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Economic protection and the food crisis: how a domestic election affects global inequality

September 15, 2008

It’s no surprise that candidates vying for our votes in next month’s federal election are focusing on domestic issues: Canadian voters generally are far more concerned with the carbon tax and Ontario’s manufacturing sector than any vague promises falling under the “global inequality” umbrella. Yet we often fail to recognize that campaign issues have the potential to affect millions of people the world over. As we discuss climate change, gas prices, and the economy in the weeks leading up to October 14, we are actually discussing and determining what role Canada will play in global inequality, and if we will choose to do anything about it.

Headlines concerning the rising price of food have littered newspapers for months now, with people worldwide feeling the effects of more expensive agricultural products. Canadians have not been left out, and many are pinching pennies in response to rising gas and food prices and increased unemployment. People in the developing world, however, have been hit even harder: according to the International Food Policy Research Institute more than 160 million people worldwide survive on less than fifty cents a day, and therefore any increase in food prices – even by a few cents – can literally mean starvation. For developing countries where much of the population spends over 50% of its income on food, the double-whammy of rising food and fuel costs is potentially devastating.

While Canada has expressed concern about the situation, we often don’t acknowledge our role in the spike. Developed countries like Canada, the U.S., and much of Europe use economic policies that help their own agricultural industries boom at the expense of the rest of the world; agricultural subsidies and import restrictions mean that small farmers in Africa, for example, can’t compete on the world market, and leave consumers dependent on foreign imports. These policies have devastated any chance for local agricultural economies to thrive.

This didn’t happen organically: Canada has been an active participant in ensuring that this global economic system exists, and benefits greatly from it. Although individual Canadians often lament the “plight of the poor,” we rely on their dependence to guarantee our own livelihoods and well-being. Our next prime minister will be responsible for deciding how Canada will respond to the food crisis. We need to ask the candidates:

1) How will we address the global food situation in both the long and short term, while also considering the need to address climate change?

2) Will we respond through aid, or through a loosening of economic restrictions?

3) If sectors of Canada’s economy become threatened, will we turn towards protectionist policies to keep our oil cheap and our industries secure? What are the other alternatives?

A more nuanced understanding of how our environmental and economic policies affect the rest of the world is undoubtedly needed for all those going to the polls. What three questions would you ask potential leaders, in order to determine whether or not they have this nuanced understanding?
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50 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2008 4:54 pm

    The turn this conversation has taken, towards looking at education as a first step, is a very interesting one. I hope everyone who participates in the blog realizes we’re all taking part in that kind of education just by reading and commenting. And we can of course continue to do more.

    Thanks to Prof. Parkins’ students for your amazing comments on this post. You’ve had a lively, respectful and very well-informed conversation here. I’m impressed. I really hope some of you will continue to read and comment. Some of you may be interested in this post:

  2. mweller permalink
    October 9, 2008 7:57 pm

    So then instead of asking our politicians what they are going to do to reduce global inequality, perhaps we should be asking them what they are going to do to educate Canadians about global inequality (with regards to trade, pollution, etc) and how they will encourage us, as citizens of the world, to do our part in contributing to lowering inequality?

  3. Laura permalink
    October 9, 2008 7:52 pm

    I believe that one factor that contributes greatly to global inequality is the general public’s lack of understanding. They do not understand in detail how things work on a global scale. Until these last couple of years of school I did not have a great understanding on global relationships. I am just beginning to see the bigger picture of how things work. I did not realize the level of trade barriers we have in place or know where Canada was ranked on the Globalization Index. I agree with Saad U and drparon. Most individuals do not know what is going on outside of their own countries. To some, China is just a place where we get cheap goods. Apathy towards global issues is only going to become a bigger problem later on.

    With so few people educated about global issues, it is hard to bring global inequality to the front page. Drparon makes a good point with pollution. The general public doesn’t see the effects pollution has around the world and I agree with what he says about not caring about the policies because of it.

    Unless the general public becomes educated with regards to things like the Globalization Index it is hard to make inequality an election issue, or even a news story. The only thing we ever hear on the news about developing countries is conflicts and natural disasters. It is no wonder why there is so much misunderstanding by the public. Maybe one of the election issues should be whether our current education system is adequate in teaching about global issues. We may also need to look at the role the media plays in influencing people’s understanding of global issues.

  4. drparon permalink
    October 9, 2008 4:46 pm

    Wow that is very insightful Saad U! Thank you for that. For those of us Canadians who get sucked into the ‘infomercials’ and send money for children’s education in developing countries, you always wonder; do they actually receive it (or what proportion of it) and does it even make a difference? As we just send money over to make ourselves feel the ‘warm and fuzzy’s’ we don’t actually know what is going on over there.

    Rather than money, it is more the capacity building programs like micro-credits in India, or the Woman’s Bank in Kenya that are having the impact. Instead of sending aid to these countries maybe the candidates could focus their attention on us, the organizations in Canada wanting to contribute. What if we had the opportunity to go over there and help with these projects? Not only would the foreign countries benefit but it would open our eyes to what is going on in the world.

    For me globalization is just a word we go over in school, I know it’s real because majority of my clothes say ‘made in China’ or whatever. But I don’t see it, I don’t know what state other countries are in, what real air pollution is, what a densely populated place looks like, or what beautiful islands are going to be non-existent due to climate change. I think that domestic education may be a great place to start in Canada. If we, the citizens, don’t actually know about or realize the impact of greenhouse gas emissions why would we care about the policies to reduce them?

  5. Saad U permalink
    October 9, 2008 2:22 pm

    In regards to aid, it must be understood that though it is the taxpayers that pay, it is governments with intricate political agendas that distribute it. For instance, the “aid” given by the United States to a country like the Phillipines allows the presidential family to fly in a choice of their personal fleet of jets. In regards to Canada, the best case of self-interest and aid can be exemplified in Canada’s role in Haiti and its political turmoil, which of course was disguised in a large part with “aid”. Also, one must compare the aid, distributed to partner nations… and the destruction in terms of infrastructure and economic devastation, that Canada has helped to create in countries like Afghanistan. Being that historically, I cannot think of any country that prospered through foreign aid from other countries (thought FDI did play its part in the Far East) and seeing where the aid does end up, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is surely guided by motives that are inextricably linked to the thirst of large consumer economies for cheap commodities, which we just happen to be full of, much more than any form of wanting to “develop” us.

    My advice for the next Canadian elect would be to distance Canadian interests from the South, especially Africa. There is a presumption, perpetuated oftentimes by us Africans ourselves, that we are somewhat dependent on aid and trade (which most of the time takes its form through the World Bank, IMF, or USAID). The vast majority of the time these services are detrimental to us and our own capacity, which is very enormous contradictory to what Westerners may see on television a bit too much. Unfortunately when our politicians have taken initiatives to empower our people, which is rare but does happen, it is Western nations who happen to coincidentally change their views on trade and aid to our detriment. That could mean pumping aid, or dumping… but rarely restricting.

  6. Laura permalink
    October 9, 2008 11:47 am

    I was also surprised on Canada’s ranking for the CDI. I would have thought we were higher on the list. I would never have guessed that the Scandinavian countries were the leaders when it came to aid.

    In answer to MattP, I believe that it is the quality of aid that matters and how that aid is distributed. You can give a country all the money it wants, but if it does not get down to those that need it then what’s the point. And since each country has a unique set of circumstances, tailor made aid may be a possible solution. As mentioned, microcredits have had positive results in some places but that doesn’t mean every country in need of aid would accept microcredits as a solution.

