Category Archives: WTO

Progressive Protectionism, Colin Hines – summary relating to food security

colin2-book-coverLocalised and secure labour intensive production would return a sense of hope for the future and economic security for the majority.

Decentralised infrastructure projects would focus on a decades long, multi skilled programme of energy refits of millions of dwellings, a shift to localised renewable energy and food production and building efficient local transport and flood defence systems.

In a sustainable system, would not each country aim to produce its own staple food? Surpluses and exotics could be exported, speculation in food by unproductive middlemen would be outlawed and vitally important food producers encouraged at every turn.

At present the UK can only feed around 60% of its population of 65 million, let alone the 8 million more projected in the next 15 years. In 2014 the UK supplied just over half (54%) of its food supply. The EU was by far the next largest supplier at 27%. It is clear that we depend on Europe to keep ourselves fed. The distribution of UK imports from Europe has changed relatively little over the last 15 years.

The UK’s food vulnerability could worsen for a number of reasons. The global availability of the food supplies that the UK at present imports could be dramatically reduced, due to rapidly rising global demand, particularly from Asia; or increased domestic demand from food exporting countries; or if we are unable to afford whatever the global prices might become.

These threats can be reduced, but are unlikely to be totally avoidable, even were the UK to increase enormously its present levels of food production, significantly cut food wastage and dramatically change its eating habits, eating far less meat.

Pressures on the UK’s food security are here to stay. As a big importer of food we can’t escape the threats posed by its future price and availability, caused by the increasing global population and rising affluence of sections of the world. As a food trading nation, Britain relies on food imports to feed itself and adequate exports of food and other goods and services to pay for these.

If exports reduced, reliance on global borrowing or tax increases would increase to cover the gap. This assumes that there will be adequate surplus food on the global market to meet our import needs.


Click for clearer picture – source:

The highest proportion of food and drink waste in the food chain occurred in households with 7 million tonnes being thrown away in the UK in 2012. Manufacturing contributed the second largest proportion of waste, at 26% (3.9 million tonnes), followed by hospitality with 6% (0.92 million tonnes).

A 2007 study ‘Can Britain feed itself?’ by Simon Fairlie estimated that it could, but that the dietary changes would be significant including far less meat consumption, feeding livestock upon food wastes and residues; returning human sewage to productive land; dispersal of animals on mixed farms and smallholdings, local slaughter and food distribution; managing animals to ensure optimum recuperation of manure; and selecting and managing livestock, especially dairy cows, to be nitrogen providers.

Colin adds that in the absence of supplies of imported rock phosphate, phosphorus rather than nitrogen might become the main constraint upon crop yields, in which case we would have to ensure rigorous recycling of animal manures, human sewage and slaughterhouse wastes. These measures demand more human labour, and more even dispersal of both livestock and humans around the country.


In a paper on the subject, Lawrence Woodward of the Organic Research Centre (Elm Farm, above) says:

“What are the technical problems involved in (feeding the world) organically? There are no really significant ones in the developed world. Of course there is room for improvement – for example weed control techniques could be better, progress can still be made on certain disease problems such as finding more blight resistant potato varieties – but there are no technical obstacles that would prevent organic farming producing enough food in the developed world. Just as long as it is not expected to maintain the chicken at 36p per pound type of diet.

“The obstacles to organic farming are economic and are governed by policy. Where this is sympathetic as in Germany and Denmark, a significantly large switch from conventional to organic production can occur without major difficulty.

“In resource poor countries organic farming, with its emphasis on biological Nitrogen supply, on maintenance and enhancement of organic matter, and on soil and water protection, is arguably the most appropriate farming system and the most sensible approach to feeding people”.

(Colin continues) I am a huge fan of most of the work of Global Justice Now. Their proposals are that foreign aid should be used to build up decent welfare states, sustainable public transport systems, environmentally friendly energy access for all. It should also support small-scale farmers producing healthy food primarily for themselves and local communities, and to help cooperatives and small business to produce for local and regional markets.[77]

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture would be changed under the World Localisation Organisation (WLO):


The vision expressed by the WTO agreement is of an integrated global agricultural economy requires that agricultural commodities be transported long distances, and be processed and packaged to survive the journey. When account is taken of all energy inputs, global food production and trade probably consume more fossil fuel than any other industrial sector. Thus international agricultural trade policies are likely to substantially increase greenhouse gas emissions and make climate objectives much harder to achieve.

