modern day equivalent could harness trade in realising the dream of seven fat cows and plump ears of corn.
We pondered whether trade is an essential element in fostering food security? One of the policy choices that is becoming increasingly attractive to African policy makers is food self-sufficiency as opposed to trade. A pertinent example is the recent application made by South African wheat farmers to build a self sufficiency index into the national wheat tariff price band model so as assure that wheat (and bread) are available in-country all of the time. The critics contend that even if self-sufficiency is possible, the rationale is questionable as such policy choices would possibly have a negative impact on national income as household food bills rise, purchasing power is reduced and, obliquely, food security is actually compromised. The argument is made that trade is a means of connecting those that have plenty of food with those that do not have enough. A compelling argument raised by the wheat farmers is that the 2008/2009 food crises saw a tremendous rise in export bans in grain exporting nations, meaning that trade was cut-off as a solution to food security.
A full version of the paper is available here.