    At this time, aid may be a better way than investments to give to the developing world. But aid can not be given out the same way to every country. I agree with MattP, in that consultation is needed with individual countries in order to best distribute aid. It is also important to keep watch over where the money is going so those in power do not keep it from the individuals who need it.

    I would ask the election candidates whether aid should be a priority over trade and investments with those countries.

  7. October 8, 2008 9:19 pm

    If we check in the CDI 2007 features (Commitment to Development Index), in Canada, the proportion of Aid is much less than Investment and Trade components. I think the new Government needs to look on it for proper balancing. Otherwise the difference between the rich and non rich will expand day by day. The same scenario we are seeing in the under developed countries. So its better to start thinking right now.

  8. MattP permalink
    October 8, 2008 8:58 pm

    I would like to comment on the CGD ranking mentioned by claforge. I was surprised to find that Canada’s contribution to foreign aid was really high in some areas and lagged behind in others. I thought that Canada was a leader in all forms of aid. However, if you play around with the site a little you can get the rankings from 2003 through 2007 and you can see that Canada has made gains in the rankings going from 11th overall in 2003 to 8th overall in 2007. This data should also beg the question of what’s more important: quantity or quality of aid? Is the type of aid we dole out to developing countries necessarily the type of aid they require? Maybe the best way to ensure all of our aid efforts are maximized is to consult with the countries on the receiving end. Through direct consultation as to what kind of aid any specific country requires, said country is probably more likely to make the best use of the aid they receive. For instance microcredits seem to be popular in India and also seem to be instrumental in raising the ability of many Indians to make money and raise their standard of living. Microcredits are a good strategy for India but may not be the key to helping every nation. I think through tailored aid strategies we can stretch our aid as far as possible and ensure it does exactly what is intended.

    Therefore, I would like to ask the leaders if are we doing enough to help developing countries and what, if anything more, can be done and in what way?

  9. Laura permalink
    October 8, 2008 7:58 pm

    If current economic trends continue, it seems to me that Western countries will focus less on global inequality and more on domestic issues. During both the Canadian and American election campaigns, I have heard very little about global inequality issues. The economy has taken over every discussion. And as long as the economy is in the current condition, very little will be done. Most countries think about themselves first and so until markets stabilize they will contribute as little as possible to global inequality issues.

    During an election, all the candidates care about is gaining votes and most voters are concerned with domestic policies. If you were to ask people from the streets if global inequality was an issue to them, most would probably say no. We live in a “me first” society. People look out for themselves and their country before thinking about the rest of the world. In times of financial and economic crisis, most people would be more concerned with domestic issues than if our trade barriers are restrictive to the developing world. I would be surprised if people even knew of current trade barriers Canada has in place. It is only because of my U of A class that I am being to understand the global inequality issue more in depth. Most people are apathetic towards international issues until they garner huge news stories. Since the majority of the public is not fully informed when it comes to global inequality, it will not be a major election issue.

    As for climate change, I believe taxation is the wrong way to do it. All that’s going to happen is companies will pass it on to the customers so we as individuals will end up paying for it all. Dion’s Green Shift plan, in my opinion, is not the way to approach climate change. Tradable carbon credits have been implemented in some U.S. states with varying degrees of success. There is also more to climate change than just warmer temperatures. More extreme weather phenomenons are one of the more noticeable results. In recent years we have seen more powerful hurricanes in the Atlantic that cause billions of dollars in damage. The economic cost of climate change is going to be more than any tax will ever collect.

  10. mweller permalink
    October 8, 2008 5:26 pm

    With the current economic situation, I think everyone is seeing one of the downsides to globalization: what happens to one, happens to all. This is a very good lesson that Canada needs to take to heart. While I agree with the above sentiments about not completely lowering trade barriers and subsidies, I think that we also need to realize that if we don’t make an effort to contribute to the global good, we will have to deal with the consequences. To address jparkins’ question, I honestly think that most Canadians don’t think about the fact that our emissions contribute to displacement and global loss of species. Why? Lack of education! We are inundated with ‘save the polar bears’ advertisments and melting of the polar ice caps info, but how often do you see anything about human displacement as a result of climate change? For Canadians to contribute to environmental issues, especially globally, we need to be willing to educate each other. Until this happens, it will continue to be difficult to bring these issues into political discussions and actually have politicians act on these issues.

    In response to claforge, I agree that we probably have an inflated view of our participation in UN and aid activities, however I have to disagree with Canadians considering themselves environmentally sensitive. After having lived in BC for the summer, I can say without hesitation that we Albertans are far less concerned about our environmental impact than British Columbians. Granted, I haven’t travelled through Canada extensively, but from what I’ve seen, most cities have very little environmental policies in place, and the citizens don’t seem to care. Where I stayed on the coast this summer, recycling is mandatory. There are bins for recyclables, garden waste, and garbage. You are only allowed a certain number of bags of garbage per week, and if you exceed the amount you have to pay to get special tags so that your extra garbage will be collected. Here in Edmonton, recycling is completly voluntary and I hardly ever see any blue bins along the street waiting for pickup. The same goes for several places in Ontario. Clearly we are aware that such programs exist, but hardly anyone is willing to do their part. I’m not suprised that we ranked so poorly, and I don’t think that many people should be suprised either. It’s the same with global aid. Everyone is willing to talk about how the government should do something to increase aid, but how many people volunteer time to campaign for aid organizations? About the only time I see this is at halloween when all the kids come around with their unicef boxes. Thus, again, I don’t think that we should be suprised at our ranking. If we aren’t willing to do our small part as citizens, how can we expect our government to do their part in implementing policies?

    To answer reillyreads’ question, I believe that we would do better focusing on initiatives like the microcredit program. Clearly, it has positive results, so why not give a successful program a boost instead of haggling over where we need to put more emphasis? Guaranteed, right now politicians are far more concerned with domestic economic issues than with changing foreign development policies. In the short run, I think we should contribute to what we know works, but in the meantime begin working on policies (possibly collaborations with other governments) that will actually help developing countries overcome thier poverty barriers.

  11. October 8, 2008 10:23 pm

    claforge – thank you so much for your very informative and insightful comments. i particularly like what you said about how “there is a degree of altruism in the Canadian consciousness that gets lost in our democratic system.” what a great way to put that.

    i’m also very happy to see that katrin, mohammad and lo-alyssa have brought microcredits into this conversation. check out the organization profiled on our website:

    they’ve done amazing work with microcredit.

    so – a good question now is: given that we know (from claforge and the CDI) that canada focuses more on investment than on aid, is this something we need to change, or something we can channel through initiatives likes microcredit?

    do we need to better balance our commitment to development, as reflected in the CDI?

  12. October 8, 2008 7:47 pm

    Though am I quite new to the organization I am about to cite, I find a part of their work to be particularly interesting. The American-based Center for Global Development creates a measure of the world’s richest countries’ commitment to development of LDCs. The Commitment to Development Index (CDI) [ ] is a multi-faceted, but unweighted scoring system that seeks to represent how much some of the world’s richest countries work towards helping their lesser-developed global neighbours.

    The most recent index is from just last year, and it points out that Canada is generally in the middle of the pack of rich countries, with respect to our commitment. What I find interesting is how Canada’s score fluctuates across the various categories by which commitment is measured. Our country ranks poorly when it comes to environmental concerns and barriers to trade, very highly when it comes to technological advancements and foreign direct investment, while our involvement in migration, aid, and security are mediocre.

