The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) recently held a seminar discussing the changes in politics of food and agriculture in the 21st Century. In the seminar, Robert Paarlberg discussed his new book, ‘Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know’, which explores the powers in the current food system. He claims that the way that agricultural production and food politics is governed by political powers, both in developed and developing countries, are not connected to dealing with the food crises that exist today.
Paarlberg argues that policy changes in rich countries are favouring the cultural values of a sophisticated elite that claim to speak for food safety, food quality and social justice in response to the modern obesity crisis. He explains that this group have adopted a pre-industrial food system that is ‘organic, local and slow’, which doesn’t represent the needs of those who actually suffer from obesity.
The message that Paarlberg explores in his book is that this line of thinking has spread to pre-industrial economies in developing countries, where food systems are organic and slow and consequently farmers have low yields, low incomes and suffer from malnourishment.
According to Paarlberg, this influence of the politics of OECD countries on those of non-OECD countries, puts rural farmers at a disadvantage and doesn’t lead to economic growth. Summarising his conclusions, he states that ‘the alignment of political power isn’t very well connected to the location of the most important social needs.’