Moving from Reactive to Proactive Food Policy

Area of Scanning: Ecological System and Resources

Author: Colin Dobson

What is Changing?

Longstanding food security issues came to a head late in the first decade of the 2000s as a global structural shift to higher food prices occurred.  Both in response to and in anticipation of social unrest, many Asian countries reacted with protectionist measures of different kinds.  Since this time, a discernible shift from reactive to more proactive food policy is beginning to occur to both address the food price hike and tackle a long list of ongoing, worsening and anticipated challenges to food security such as water quality and availability, competition for land from cities and biofuels, increased storm damage, pollinator decline, pesticide resistance, ocean acidification, increased meat consumption, and more.  This wave of action has mostly taken the form of top-down approaches such as greater agricultural industrialization, foreign land purchasing or leasing, grain stockpiling, major infrastructure projects and more use of genetically-modified organisms.


As a result of such approaches, a host of new risks have been introduced.  Greater industrialized agriculture can pose challenges to or even usurp subsistence and small-hold farmers.  It can be resource-intensive (e.g., fossil fuels, pesticides, fertilizers), increase monoculture and degrade soils over time.  When such large farms are foreign-owned there can be domestic discontent.  Foreign land agreements may lead to foreign relations challenges and import-dependence. Grain stockpiles are vulnerable to different threats (pests, terrorism).  Major infrastructure projects can pit regions against each other.  And GMOs are divisive and present a number of known, unknown and debated risks.  Many food security experts argue that holistic, bottom-up solutions involving the education, empowerment and broader social support of individuals and communities have a better chance at resulting in food resilience.  This is not happening as much as they suggest is required and hunger, under-nourishment and food unpredictability still exist for tens of millions of Asians.  As a result of both this and the continued underlying issues listed above, food and water-related crises, chronic and grand, are still a significant risk in the coming 10-15 years.


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