    I find this interesting because the common image of the Canadian presence in countries of need is often one of UN involvement and humitarian efforts. However, the CDI points out that Canada is not a leader in the areas of security and foreign aid. In a more domestic regard, I believe that Canadians consider themselves quite environmentally sensitive and that we are proponents of free trade. In contrast, the Index highlights that Canada isn’t acting on these beliefs.

    I would like to put this issue forward to the politlcal leaders of this country. I would like to know what they think about being calculated as a country that focuses more on direct investment into developing countries rather than aid, security, free trade, and the environment. I’m not here to tell anyone that I think I know what the right combination of involvement in international development is. I just believe it would be interesting to see what the leaders would have to say about the Index calling into question our introspective view that Canada is an internationally compassionate country.

  13. erinv permalink
    October 7, 2008 11:13 pm

    Participating in this discussion has taught me a number of things:

    1) That there are a wide range of opinions out there about global inequality; specifically, the global food issue, all of which have very valid points.

    2) That there is no one solution on how to solve the global inequality and the global food situation.

    3) Like drparon had mentioned, we all need to be glad that we live in a democratic country where we can express our opinions, in addition to sharing our individual opinions with a multitude of people across the globe.

    To sum up my feeling on the global food issue, I feel that as a country we need to start prioritizing what is important to us. For instance, does Canada need to focus on domestic policy or worry more about international relations and global aid? Is plant biodiversity more important or is feeding the masses around the world? These are all questions that are virtually impossible to answer but inevitably need to be answered.

    Thinking about this, I’m reminded of the saying, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” which is essentially the point of my comment. Canada is in a position now where they, “can’t have their cake and eat it too.” With the uncertainty of the economy’s future, Canada is being forced to make priorities and hard decisions about what is in the best interest of the country (domestic vs. international policy). On a global scale, the future of the climate is very uncertain and nations are having to decide what is more important, the environment or industrial progress. Either way you look at it, there will be a winner and a loser. Aid to developing countries may have to take a back seat to a nations domestic policies if that is what the country feels is more important. Globally, biodiversity may have to be sacrificed in order to feed the masses.

    None of these decisions on what a country should do, or what actions are wrong or right are easy. I agree with drparon is saying that, we need to commend those that are willing to stand up and make a decision, even though there will be people that oppose the decision. There will always be a winner and a loser, but regardless, someone still needs to choose. The problem with always having a winner and a loser is that it results in global inequality and for some countries; they always end up being the losers.

  14. October 7, 2008 11:09 pm

    Microcredit Program:
    Significant Steps Against Poverty:
    Microcredit program creates provision for extending credit facilities to the poor members for implementing income generation and employment creation activities. With these credit members implement a large number of activities such as carpet weaving, cloth stitching, fruit and vegetable vending, small grocery, etc. Microcredit Program has started to work with a view to create a self-sustaining and reliable financial service program for the poor, especially women. It uses a participatory, peer supported and multi-sectoral strategy to offer poor rural women the skills and opportunity to achieve sustainable improvement in their livelihoods, and dignity and self-reliance.
    Poverty is a very complex syndrome which manifests in many ways. Development practitioners have tried and implemented many programs to tackle this underprivileged condition. One particular successful tool of poverty reduction is income generating activities (IGAs). IGAs have generated enormous hope for poverty alleviation in a sustainable manner and Micro Finance Institutions (MFI) has adopted their own models and at present it is implementing in different countries. A strong discipline, extensive reach, connections, knowledge, and network of the development agents involved with this program has made it one of the most powerful tool of poverty alleviation in the world in recent days.
    Microcredit Program works with a view to create a self-sustaining and reliable financial service program for the poor, especially women. MC Program launched with a goal to extend financial and non-financial services to support poverty alleviation in the under developed areas of a country. Through Microcredit Program, provides micro loan service and other services to the poor women so that they will be able to break the cycle of poverty. To save them from different forms of exploitations, we can extend credit facility to the poor for income generation activities such as: cloth stitching, fruits and vegetable vending, carpet weaving, agriculture, small grocery and enterprise, livestock, etc., so that the poor can easily establish their own venture and able to improve their financial barriers.
    Under this program, we can generate loan facilty to the very poor vulnarable women, credit and technical assistance to the poor agriculture and livestock farmers, credit facility to the small enterprenures so that they could able to enlarge their exixting setup.

  15. lo-allyssa permalink
    October 7, 2008 10:40 pm

    I haven’t heard of the idea of micro-credits, but that is exactly the kind of initiative I was thinking about! I was wondering if the others who have been contributing to this blog have other examples of similar programs or initiatives? I am sure there are many large and small scale ones that have been successful.

  16. October 7, 2008 10:38 pm

    I think that every country need to have a certain level of production ability so that it will help in the crisis moment. Definitely, it must be controlled by the Government as a whole scenario. Otherwise, the producers specially from the developing countries, where the pricing level of the commodity is flactuating every time, some producers control the whole game, and there is less opportunity to take necessary action against these bad game player of producers. But if the Government could able to take necessary action in due time, if the Government has such kind of infrastructure in the field of Agriculture then there will be more control in the market, which will be more attracted both in the national and international consumers.
    I am absolutely agree with the words of MattP, its not the final solution to give up all the tariff and reduse the subsidies in every sense. But we have to remember that this is not absolute solution in the long run scenario or in the way towards globalization. In the South Asian countries, we are hearing about the Asian Highway for a long time which is yet now in the dark. The main problem is in the policy system of the country government. By reducing those tariff and subsidies, we can make some segments of the community but not to the whole country.

  17. Elaine Leung permalink
    October 7, 2008 10:24 pm

    For me, the election may encourge to decrease the global inequality as the candidate promised. Such that they will propose a plan to reduce the poverty. However, I don’t think the “promise” will acheive after the election over. This kind of cases has happened a lot over the world.
    In term of the poverty, I am thinknig that how many people are actully poor and how many people are just “pretend” they are poor in order to get money from government for nothing? This is one of the main concern for me since the welfare that governement providing are the taxes we pay, is that use effective? Or just spend on someone who just lazy or greedy?

  18. Katrin permalink
    October 7, 2008 10:13 pm

    One “program” that seems very efficient to me, is the introduction of so-called micro-credits in India. Well, I admit, this is not a program developed by the government, but nevertheless, I think it is very well working and helps people to get independent, by creating their own economy. This “program” gives poor people small credits, which they can use for example to buy cloth, out of which they may sew clothes to sell. I am sure, Mohammad Golam Monjur can tell us much more about this! And these credits are assigned by some local people, which are responsible for only a small region.
    So this brings together, what I would consider as the most effective: local people, small amounts of money which the people can invest themselves, and education/advises how to invest it best.

  19. lo-allyssa permalink
    October 7, 2008 9:51 pm

    My response addresses a point that MattP made on providing assistance to countries to increase their domestic products and making them sustainable and reliable. I think in terms of global inequality, subsidies, tarrifs and trade agreements aside, we have to address the issue of self sufficiency of the global south. It is true that with globalizations help almost all countries are reliant on one another in some manner and that maybe with our current ‘needs’, it is even impossible for a country to be completely self sufficient and to survive without trade of any sort. In terms of trade I am thinking about the cup of imported coffee I bought from Starbucks this morning to help me survive the morning, but I am sure there are much better examples of products that countries MUST import to feed their citizens. And in that case Canada is just as reliant as others on other nations. But to me, it seems that the global south is far more affected by the policies and agreements of Canada, the US and other big markets, than we are by them. I feel like assistance to the global south in the short term, so that they can become more self sufficient in the long run would be one way to effectively address global inequality. Then, with a more level playing ground, we could take bigger, more policy oriented steps towards a reduction in global inequality. So my question to Steve, Stephane, Elizabeth, Jack, Gilles and others would be ‘What (national/international) programs that are already in place do you see as effective means to promote self-sufficiency in the global south and how would your government aid these programs to accomplish their goals?’

