Food grains – wheat, maize and rice – account for over 50% of human caloric consumption and underpin global food security.

US research has shed light on how trade and the centrality of the global grain/animal fee trade network, affects food security. The study shows that many nations depend on trade to fulfil their food needs and that the global wheat trade is concentrated in a handful of countries whereby disruption in only a few countries would have global impacts.

Focus on local feed systems

Led by researchers at the University of California, Davis, in conjunction with the International Food Policy Research, the study calls for a greater emphasis on regional and localised food systems. Well-functioning local food systems more effectively counter shortfalls and disruptions in the larger globalised food system.

Co-author of the study Catherine Brinkley said global grain supplies were now at the forefront of global trade concerns: “Food grains – wheat, maize and rice – account for over 50% of human caloric consumption and underpin global food security.”

War in Ukraine – supply chain issues

Subhashni Raj, assistant professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, added that the war in Ukraine, combined with supply chain issues, had contributed to price increases in cereal grains and food prices globally, but particularly in the Global South (Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Pacific Islands, and developing countries in Asia, including the Middle East) where countries rely on cereal imports.

Farmland rich does not mean hunger free

The researchers also found that having more agricultural land does not necessarily translate to higher levels of national nourishment. Mr Brinkley said, “One might hope that more agricultural land would help alleviate hunger. But the agriculturally rich regions of the world are often literal battlegrounds for control of resources.”

Sacrificing food security for economic growth

Food resources are often embedded in vast globalized food chains, researchers say, with little or no positive impact on the communities where the chains originate, and on the food supply of their own citizens. It undermines security and gives countries an edge in the international food economy.

Countries of the Global North with low production capacities control a significant part of this supply he chain. This reflects their purchasing power and proximity to major wheat trading hubs. “Historically, the pattern of wealth accumulation through colonization and the slave trade is evident in the global wheat trade. Many European countries with limited agricultural land arose from their colonial past. It sits at the heart of the global wheat supply chain, reflecting traditional trade agreements and trade patterns.”

Most influential countries

Researchers used international wheat data to reconstruct the global trade network and identify the most influential countries. They found that the countries most important to the world grain trade accounted for more than half of all world wheat exports: Germany, Italy, France, Turkey, Russia, USA, Canada.

This makes the global wheat value he chain fragile, as a shock to any of these countries would likely spread around the world. “Operating in a food system where all the components, big and small, are all connected,” he added Brinkley

Related article: UK animal feed market report

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