International trading in farm output has only been practised on a large scale since roughly 1800.
Photo: FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

21.03.2017

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Will the world be able to feed itself adequately in 2030? Yes, our author maintains – provided that countries opt for lifting trade restrictions and thus ensuring an optimum and sustainable use of the world’s scarce resources. A brief history of international agricultural trade and some suggestions.

Long-distance agricultural trade has contributed to global economic growth and poverty reduction for millennia, but only in recent centuries via international trade in major foods. Its predominant contribution in earlier periods was through trade in crop seeds or cuttings, breeding animals, and farm production technologies. Since 1800, the ever-lowering cost of international commerce gradually allowed trade in farm outputs in raw or processed form. That has led to the prices of farm and other products converging within and across countries and indeed continents. Hence prices of labour and capital are also converging.

However, trade restrictions at national borders have limited international trade between relatively lightly populated economies that are well-endowed with agricultural land and those that are densely populated – as have sectoral and exchange rate policies. Price convergence across space and the efficiency of global resource use in agriculture are therefore less than they could be. This is worrying.

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