  20. jparkins permalink
    October 7, 2008 9:11 pm

    Given that the starting point for this discussion was a link between global inequality and the current global food crisis, I wonder if the current financial crisis and the associated drop in food prices such as wheat (down 40% since the beginning of 2008), requires a shift in our thinking on this topic?

    As mentioned by some, my sense is that global inequality will be exacerbated by climate change, a global concern with no real leadership from Canada, and one that could hit Canadians in the face in terms of mass migration from large regions of the globe that no longer support human habitation.

    To what extent are Canadians tuned to the idea that climate change impacts extend beyond issues of sea ice and polar bears; that emissions here have global ramifications for human displacement and global species loss?

  21. October 6, 2008 8:46 pm

    I have been following this discussion for quite some time but I have been holding back from participating while I formulate some perspectives on the election campaign and how it relates to the world food crisis.

    Though I don’t know exactly how I would word the question to illicit an honest answer from a candidate, I certainly would like to know how much autonomy a candidate would be willing to give up in order to accept a multilateral agreement to improve the world food situation.

    I think great points were made earlier in this discussion about how domestic, national issues dominate political discussions during a campaign even if international issues deserve more attention. This is certainly due to the fact that no one else is going to look out for Canada, we have to cover our own bases, so to speak. It is certainly legitimate that issues such as taxes, jobs, and other pressing and prevalent decisions are the hot topics. However, I don’t believe that Canadians lose their concern for the international food crisis just because there are tough decisions to be made at home. Even if questions about the economy and our environmental quality are at the top of most citizens’ list of concerns, I think that Canadians mostly believe themselves to be citizens of the international community as well. Thus, I believe that concerns about the international food crisis haven’t disappeared but have just been bumped down the list.

    What I’m getting at is that there is a certain degree of altruism in the Canadian consciousness that I think gets lost in our democratic system. Because the concerns over the international food crisis may be a lesser concern of many Canadians, as opposed to a major concern of a small group of Canadians, the issue gets bumped down the queue. Hypothetically, if 500 Canadians were to lose their jobs at an automotive manufacturing plant in Ontario, it would be a very intense issue, and certainly for good reason. However, if someone were to quantify that thousands, maybe even millions of Canadians believe that our government should take a leadership role in tackling international food issues, the issue wouldn’t be as intense with respect to media attention and scrutiny.

    So now I’d like to get back to my question that I’d like to pose to the leaders of the national political parties. I would like to know how much autonomy, how much domestic policy control they would be willing to relinquish in order to move forward with some form of multilateral agreement that would improve international food security. Earlier, I stated that I wouldn’t know how to word it because I’m not sure that I could get a response that wasn’t completely laced with rhetoric and seemingly-good intentions. I believe that it would be this way because of the way our system works. Because the concerns Canadians have for international food systems may be a lesser concern for many Canadians, rather than a strong, direct issue from a small, organized group, the leaders wouldn’t be pressed to say anything other than happy thoughts and positive statements. I don’t suggest this as an attack on the leadership candidates from which we have to choose, but more as a concern about our democratic system.

    From following this discussion, it’s clear to me that Canadians, even while they are dealing with domestic issues, still care about international issues. I just have a concern that our democratic system sweeps those concerns that don’t finish near the top on polls under the rug. In short, I think our popular institutions for political discussion function very much like our electoral system; it’s very much a first-past-the-post system. Yes, the economy and our environmental quality would win in an issue poll. But even if concerns for international food security finish far behind, where do those concerns go?

  22. October 6, 2008 7:02 pm

    I’ve summed up the discussion here, but also in a new blog post found at:

    To sum up the discussion so far, I’d point to some significant areas of agreement on the response candidates should give to questions about the global food crisis:

    → Candidates should display a sophisticated understanding of the distinction between agriculture in developed countries versus the Global South. Canadians in general, and candidates in particular, need to avoid seeing agriculture through an ethnocentric lens. According to Saad:

    Having to trade with the world, set up large industries, create surpluses, and amass wealth should not be seen as right ways of contentment just because they are practiced in the West.

    At the same time as we take the above into consideration, we shouldn’t allow distinctions between agriculture “here” and “there” to lead us to conclude that farmers in the Global South have fewer rights than do Canadian farmers. From Mara:

    The way that we view developing world versus developed world farmers can simply perpetuate the idea that the global “North” is comprised of highly complex societies that focus on market systems, while the global “South” is stuck in an archaic system.

    Candidates’ proposals should take into account the culturally distinct roles of agriculture in the North and South, while also allowing those in the South increased access to the same stability and benefits (defined in their own terms) that we have in the North.

    → Candidates should also have a vision for addressing the crisis in the Global South while meeting the challenges we face domestically. One important question, from mweller, is:

    How do you plan to reduce global inequality in regards to agriculture while providing for the needs of Canadians?

    We’re still seeing some disagreement in the thread about the best way to do this. Some commenters focus more on the need to reduce discriminatory trade barriers, while others feel that removing trade barriers is either unrealistic or too potentially damaging to Canadians farmers. Others are suggesting that we focus more on aid and training for the Global South. From erinv:

    I feel that education in [developing] nations is far more important than just handing them money and I’m curious to see how much Canada would be willing to invest, not only in monetary support programs, but also in educational support for these developing nations.

    The appropriate balance of trade reform and aid/training programs is something we’d like to explore further. We’re also not totally sure about the appropriate role of GMOs – some commenters feel they may be the best way of confronting the challenges of climate change; others feel the threat to biodiversity is too great. Recent developments suggest that we need to proceed with caution when implementing technological solutions to climate change in a complex system.

    Though we’re unsure about how to balance domestic and international concerns, I’d like to focus on the fact that we all seem to basically agree about the need for some balance. We’re not exclusively inward-looking and parochial – our concern for Canada’s role in the world was the reason Canada’s World was started, so I’m glad to see it reflected in the discussion here.

    Leaders need compelling visions for confronting challenges in a way that is globally aware, culturally sensitive, includes a variety of different mechanisms (trade/aid etc.) and considers the potential role of technology (GMOs). We’re asking a lot from our leaders, but they’re asking a lot from us – our votes, our trust, the ability to determine how government revenue is spent and the authority to represent us abroad.

    Another great question in the thread, from drparon, focuses on next steps:

    …there is every opportunity for us to voice our opinions and take actions where we see fit, whether it be running for office or helping out with a campaign. Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This is a great discussion and I’m wondering ‘what’s next?’ Where do these comments go? Do they make a difference?

    Obviously this depends on you. After our Food for Talk event in Vancouver, we put together a resource guide on the global food situation, including a list of local organizations working on food security issues. If those of you in Edmonton at the U of A would like to recommend some organizations here in the comments section, we can make it more likely that the energy of this discussion translates into some action.

