Those who want to guarantee food security by relying on alliances will have to surrender
Published on Current Concerns, by Hermann M. Dür, July 2010.
cc. A self-sustaining agriculture and food sovereignty are one of the claims of the World Agriculture Report, whose topics must repeatedly be brought up for discussion, until politicians will finally start to implement the claims. Food security must be made a topic of discussion not only in view of an imminent war, but it is equally important with regard to security policy in so-called times of peace. The following article* by Hermann Dür will give evidence of this context. In his article, Dür explains the dependencies that a state risks to get involved in, if it has to import agricultural products and can no longer provide for the basic needs of its population.
Regardless of what one thought or thinks of the Bush administration, it was this US government that put this problem in a nutshell in 2001. “Can you imagine a country that is unable to produce enough food to feed the people? It would be a nation that would be subject to international pressure. It would be a nation at risk. I mean, after all, we’re talking about national security.”
In his article, Dür focuses on the fact that safeguarding one’s independence (Swiss Federal Constitution art. 2) and the appropriate defense require food security. This is however increasingly endangered. Moreover, if all agricultural tariffs as substantial modulators of the degree of self-subsistence were abolished, this could involve enormous safety risks. The extent of these risks could be examined by an independent risk analysis … //
… Thirdly – notorious disturbances of complex systems:
The enemy of each system and/or regulatory circuit is instability. The expressions of instability became manifold by the increasing complexity of our world and the global interconnectedness: The increase of complexity results in instabilities of ecological, technological, economic and social dimensions. Moreover, due to globalization, former local disturbances can spread without delay and without limits. It would be dangerous to reduce instability merely to the risk of a military war. This concept of instability would ignore all the other – and today more likely– forms of threats.
The more complex a system is, the more manifold are the possibilities to disturb or hurt it. With open systems, the possibilities of disturbing them multiply, since the separate parts of the system can be affected externally and by regulatory circuits of higher priority. If the system cannot react fast enough (e.g. because nature cannot breed plants or animals for correction fast enough), the system becomes instable.
It is dangerous, to base food security on the functioning of international trade.
It must be noted here that the food politics of authorities, federations and large-scale enterprises rarely make potential system disturbances – such as dependencies – a topic of discussion, just as was the case in the financial sector, recently.
Historically seen, it is a remarkable experience that in the 19th century in England free traders taught that an intensified trade would increase security and thus decrease the defense budget. The development, however, was in the opposite direction and has from 1878 on led to the re-establishment of tariffs (H. Jacob, loco citato p. 361) and to the highest national military expenditures in Europe.
Today the predisposition for malfunctions grows even cybernetically, caused by globalization, as some destabilizing tilting effects may develop when certain degrees of interconnectedness are overstepped. (see butterfly effect of the chaos theory, the banking crisis, the food crisis of 2007 etc.)
The degree of Switzerland’s interconnectedness is extremely high, compared to international standards. According to the globalization index of the KOF at the ETH Zurich, Switzerland already ranks fourth of 200 recorded states regarding economic, social and political interlacing and/or globalization.
The “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” of 23 January, p. 31, presents this list as a ranking, in which a high level of interlacing is considered positive. A theoretical substantiation of this implicit hypothesis is however missing. In the meantime, theoretical and empirical references have pointed to the hypothesis that the meaning of the degree of interconnectedness depends on the situation. The significance of Switzerland’s high rank is therefore uncertain. What is certain, however, is that this empirically verified evidence is at odds with the image of an “isolated” Switzerland or “a hedgehog mentality”. (In contrast to public perception Switzerland imports the most food per capita world-wide. It has the largest market penetration in this field.)
The accumulation of extremely improbable events like 9/11, the pirates of Somalia, the financial crisis or the abrupt end of the banking secret are considered to be symptoms of globalization and an increase in complexity. The more complex a supply system is, the more vulnerable it is.
