Dr. Haroon Akram-Lodhi, professor of International Development Studies at Trent University, delivered an engaging lecture on the topic of global food insecurity at Mount Allison University on January 11th 2014. Haroon was the keynote speaker at this year’s annual ATLIS Conference in Sackville, New Brunswick, and spoke to roughly 70 people who braved the rain and ice to attend. His most recent book, entitled Hungry for Change: Farmers, Food Justice and the Agrarian Question, addresses problems in the global food system and how these might be challenged by movements of concerned citizens.
Haroon began the talk by deconstructing the myth that population growth is a central problem causing food shortages and escalating food prices. He presented evidence to suggest that we are in fact experiencing record food production globally, and that it has outpaced population growth for decades. Moreover, we are currently producing enough food to feed far more people than currently live on planet earth. In contrast, the speaker argued that the following three factors were primarily responsible for rising food prices: increased demand for biofeuls, increased financial speculation in the food industry; and rising global demand for meat (and hence the grains that feed animals).
Dr. Akram-Lodhi also took time to briefly highlight some of the key problems with corporate control of the global food regime. He noted the small number of companies that control each dimension of the global food regime, including retail giants such as Walmart. He also argued that reliable data support the notion that small-scale, agroecological approaches to farming are just as productive as large-scale industrial agriculture, not to mention more environmentally and socially sustainable. The speaker pointed to social movements such as La Via Campesina as successful attempts to challenge the corporate food system, and replace it with a food system that prioritizes the needs producers, consumers, and the environment.
Several people in the audience had excellent questions for Haroon, including a member of a family that travelled from Truro for the event. The question period provided an opportunity for Dr. Akram-Lodhi to highlight the need for both bottom-up and structural change. For example, building community-based movements that connect people to their food sources and promote local food are important. In addition, policy work within multiple levels of government is needed in order to legislate things like the labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food. Finally, global systems and institutions of trade, such as the World Trade Organziations (WTO), need to prioritize meaningful employment and protection of the environment over corporate profit.
The last thing I will mention is that reading Dr. Akram-Lodhi’s latest book is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with the problems inherent the global food regime. It is also refreshing to read real alternatives in the final chapter of his book. If you read one book on the global food system this year, make it this one!
Guest blog written by: Dr. Dave Thomas, Associate Professor of Politics & International Relations, Mount Allison University.