  23. MattP permalink
    October 6, 2008 4:28 pm

    I would have to agree with ErinV on the topic of GMOs. With an ever-expanding world population food needs to come from somewhere and if traditional and non-GMO crops are unable to keep up with demands of consumers and the changing environmental conditions, then GMOs may be our best option. It is true that we do not yet know the total effects of GMOs but what we have seen thus far is that these genetically modified crops are up to the task of providing the food we need. Like Mohammad Golam Monjur pointed out that a couple natural disasters wiped out almost 10 percent of Bangladesh’s rice production and now they are left importing from other countries and relying on aid to feed their people. If climate change continues to have this kind of effect or gets worse, like scientists are predicting, GMOs may be the only way to feed ourselves and also help out those who are devastated by Mother Nature and cannot adequately provide for themselves.

    Introducing GMOs may have a negative effect on biodiversity (depending on your definition of biodiversity), but the definitive answer to that question is potentially years away it may not be the doomsday prediction that some believe it to be and if that’s the case then we would have just wasted years and missed an opportunity to feed people and keep up with demand. However, GMOs are likely the answer to climate change’s effect on our food supply. In life there are always trade-offs to be considered and choices to be made. Here we must consider what is more important: potentially maintaining biodiversity or feeding the masses.

  24. drparon permalink
    October 6, 2008 12:06 am

    Sounds like Murphy’s Law to me! I think this is a great illustration of the complexities of decision making. You do one thing, one consequence arises, you do another thing and another consequence arises, no matter what solution a candidate might suggest there are pro’s and con’s. I would like to celebrate that fact that our country, Canada, is not only concerned with our own citizens but also citizens around the globe. We are not concentrating solely on our selves and our well being but also global issues such as inequality.

    Instead of judging and evaluating what these politicians might say, I say, we congratulate them on even attempting to tackle this scale of problem. Whatever ideas they come up with whether it is around climate change or GMO food products there will be both disagreement and agreement. But guess what? They are the ones out there trying to make a difference in a country while others sit at home watching television and criticizing them on their decisions. Personally, I’m glad there are some people in our country taking actions. Living in a democratic country we have the chance to vote for the platform that appeals to us. Also, there is every opportunity for us to voice our opinions and take actions where we see fit, whether it be running for office or helping out with a campaign. Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This is a great discussion and I’m wondering ‘what’s next?’ Where do these comments go? Do they make a difference?

  25. MattP permalink
    October 5, 2008 8:58 pm

    Every country is concerned with food safety and security; there is no question about this. However with the impending global economic slowdown, reducing tariffs and subsidies may not be such a palatable option for many countries. Everybody talks a good game about reducing these tariffs and barriers to trade but when it comes time to walk the walk, we expect somebody else to bear the cost so we can feel good about changing things without actually having to pony up our own resources. I am reminded of the old adage, “Give a man a fish he eats for a day, teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime”. With this in mind, rather than reducing tariffs and subsidies, would countries not be better off with assistance from other countries to get their domestic production up and running so that it is sustainable and reliable?

    A reduction in tariffs and subsidies would probably lead to an opening up of trade for products, such as milk, with countries we have historically not traded with.
    In the wake of the melamine in milk scandal in China and now with the subsequent discovery of melamine in other food products turning up in countries outside China, I am not sure I want to be all that reliant on foreign food sources.

  26. Katrin permalink
    October 5, 2008 7:00 pm

    I agree perfectly with Kipps on the issue of sustainable agriculture. And to come back to the suggestion of GMOs: it will even increase the costs for producers, as GM-seeds are very expensive because big “breeding-companies” like Monsanto are very keen to make the highest profit as possible. So, if it is true that there will be higher yields (because it is not always true what GM-firms promise!), prices will go down, producer costs go up; and in the end, it will have a devastating effect on developing countries which are just getting out of absolute poverty with making their first profits with their agricultural products.
    Beside the effect of minimizing natural diversity, there are also many proofs that GMOs didn´t come up with what they were promising, e.g, in India farmers were run into deep debts as they bought expensive cotton plants which should be immune to a certain cotton pest; well, it proofed not to be and farmers had additional costs for controlling the pest. I don´t believe in the good will of GMO-companies!

  27. Kipps permalink
    October 5, 2008 3:20 am

    As Saad U mentioned producers in Canada are fortunate to have “fertile soil, mechanized agriculture,” and abundant supplies of water. Yet, as mentioned by erinv, Producers here are struggling. Conventional agriculture requires producers to use intensive forms of agriculture to be competitive. This involves the use of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and large scale equipment which all add costs to the product, but decreases its value. Intensification increases production but the increased supply causes a reduction in price. Nor are the full costs of these inputs considered since many of them are derived from cheap petroleum sources and do not have their ecological costs included. Water is also not as abundant as it may seem and some regions in Southern Alberta already have all allowable water allocated to various users. Why are we in a situation where food is produced in unsustainable ways especially when there are alternatives like organic farming which even provide greater returns through higher product prices and lower ecological and input costs? Like Saad said Canadian agriculture is in its relative infancy and intensive agriculture even less so. We don’t know how long we will be able to produce the quantities of food we currently do, but world populations continue to rise. So I would ask candidates if any considerations are being given to the promotion of more sustainable forms of agriculture like organic farming. Furthermore Saad points out that agriculture has been able to support people in Kenya for an incredible amount of time even with environmental constraints, so what good would it do to promote the development of unsustainable agriculture in other countries?

  28. Saad U permalink
    October 4, 2008 10:56 pm

    While the farmer of the “North” is usually a player in the world trade system, that does not distinguish him/her as superior to a farmer in the “South” who does not participate in this system. Also, I would disagree and say that there are indeed marked differences between the Western farmer and one of Sub-Saharan Africa. The difference does not only encompass our roles in trade in the world, but our worldviews, our desires, often what we grow, and our conceptions about how to grow it are very different. Oftentimes, as can be shown in much of India, China, and Japan self-sufficiency in food without necessarily exporting agricultural commodities is the first step leading to a better standard of living amongst us in Africa.

    As for the measurements in inequality, countries often facing food insecurity are prone to aridity, which is an external constraint outside of trade and makes conditions necessary as for trade not to be an appropriate solution but at first long term goals in sufficient production. As for a country mentioned like Uganda, food insecurity is not so much an issue as it has fertile land and it is not trade that feeds the people as much as natural circumstance, for instance its neighbors have distinct issues in food security, mainly because of aridity. Also the conditions facing our agriculture in Africa are much more historical and complex than the West with many colonial undertones and bilateral relationships from those days. Many countries formerly colonized by the British still are its major trading partners, so does exploitation necessarily have to relate to subsidies? I argue it can be much deeper.

    Lastly, in regards to the Western viewpoint on looking at our agricultural systems as static rather than “global” like that of the Canada, many factors must be taken into account. Firstly, Canada is blessed with fertile land, mechanized agriculture, property rights, and plenty of pretty much everything whether it be land, water, or mineral salts. Theres also no significant deserts in Canada or Western Europe. In comparison to my nation, Kenya, aridity, isolation, and geographic constraints are some of our biggest problems in agriculture, so our circumstances completely differentiate us in a way Europeans especially could not understand. As to being static, our migrations and systems of agriculture have changed for millenia while the modern Canadian agricultural system is barely a century old, so I can only conclude those terms assess ways of life in only quantifiable measures and not social or historic ones.

    Having to trade with the world, set up large industries, create surpluses, and amass wealth should not be seen as right ways of contentment just because they are practiced in the West. The farmer in Africa, in this respect can definitely be described as more “simple”. But so can many Chinese and Indian farmers.

