Year 13 wins Royal Geographical Society Prize

Year 13, Tom Spencer, has been awarded joint second place in the prestigious Royal Geographical Society’s essay writing competition for the following essay. Congratulations Tom!

Assess the view that food insecurity is undermining economic and social progress in the Global South

“He who comes first, eats first”, (Eike von Repkow, 1220). This statement is currently more apt than ever before. Living on Earth there are currently 925 million under-nourished people, 98% of whom live in developing nations. Countries to the south of Brandt line, which was first presented in the Brandt Report of 1980, have a lower level of economic and social development than those to the north. The choropleth map below highlights a strong correlation between these nations and worldwide levels of undernourishment.

Food security is defined as all people having physical and economic access to their basic food requirements at all times. In addition to the aforementioned undernourished population, a further 1 billion people worldwide lack total food security. Security is achieved by increasing the food ceiling, the population limit that can be supported through current production techniques. Since the 1960’s, world food production has rapidly increased due to Boserupian style innovations in farming. These advancements can be seen to have a strong effect on the economic and social development of MEDCs such as the United Kingdom.

Development of the UK closely follows Clarke’s Sector Model for development that highlights the change in types of employment over time. During the period 1750 – 1850 the UK experienced the initial stages of the industrial revolution, preceded by agricultural revolution that allowed drastic demographic changes.

Mass migration took place as people moved from rural to urban areas in search of job opportunities. This allowed farming to become much more extensive due to an increased availability of land, therefore raising agricultural productivity as inefficient subsistence farming diminished.

Initially in this period over 80% of Britain’s 5.7 million population lived in rural areas, however this figure decreased by 30% as urbanisation took place.

Through the 1800’s, technological advancements caused a large increase in food production and achieved longer term food security as mechanisation pushed the food ceiling ‘upward’. This aided the increasing commercial farming styles which otherwise required high levels of labour input. Improvements in technology accounted for continuous increases in UK food output through to the early twentieth century. By this time, food production in the UK had tripled in quantity from before the industrial revolution.

A final factor that allowed the UK to maintain food security was economic growth itself. In 1939, UK population had grown to 38.8 million, a size which could not be fully dependant on domestic produce. Due to increased wealth in the UK, imports accounted for 23% of all food sales; this highlights how economic growth can become a factor in achieving food security!

The UK economy was revolutionised by manufacturing industries who’s motive was profit and growth; food security provided a strong, healthy workforce that allowed sustained economic growth as Britain’s economy expanded through overseas trade. Furthermore, farming became profitable if carried out on a larger scale. This promoted income growth, which in turn led to positive multiplier effects in the UK economy as disposable income increases allowed more consumer spending.

In contrast to MEDCs, there are many examples, particularly in the global south, of food insecurity hindering the progression of nations both economically and socially. Economic insecurity is the result of economic under-development and it often limits long term growth rates. This has occurred in the Huehuetenango department in Guatemala. Here incomes are low as 70% of the population lives in poverty and over 58% of people are aged below 19 years old. Consequently farmers struggle to make a profit off their produce due simply to a lack of ability to pay. Producers have turned to cash cropping in order to gain a reasonable income. Coffee and Tobacco exports account for 43% of the Department’s income. The under provision of food has occurred as a direct result of low incomes, and economic insecurity has resulted. Moreover social problems have arisen, particularly with public health. The department has a youth population of 448,000, 30% of whom suffer from malnourishment and related diseases such as Rickets.

A similar problem has arisen in Sudan, which relied upon cash cropping upon gaining independence in 1955. Unpaid loans taken out to start up the agricultural industry have resulted in spiralling debts for Sudan, especially as demand for goods such as cotton, which accounts for 52% of exports, have fallen sharply. From 2000 to 2011, national debt increased by 58% from $24 billion to $38 billion. Consequently, Sudan cannot develop economically as all earnings must be used to repay debt. People have been left reliant on aid. In addition, local producers are often forced out of business by the dumping of goods under cost price by foreign producers, such as subsidised US farmers. Imports only worsen the level of national debt. Sudan  is effectively unable to grow. Foreign intervention often makes such economic problems worse. Since 1986 Tanzania has been subject to numerous Structural Adjustment Programmes by the IMF due to unpaid debt payments. Although it had achieved food security this was lost as the IMF forced Tanzania to liberalise its markets and switch agricultural production to cash crops such as tobacco in order to increase income for debt repayment. The open market encouraged inflows of imported produce as dumped goods increased. The nation now relies on foreign aid; debt repayment accounted for 13% of all government spending in 2011.

Social problems also occur as a direct result of food insecurity. The Caatinga region in north-east Brazil, has suffered mass out migration in recent decades due to insecurity. Dam construction along the Sao Francisco river has reduced the availability of fertile land and a poor farming climate has greatly limited agricultural output. 3 million people from the region have relocated to cities since 1990 in search of a reliable income. This has produced social problems, particularly with housing in cities such as Recife, where Favelas highlight the rapid urban sprawl. Crime rates are high and the provision of services by the government is difficult due the the unplanned growth of such areas. One method used to reverse this trend is via a government redistribution scheme. Grants incentivised people to move inland, taking up agricultural professions away from the heavily developed east coast. Over 95% of the Pantanal tropical wetland region, which covers 111,000 sq/km, is now privately owned, primarily for cattle ranching. However, the government has incurred a large cost in the form of environmental damage, catalysing future food production problems.

Food security both supports and stimulates economic growth. This is highlighted by MEDCs such as the UK, which has had permanent security, when compared to a variety of countries from the global south. Social unrest is minimised by the achievement of food security as tensions are often the result of economic food insecurity, and  problems such as income gaps are less prominent when it is not present. However, food security alone is not the only limiting factor on developing nations in the south. Economic progress is achieved through increased global trade, and export access to foreign markets. Trade blocs such as the EU greatly reduce the quantity of goods that many nations can export. Senegalese tomato producers face inspection charges of $7 per 100kg they export to the EU. This greatly reduces competitiveness, and limits  incomes as they are unable to sell all of their goods in an already saturated domestic market. Producers also compete with TNCs which benefit from economies of scale, and vertical integration. Costa Rican banana producers face punitive transport costs and generate small incomes due to their quantity of output. In contrast, the grower Dole, produces in high quantity from a 826ha plantation in Costa Rica, and transports its own bananas directly to the EU. Costs are minimised and Dole is able to set wholesale prices that under-cut independent producers.

In conclusion it must be recognised that food security itself is caused largely by a lack of economic and social development and therefore cannot be considered a true cause of under-development. Agricultural revolutions such as that experienced in the UK only offer short term food stability to a nation, however total security is only achieved once a country has progressed fully into a developed nation and can source beyond its domestic capabilities. In many circumstances, food insecurity is worsened by socio-economic underdevelopment. In Brazil and China the creation of a dual-society, which is emphasised by poor access to basic food requirements and large income gaps, has occurred due to these nations’ premature development. Following Clarke’s Sector Model, mass urbanisation and industrialisation took place in both of these nations before farming methods and techniques had developed to a point at which they could support a largely urban population. Consequently food insecurity has been directly worsened due to a lack of appropriate development. All nations must under-go an agricultural revolution which provides short term food stability. This allows the chance for economic expansion which itself prevents food insecurity due to the growth of national incomes. He who develops first, eats first.

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