Under the WLO all countries would be encouraged to reach maximum self-sufficiency in food. They would only export and import for the end goal of helping move towards maximum sustainable local production, whilst fostering rural regeneration. Trade in food which cannot be grown domestically should be obtained where feasible from neighbouring countries. Long-distance trade should be limited to food not available in the region. Those countries providing food exports should use the funds to increase their own level of food security and in a way that benefits rural communities.

Colin Hines:







Procurement prices ameliorate a system in which the trade squeezes farmers’ profit margin at harvest time

An edited extract from an article written by a New Delhi contact, Devinder Sharma, presents hints at an approach which might be welcomed and modified for use by those working for a fairer system for British food producers.

devinder 5Nearly half a century after the Green Revolution was launched in 1966 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, India has emerged out of the throes of a “ship-to-mouth” existence when food aid would come directly from the ships into the hungry mouths. The quantum jump in food production over the years has turned India into a net agricultural exporter. But while the Green Revolution certainly helped the country take care of its food needs, it bypassed the small and marginal farmers. At the same time, while production increased manifold, hunger grew.

Setting up a Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (then Agricultural Prices Commission) ensured an assured minimum support price for the farmers thereby providing them with an incentive to produce more.

At the same time, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) was set up to mop up the surplus harvests flowing into the dedicated agricultural markets, which were used for public distribution among the needy across the country through a vast network of ration shops.

Procurement prices, limited to staples – wheat and rice

Before the Green Revolution and the setting up of the Agricultural Prices Commission, farmers were free to sell their produce to anyone who offered them good prices. It was known to be an exploitative system wherein the trade squeezed the profit margin of farmers at the time of harvest. It was only when procurement prices were introduced that farmers got an assured price for their produce, and that is what encouraged them to produce more. Procurement prices helped farmers to realise a fair and better price for their produce.

selling wheat indian market

The WTO and pro-reform economists see less profit in food security

Pro-reform economists now call procurement prices an “archaic provisions of a socialist era” and want to abolish the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act (APMC) that allows farmers to bring the produce to designated markets where the private trade is first allowed to make purchases. Only when there are no private buyers left do the FCI or the State procurement agencies step in to buy whatever is available at the minimum support price or procurement price.

At the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) held at Bali in Indonesia in December 2013, the United States backed by the European Union challenged these food security provisions. An agreement was reached wherein India accepted a “Peace Clause” for an interim period of four years.

In those areas where markets operate freely, Sharma reports that the agrarian crisis is the worst

India’s own Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, however, is also asking that the procurement system, built so assiduously over the decades, be dismantled. The argument is that farmers should be left free to sell to whomsoever they want thereby encouraging better competition and thereby realize a higher price.

Considering that only 30% of India’s 600 million farmers have access to procurement prices, the markets should have helped the remaining 70% to reap a bounty. But that does not happen.

A fair procurement price for all produce might seem a totally unacceptable concept to ‘the trade’, but – it must be repeated until understood – food production is necessary for survival and therefore must be encouraged and assisted, not ruled by market speculation.


Export: the long-standing political answer to the problem of low farm gate prices

A summary of Michael Hart’s reply to views expressed by MP Neil Parish in the Western Morning News & the Conservative home website. Read the full account here.

michael hart 3Neil Parish was once a farmer but now, like most MPs, is out of touch with real life in saying the way forward for UK dairy farmers is to export – the long-standing political answer to the problem of low farm gate prices in all sectors, not just here but worldwide.

Rather than looking at and dealing with the real cause of the problems, the answer is always, “it’s all your fault as farmers for not exporting more, for failing to take advantage of new markets in countries like Russia, China, India and Brazil”.


In order to compete on world markets you need to have a lower cost of production than the other supplier countries, so how are we going to compete in such a market?

  • Australasian and south-central America will import from their neighbours.
  • More on China, Brazil and Russia
  • Middlemen benefit from exports – farmers don’t
  • Will producers reduce their margins and pay a fair price, above the cost of production? 

His conclusion:

While I agree there may be a possible export market for speciality cheese, for example, it is for the few, not the many who cannot compete on world markets due to their production costs. I suspect that government will fail to help dairy farmers with real solutions claiming it can not do so, due to WTO or EU rules or that it can not interfere with the “market” when in fact it is afraid of the large companies who control the food chain at the expense of both producers and consumers. And indeed to do so, would fly in the face of the current thinking by governments that big or better still even bigger is best and small is in-efficient and out-dated, that food should be cheap and that, like all governments worldwide, they see export markets as “the answer” for farming’s low farmgate prices.

Michael is a sheep and beef farmer in Cornwall, and also an ex dairy farmer. He has travelled widely, speaking on and researching agricultural issues.