  29. mweller permalink
    October 4, 2008 2:02 am

    On the topic of GMOs, I agree with Erinv that use of crops that have been engineered to tolerate our climate better could potentially help alleviate the strain put on world food supply by our rapidly changing climate; however I also must agree with marakardasnelson that wide use of GMO crops (at this point in time) could be extremely hazardous in the long run. Research into new means of ensuring food supply is great, but before widespread use of these crops begins, care needs to be taken that we aren’t introducing species that will negatively impact the current ecosystem. It has been proven numerous times that introducing new species to fix one problem can have devastating effects on the natural diversity of the area and end up causing an even bigger prblem in the long run. Increased susceptability to disease is a huge issue that needs to be addressed, especially as Alberta already has a large and growing problem with clubroot in canola crops. I don’t believe that there has been enough research into long-term effects of GMOs to release these products for wide-spread use. Our political leaders need to make policies that can have a positive impact on the global food situation in the short run while still making plans (like more research into GMOs) for the long-run

  30. marakardasnelson permalink*
    October 3, 2008 7:50 pm

    Hi Erinv.

    I agree fully with your comment that much of the current crisis–and perhaps more importantly the food crises that will inevitably occur in the coming years–are connected to climate change. However, the use of genetically modified organisms is still hotly contested, and rightfully so. While farmers may have access to crops that will be able to last through floods, droughts, etc. the overuse of GMOs is potentially devestating environmentally as it can severely diminsh biodiversity. Let’s say that all farmers in Alberta use a GM wheat that’s great in times of drought: this may be perfect in the short run, but if all other wheats are whiped out, what will we do if a there is a pest outbreak and our previously miracle wheat is now completely gone? I know it sounds like an Armageddon theory, but in reality it isn’t so out of reach. Furthermore, since GMOs are fairly new, we know little about their effects on human health. I do not deny that GMOs can potentially offer great benefits, but many argue that more research needs to be done before we fully advocate their use. Check out for more discussions on the governance of genetically modified organisms–it’s quite the hot topic and I’d like to hear your feedback on what scientists and policy makers are saying about their use.

  31. erinv permalink
    October 3, 2008 7:42 pm

    I think that most of us participating in this discussion would agree that there needs to be steps taken to better the global food situation that is being felt all over the world. The number one cause of this situation right not, in my opinion, is the rapidly changing climate. Nations all over southern Asia are feeling the impacts of how climate can impact their crop production. Similarly, farmers in northern Alberta, specifically the Beaverlodge area, have had a record dry year this year which severely impacted farmers in the area. Anytime a person looks in the paper, there is a hurricane coming, a typhoon getting ready to strike, floods and droughts. It’s no wonder that the agricultural industry in every nation is feeling the stresses of climate change.

    I think that the world needs to consider the advantages of genetically modified crops. Since the climate is changing faster that the developed nations can change their actions, the world needs to start growing crops that can also adapt to the climate shifts. For instance, wheat breeders in Canada are working on drought tolerant wheat that will be able to withstand extremely dry conditions and still yield well. The implications of this type of wheat around the world are very promising. Similarly, more northern nations are starting to grow crops that they were never able to grow before because of climate restrictions. Genetically modified crops have the ability to yield more, which means that there will be more grain to export/import around the world. In my opinion, genetically modified crops can help solve the food crisis is some of these struggling nation. The only obstacles; however, are the trade barriers that some countries have on these products and that some of these developing nations don’t have the equipment to properly plant or harvest these crops.

  32. October 2, 2008 11:29 pm

    Its true that, in the developing countries the upward price of the food commodities has been risen unbelievable, rising–and even accelerating–world food prices are causing serious problems to South Asia’s net food importers such as Bangladesh. To make matters worse, the country lost about 2 million metric tons of rice (7.3 percent of domestic production) in the twin floods of July-August and cyclone of November. To make up for the shortfall, Bangladesh is importing rice from its immediate neighbors. But i think for every developing countries, it needs to long term goal to maintain the productivity of the basic food items.

  33. October 2, 2008 11:12 pm

    Trade openness has been an unequivocally positive development for the poor in developing countries. Evidence on the relationship between trade development and inequality, on the other hand, is plentiful but inconclusive. Nevertheless, it is clear that trade is good for growth and that growth is good for the poor. In order to work best, policies opening a country to trade should be sequenced properly and accompanied by complementary reforms, so that the growth benefits of opening to trade can be maximized. Advanced countries have a role to play in helping developing countries reap the benefits of trade. Trade subsidies provided to agricultural producers in advanced countries are distortionary and hurt poorer countries. Their harmful effects far outweigh the amount of aid typically provided by donor countries. As the same time, it is also fair to say that trade distortions within poorer countries themselves are also highly damaging. Further progress is also needed in this area if the full growth potential of international trade is to be realized.

  34. October 2, 2008 8:56 pm

    Very interesting discussion everyone. I’d love to see you build on your ideas for reconciling the need to improve the food situation globally (particularly in Africa) and domestically. I’d also really like to see if people have ideas for bringing this back to the upcoming election – which leaders have addressed the issue of global inequality? Do you expect to see any discussion of these issues in the debate tonight?

  35. Katrin permalink
    October 2, 2008 7:55 pm

    Do you really think that it works if you are telling people if they grow that and that crop, we will buy it afterwards, if there is a reasonable price? Well, I don´t think that it is that easy; on the one hand, we already have many trade agreements with other nations with better infrastructure and economic conditions, so they can produce at a lower price than developing countries can; and I suppose that most people are not willing to pay much more for a product then they are used to. On the other hand, I think that people in poorer countries know best what to grow; what they might need is education about scientific research and new technologies.
    But , I like the idea of making a “contract” with developing countries about carbondioxid-emissions; so, if they work to preserve and improve their environment, they could gain money and hopefully improve in the same time their agricultural conditions.
    I think, the biggest problem is how to help without imposing our ways of thinking and living to them. There is a big lack of cultural identity, which has been disturbed too often by western exploitation of land and people.

  36. erinv permalink
    October 1, 2008 11:37 pm

    It is true that people in Uganda get paid $0.50/day to live and in our westernized opinions, they “scrape” by, but to a person in Uganda, they may be better off then anyone else in their village, which makes them successful. Why is it that the western world sees farmers in developing nations as “worse off” or in need of more and more support? Granted, I would never want to live in Uganda on only $0.50/day but that’s because I know what it’s like to live in a developed country. Additionally, giving these people only monetary support is not the answer; they need to be educated on how to use this money to better their agricultural practices. I feel that education in these nations is far more important than just handing them money and I’m curious to see how much Canada would be willing to invest, not only in monetary support programs, but also in educational support for these developing nations.

    On the flip side; however, not all Canadian producers are living a “lavish lifestyle”. I grew up on an Alberta farm and I can’t count how many people I know that have either lost their farm to BSE or are close to losing their farms because of the currently high input costs. These are the people that are contributing the products that you and I consume today and there are becoming less and less of them as the economy changes. Canadian producers are the people that government needs to protect and support because they are the ones that provide the products for our export markets, which essentially are sent to these developing nations to feed those living there.