In modern power play, vulnerability will immediately be exploited. The gas transit interruptions to Ukraine or the coarse instrumentalization of our globalized financial dependence are recent examples. Dependence within vital areas makes it possible that states, international organizations, companies etc. may exert pressure to give in to legal concessions, data publications, sacrificing of markets etc.
The financial sector ignored the dependence problem within vital areas much too long. We now pay billions for it and are looking for alternatives.
The world-wide synchronicity of the bank crisis or the “Too big to fail” and/or “Too big to rescue” are typical examples of a globalization and/or networking that was not thought through well enough, before. Meanwhile it has become common knowledge that only the intermittent radical elimination of free-market economy may prevent total collapse, and the formerly disparaged criticism of deregulation, of profit maximization and globalization has become widely accepted as self-evident, today.
The food sector should not repeat this error.
Because: What will happen, if in future basic food might be used as an even more powerful leverage?
The theory of power in theoretical economics assumes that economic goods can be used for power purposes: “The effort, determined by specific economic means, to make others comply with one’s own will, is regarded as economic power.” In the agrarian free trade debate in England in the 19th century, the Tories e.g. warned that with a disposal of customs duties on corn, the agriculture would grind to a halt and the subsequent hunger would make a state susceptible to blackmail. The power political development proved that the Tories were right.
Consumers, industry and politics will jointly profit if this lethal Achilles’ heel never develops. – Pro memoria: Even China does not believe in trouble-free trading systems: With its impressive merchant fleet it aims at controlling the maritime trade routes itself. Only a coincidence?
China possesses only 10% of the earth’s fertile farmland; however, it has to feed approximately a quarter of the earth’s population – therefore China certainly reckons with a food shortage and takes measures for the future securing of food supplies, already today. Apart from the development of its merchant fleet, its acquisitions of large agrarian areas beyond its borders also give evidence of this fact (esp. in Taiwan and from Thailand to Africa).
Comment: The big players of the world are beginning to secure their sources of food. – Whether mere trade agreements and the confidence in a high purchasing power will be able to defy such strong measures of foreign countries in the future, must be severely doubted, from a historical point of view.
Conclusion: Our food security is endangered. But we should stop to say that we need our own food supply in case a war occurs. We need our own food supply, because
- world-wide food supplies become scarce,
- the future of transportation is uncertain and
- disturbances in the international trade system are common.
The importance of the national economy’s own food supply is often underestimated and is dismissed as economically suboptimal with purely monetary arguments. In his book “Strategie des Managements komplexer Systeme” (10th edition, Berne 2008) Professor Malik convincingly proves that the most important factors like the “aim of maximizing profits” [in a national economy this is similar to the GDP maximization; author’s note] must urgently be replaced by the “aim of maximizing viability”, today (op.cit., p. 60ff.). Since “food security” is an undisputed condition of the “viability”, the smooth introduction of the topic food security into modern management teachings is obvious. – Moreover, the system-oriented management teachings prove that successful management may not be limited to the economic perspective. In practice, however, this principle is hardly realized, as is illustrated for example by the one-dimensional WTO or by the financial sector with its pursuit of ever higher profits. The pressure which is exerted to reduce the degree of self-subsistence often comes from those circles, who are hoping for greater economic profit. This view is considered too narrow today.
Tasks and goals to secure food supply:
In this situation, the requirements of securing food supplies are clear:
- 1. Protection of the consumers’ survival in times of disturbed supply.
- 2. Maintenance of internal stability (see e.g. general strike in Switzerland or the downfall of the government in Haiti in 2008 due to insufficient securing of food supplies).
- 3. Statement of national resistance to extortion.
- 4. Discharge of the world markets. – That means making a contribution so that people who are most concerned by population growth and climate change can nourish themselves increasingly, in order to prevent distribution fights, streams of displaced people and disturbances of the agricultural infrastructure (peace preservation).
The degree of self-subsistence: … (full long text).