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3-Food: "I am not convinced that policies to protect indigenousfood cultures provide any benefit to the poorest in society"



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   "I am not convinced that policies to protect indigenous food cultures
    provide any benefit to the poorest in society. The basic needs of
    these individuals are to acquire sufficient protein, carbohydrates,
    fats, and vitamins and minerals to live active and healthy lives. [...]
    If in a free market system Thai rice is cheaper than Ghanaian rice,
    the poor of Ghana should not be hindered in eating Thai rice."
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-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Food: Quantity and Quality
SOURCE: The Accra Daily Mail, Ghana
        http://www.accra-mail.com/story.asp?id=11005
DATE:   20 Aug 2004 

------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------


Food: Quantity and Quality

Dr. Todd Benson Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research
Institute responded.

This past Wednesday, under the auspices of the International Food Policy
Research Institute (IFPRI) based in Washington DC, ADM Editor joined a
group of African editors on a telephone conference to discuss Africa's
food security and food nutrition issues. Among the issues ADM raised were
Aid, GMOs and Globalization.

The brief interchange is presented below.

ADM's Question

Thanks for allowing me to participate in this morning's conference. It
was more interesting than I had expected. In fact, I had another issue to
raise.

Could you kindly pass these comments to our two speakers? I want to know
how they think Aid, Globalization and Genetically Modified foods can
affect food and nutrition security, one way or the other in Africa. These
vital issues to the debate were missed this morning.

Loosely speaking food security can be broadly described as doing with
"quantity" and nutrition security with "quality".

When I was a small boy growing up in Northern Ghana, I remember eating
all sorts of local delicacies (there were no McDonalds, Wimpys and KFCs
then). Now the idea of fast foods, which is a product of globalization,
has "cheated" us of all those dishes that we relied on as cheap and
nutritious foods. Some of them have all but died out and now the idea of
food to many people, especially the youth is the "take away" meal. These
take away meals are usually either wheat or rice based. The catch here is
that we do not produce wheat and our local rice production is gradually
being squeezed out by "polished rice" from Thailand, USA and other places.

How secure can we be when our indigenous food culture is becoming extinct?


Todd's response

You ask a set of challenging questions that I can't hope to fully answer,
but let me give you a few ideas and opinions.

Broadly speaking, globalization should lead to enhanced food security in
Africa. The historical record shows that those nations who are more open
to trade and who consciously structure their economies so that they
produce those goods for which they have a comparative advantage and
import those necessities, including some foods, for which they do not
have such an advantage tend to be more food secure and achieve greater
economic growth. However, the devil is in the details. Identifying ones
comparative advantage is not always easy, as it is dependent upon a broad
range of factors - agro-environmental, physical infrastructure, trade
policies and restrictions, etc. Moreover, these factors - particularly
the policy factors - likely will change through time. The broad model is
there, but it remains a challenge to achieve.

Food aid will remain an important feature of many African food economies
for some time to come. Broad shocks to livelihood occur frequently in
many parts of Africa - conflict, droughts, floods, disease, etc. - and
indigenous coping strategies are not sufficiently robust, for whatever
reasons, to enable all to adequately cope with these shocks. Food aid
makes a critical contribution to the continued survival of many
households under stress across the continent.

That said, there is a need for balance. In many cases, food aid also
serves the interests of the donor country by reducing their stockpiles of
grain and other foods. You can end up with situations where the value of
donor aid offered to agriculture in a country, for example, will be
dwarfed by several orders of magnitude by the value of the food aid
provided. If improperly managed, the food aid can distort the incentives
for farmers to increase their production, something which is needed to
bring about sustainable food security and economic growth in most of the
predominantly agricultural countries of Africa.

However, given the precarious situation in which so many African
households find themselves, on balance, food aid provides a net
contribution to the food and nutrition security of the continent.
However, we all wish for the day when food aid will not be necessary.

GMOs are an important agricultural technology of great promise. If
developed within a strong regulatory framework that respects the
environmental concerns raised and the pressing need in Africa for the
enhanced yields of food or increased rural incomes that they might offer,
they have the potential to significantly transform African agriculture
and the enhance the degree of food security enjoyed by Africans. However,
the risks of GMOs are not negligible. Regulatory processes should be
established both to protect society and to facilitate the prudent use of
GMOs. However, such a process should be proactive rather than
obstructionist, as the potential benefits of GMOs for the poorest in
African societies are quite large.

Finally, on your concerns for indigenous food cultures, I don't have any
solace to offer. I am not convinced that policies to protect indigenous
food cultures provide any benefit to the poorest in society. The basic
needs of these individuals are to acquire sufficient protein,
carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins and minerals to live active and healthy
lives. If the state intervenes in the agricultural sector or in markets
to erect protection mechanisms for indigenous foods at the expense of
cheaper foods, they are imposing an unwarranted burden on the poor and
forcing the poor to restrict their consumption of other basic necessities
of life in order to acquire the food they need. If in a free market
system Thai rice is cheaper than Ghanaian rice, the poor of Ghana should
not be hindered in eating Thai rice.

This is very much an economist's argument that I am making. You can be
food and nutrition secure even if your indigenous food culture becomes
extinct. The security that you are concerned with is the viability of
Ghanaian culture in a globalizing world. I have considerable respect for
Ghanaian indigenous foods - you have in your cuisine among my very
favorite foods from the continent - and for the vibrancy of Ghanaian
culture - the cultural pride you Ghanaians exhibit is a thing to be admired.

However, this is quite a different question from food and nutrition
security. I agree with you that food culture clearly provides important
criteria by which Ghanaian culture is defined. Consequently, your concern
is valid. However, I would support Ghanaian leaders who argue that the
society needs to sacrifice some of their indigenous food culture in order
that the poor in Ghana are able to meet their basic food and nutrition needs.




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