  37. marakardasnelson permalink*
    October 1, 2008 11:11 pm

    I suppose the one response I have to the above comment is that it’s not necessarily easy for a Ugandan farmer to suddenly switch from one crop to another–issues like infrastructure, cost, education/knowledge come into play. So again, its far more than just a trade issue, or a simplistic North/South issue, but rather a question of what access to resources do these poorer farmers have, and how is this indicative of global inequality? Canada also already has a lot of major trading partners in warmer climates, such as Mexico and other places in Latin America: these partnerships are already fairly set in stone, and so Canada may not be interested in changing to a farmer who may have less infrastructure, knowledge, etc.

  38. corsullivan permalink*
    October 1, 2008 10:22 pm

    This must be setting a record for our longest comment thread on this blog so far! I thought I would bring ecology and climate into the discussion, in that conditions in different countries are conducive to producing different crops. As a result, we can presumably maintain high tarriffs on some agricultural products in order to protect our own farmers, while simultaneously remaining open to imports of crops that we have difficulty growing ourselves… but which, rather conveniently, are likely to do better in other parts of the world.

    If that hypothetical Ugandan farmer really does want to move from subsistence agriculture to participation in the global economy, a good strategy would be to grow something that Canada and other temperate nations want to consume but are unable to easily produce. Perhaps the best way for Canada to help is simply to assist other nations in identifying crops of this kind and working out how to grow them efficiently on a large scale.

    I’m not sure that simply doing away with all or most of our protective tarriffs would be desirable – relying too heavily on imported food would leave us vulnerable to all kinds of potential disruptions in other countries. In any case, it hardly makes ecological sense for a shipment of food that we could produce for ourselves to be shipped halfway around the world. As fossil fuels become more scarce, this may soon cease to make economic sense as well, and at that point we’ll be very sorry if we’ve lost much of our domestic agricultural capability in the meantime.

  39. marakardasnelson permalink*
    September 30, 2008 8:49 pm

    Hi all.

    I think you’ve all made some really interesting contributions to this topic, and I’ve been happy to read over them and see the diversity in thought and opinion. This is an extremely complex topic and one that cannot be fully discussed in one blog piece nor “solved” by any means in the upcoming election.

    I was most caught by Saad U’s post: I am by no means saying that in dropping all agricultural subsidies and tariffs the world’s food problems will somehow be alleviated. Of course the long history behind the way that we currently trade means that lifting today’s policies would do little to ammends those of the past. And, as you state, simply fixing inequality in trade will not suddenly make a poor African farmer a rich global exporter. So rather than taking the stance that I think we should drop these policies so that we can take care of “the South,” as you put it, I’m simply trying to encourage readers to be aware of how policies that are immediately important to us, especially in light of an upcoming election, can (understandably so) divert our attention from our role in the world. Immediate, often changing domestic issues are often portrayed crises during elections, and therefore demand more voter’s attention than long-term, continuous global issues.

    Finally, concerning your point about my $.50 statistic: I acknowledge that many farmers in Africa and other areas of the world are subsistence farmers, and therefore looking at indicators like access to housing, health care, and food can be more appropriate in determining the stability of their livelihoods. However, I also think it can be problematic to look at farmers in developing countries as somehow necessarily markedly different from farmers in the developed world. In saying that they are “subsistence” farmers, we understand them not as players on the global market but as somehow removed from any possibility of trade, as concerned only with their own very small livelihood and not with building businesses, etc. Although this may be true in some circumstances–or, to put it bluntly, if we look at the world from a simplisitic, dichotomous viewpoint–the way that we view developing world versus developed world farmers can simply perpetuate the idea that the global “North” is comprised of highly complex societies that focus on market systems, while the global “South” is stuck in an archaic system. Within this, it can be easy to assume that Canadian farmers, for example, are developed enough to not only grow their own food but also grow it for export and trade, while an African farmer is only able to (and only wants to) grow for him or herself; we not only assume that there is a difference between the two circumstances, but that African farmers would for some reason be happy only farming for themselves, that they don’t want to be involved with global trade. Of course $.50 a day is different in Canada and in Uganda: but isn’t that exactly the point when we’re discussing global inequality? Why do we have to view livelihoods, health and happiness in such different terms for developing and developed countries? And why do we assume that it’s okay for that Ugandan farmer to just scrape by, while we’re concerned about whether or not our Canadian farmers are making not only enough for food and shelter, but enough to live a lavish “Western” lifestyle. Of course our situations are different; but the very statement that we can’t be expected to live on only $.50 a day while they “can” is indicative of the gross inequality of our world.

  40. September 30, 2008 7:16 pm

    A great list of questions so far, including:

    How do we explore more efficient ways to reduce emissions and promote cleaner energy in the long run while still making a difference in the short run? How will this impact domestic agriculture and, consequently, global agriculture inequalities?

    How do you plan to reduce global inequality in regards to agriculture while providing for the needs of Canadians?

    Will you focus on domestic agriculture rather than get more and more “global”?

    In which way do you think to help poorer countries to develop their own economy and independency?

    Does this list seem like an accurate reflection of what all the commenters on this post feel are the important questions to ask about the global food situation?

    To Saad and lo-alyssa – you’ve got very unique perspectives on the situation, both focusing on the lack of altruism on the part of Canadians but drawing very different conclusions. Can you put your prescriptions for the global food situation in the form of a question you’d like to pose to the candidates?

  41. Katrin permalink
    September 29, 2008 8:24 pm

    Of cause, I agree too, that our policy of subsidizing agriculture affects world prices and economies in developing countries, which cannot afford so much subsidy payments for their own agriculture. But is it really that important to become a big player in the global market for such poor countries? I would say, that the primary goal should be to become independent in food matters. It is totally unreasonable to grow strawberries for Europe instead of cultivating millet or wheat for their own starving population. Food is the most important of all “surviving factors”, and being independent in food matters is the most important for a developing country, at least in my eyes.
    And this is not only true for developing countries, but for us all: if children don´t know, that milk comes from a cow and not out of the supermarket, how should they be aware about what is healthy to eat and what not? A steadily growing number of people gets sick because of wrong food, especially in the rich countries, and this causes billions of costs for our health system! So I think it is a bit short-sighted to buy only what is the most cheap on the market; it IS important to keep agriculture as divers and wide-spread as it is (or was?).
    So I am absolutely in favour of tariffs, subsidies and quotas; but I agree, that this is unfair against other countries, so why not develop a systems which taxes all exports, as a reversal of the given subsidy? The price then would be “fair”, but local food would still be less expensive than imported food.
    And in addition, we should help poorer countries to develop a stable agriculture system, by sharing knowledge and technology with them; I think, this is the better way than simply giving money, which can easily slip into the pockets of someone who does not need it.
    So, perhaps my question for a candidate would be: “Will you focus on domestic agriculture rather than get more and more “global”? And in which way do you think to help poorer countries to develop their own economy and independency?”

  42. drparon permalink
    September 29, 2008 6:58 pm

    Well said mweller! There is a commonality here, i think we all agree that both domestic and international issues are important to regard during the election. It is no longer exclusively about our own country, but it is also about the other countries we are interrelated with. Given the extent of glabalization, increased technology, shared information etc the area of influence has grown beyond the size of our country.

    For example, our agricultural subsidies do not only impact our producers and consumers but also the world price and the importing nations producers and consumers and vice versa.

    It is quite exciting to see how extensive our sphere of influence is! This is something important for the candidates to keep in mind, the balance between national and international.

  43. mweller permalink
    September 28, 2008 12:37 pm

    I think we all agree that Canadians should be more concerned with how our national policies affect other countries’ economies, but we tend to focus more on domestic concerns because those are the policies that we directly feel as citizens and consumers. This, of course, means that our leaders/potential leaders aren’t going to focus as much on the international rammifications of domestic policies concerning the global food situation. While I don’t quite entirely agree with Scott Y’s rather pessimistic view of my generation’s attitude toward trade barriers, I think we have every right to be concerned about the effects lowering agriculture subsidies would have on the future of our family farms. Canada has always been very protectionist towards domestic agriculture, and as a result farmers have become dependant on these policies in order to survive. I agree in principle to the suggestion that ag subsidies and trade barriers need to be lowered as a step towards lessening global inequality, however I also believe that (as drparon pointed out) we also need to address our own inequalities at home. Thus a question I would put toward the candidates is “How do you plan to reduce global inequality in regards to agriculture while providing for the needs of Canadians?”

    In regards to climate change, I think that this (rather contentious) issue needs to be explored more before policy changes can occur. Biofuels are a great idea, but how are we meant to produce enough ethanol to meet targets without damaging food production? Is a carbon tax really the best idea to reduce CO2 emissions? As it stands, I feel like none of the candidates really have that great of an understanding of the fundamentals behind the proposed policies they so casually promise to uphold or abolish. My question to the candidates is “How do we explore more efficient ways to reduce emissions and promote cleaner energy in the long run while still making a difference in the short run?” and “How will this impact domestic agriculture and, consequently, global agriculture inequalities?”

    Global inequality definitely needs to be addressed, but at the same time, we also need to make sure that our own consumers and producers aren’t greatly disadvantaged by policy changes.

  44. Saad U permalink
    September 27, 2008 7:17 pm

    When it comes to the relation of agricultural policies of the West in regards to the smallholder in Africa, it was concluded at the Doha rounds that the ideal situation of complete free trade would add, on average, 12% to the income of a common farmer in Sub-Saharan Africa. The conclusion basically gives you the idea that many of the problems that are associated with food security are very internal to the nations affected and trade is only a small part of change, and moreover a small part to a small portion of people.

    In regards to competitive trade, the historical subsidizing of many agricultural exports, even if they were lifted now, still have such an advantage over the production capacities of many African countries and would not end up having the intended effect they were supposed to. There seems to be an underlying mentality in the postings that the rich, and particularly Canada and similar nations have a role in this matter of food security or “poverty alleviation”, that there is some duty of helping “the South”.

    When you are quantifying how much we make in terms of 50 cents USD a day, it is misleading since the majority of the farmers of Africa are subsistence farmers and income is therefore not an adequate means of measuring poverty.

    Altruism is seldom a motivator for deciding policy, and Canada as well as other Western nations should not be expected to take “the South” into account. The truth of the matter is in most cases, at one point one has to look at us as capable of our own self-sufficiency and not poor, hungry, exploited masses dependent on decisions made in Ottawa or London. After all it is these export oriented policies encouraged by “development agencies” of Canada, Europe, and the States that designed this trade system in the first place.

  45. lo-allyssa permalink
    September 23, 2008 10:42 pm

    In terms of dealing with global inequality as an election issue, I think that there initially needs to be an attitude shift in the Canadian population before this really becomes a high priority issue. Particularly right now with the world economic future filled with so many uncertainties, individuals are very concerned with their own economic situation, which makes worrying about farmers on the other side of the world that much harder. It’s much more difficult to think globally when things locally are uncertain. While in theory I think that reducing global inequality is something that most people agree is a great thing, individuals are going to be less excited about it when it comes to them paying more for a product to do so. A good (unrelated) example of this is a carbon tax. Most economists seem to agree that taxing pollution is a necessary step when it comes to managing CO2 production, and in theory that looks great but when it comes down to it, individuals do not want to be the ones to pay for that reduction in CO2 emissions. When it comes to world policy, the biggest concern seems to generally be how it will affect Canada, and the well-being of other nations is considered only as a secondary matter. A shift in attitude needs to occur from thinking about the short term well being on the individual level of Canadians to a long term focus on the well being of the global community. Before this shift occurs, addressing global inequality will be a less than popular issue with most politicians and I don’t think will be a high priority topic with most voters. Creating changes in attitude towards global inequality is much easier said than done, but I think this website is a great start.

  46. September 18, 2008 12:20 am

    I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to another post, written after our Food for Talk event in Toronto:

    One of the things we’ve tried to grapple with in our dialogues and other work on food policy is the connection between local and global. Rather than dividing up approaches to food security as either “Canadians first” or “the Global South first” we look at the implications of the interconnectedness of our food system. Looking at food in this way helps Canadians realize that working globally opens up new opportunities. The relevant question isn’t whether local or global matters more, but rather how to connect these two levels in a mutually beneficial way.

    My question to bloggers and readers is:

    What kinds of questions would you put to the candidates in this election, to see if they have innovative ideas for mutually beneficial approaches to the global food crisis? Do you have any ideas of your own?

  47. drparon permalink
    September 17, 2008 10:44 pm

    I think that in addition, possibly even more importantly, to asking ‘how we will address the global food situation?’ One should ask ‘how we will address the current national food situation?’ It has been reported that in our own developed country those making below an average annual income have experienced being food insecure on a regualr basis. People in Canada are not at always getting their required/adequate amount of servings and nutrients. When you look at those people in remote communities, with a disability, depending on a student loan this number of indivuals experiencing food insecurities sky rocket. People in our country are very price senstive and they too are hit hard when prices of food increase. Yes, we may not be as underpriviledged, as a whole, as those in developing countries, but it is a very important issue that hits close to home. During this election maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if ‘Canadian voters put Canadian issues first’?

  48. kwk permalink
    September 17, 2008 2:33 am

    I would agree that most countries would like to have their own domestic supply of agricultural goods and that our subsidies and import restrictions are hindering their ability to do so. Our current policies provide benefits to exporters above and beyond what would normally be incurred through trade. As the above post mentioned we have established a system of dependence which is very comfortable for large exporting countries, but provides no chance for nations of “the global south” to develop their own industries. It is true that foreign farmers have no say in the coming election, but do we not have a moral responsibility to ensure that our trade policies are not amassing our wealth at the expense of others? The way I understand democracy is that we elect representatives to make decisions on our behalf; subsequently the citizens who elect them should be responsible for the outcomes of their decisions and trade policies. This key element of democracy seems to have been forgotten amongst our society, so maybe it’s time that we place our vote while being conscious of our responsibility for Canada’s effect on other nations.

  49. Scott Y permalink
    September 16, 2008 3:04 pm

    Are you suggesting that we lower our agricultural subsidies and open a global free trade-type market? This is exactly the issue that hamstrung the Doha talks – agricultural subsidies and national food security, and the vast majority of young people seem to be ardently opposed to the lower of trade barriers against the ‘Americanization’ of the world (as they listen to their Michael Moore-spewing, American-designed iPods). Myself, I don’t think we should stop considering the issue of lowering agricultural subsidies.

    But, it was my understanding that most countries (and a vast majority of their citizens) were NOT supportive of relying on foreign imports for their food supply. Yes, it would lower prices for basic agricultural goods and give developing economies a competitive advantage. But this will only ever exist in an economist’s wet dream. Why should any politician in a developed industrial democracy advocate for policies that could take voters out of their pocket? Yes, its a very sad story for a Congolese farmer, but for Harper, Dion, Layton and May this election won’t be decided by a Congolese farmer, but by Canadian voters who put Canadian issues first.

    Vote for the world dammit.


  1. The Canadian federal election, global inequality and the food crisis. « Canada’s World

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