The 1st Session of Liangxiang Forum | The Impact of Commodity Price Volatility on Food Security and Poverty in Asia: A Political Economy Analysis

On April 25, 2022, the Institute for International and Area Studies (IIAS) of Tsinghua University hosted the first lecture of “Liangxiang Forum” in the spring semester 2022 online and onsite. The lecture entitled “The Impact of Commodity Price Volatility on Food Security and Poverty in Asia: A Political Economy Analysis” was delivered by James Putzel, Professor of International Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and presided over by Dr. Li Yuqing, an assistant researcher at the IIAS. Li Xiaoyun, Chair Professor of Liberal Arts at China Agricultural University engaged in the dialogue session. More than 100 faculty members and students from Tsinghua University, China Agricultural University, Chiang Mai University, and other universities and research institutes at home and abroad attended the lecture.

Professor Putzel started from the current crisis between Russia and Ukraine to narrate the impact on food security posed by multiple crises of the era, such as climate change, COVID pandemic, international instability, etc. He analyzed the two prevailing concepts of food security, “self-sufficiency” and “international trade”, and put forward countermeasures to deal with them. Firstly, Professor Putzel pointed out that today’s food security is being challenged by a combination of crises, including climate change, financial crisis, COVID pandemic, wars and conflicts. These profound and complex challenges have reflected the structural changes in global governance: despite that the times calls for global cooperation and mutual trust, the world’s political and economic system is evolving towards a dangerous trend of polarization. In fact, the volatility in food prices has been evident since the 2008 global financial crisis. Indebted industrial farms become more vulnerable with capital exit and excessive financialization of the global agricultural system has exacerbated inequality between developing and developed countries. In addition, under climate change, extreme weather events and natural disasters happen more frequently while drought, torrential rain and floods have impacted agricultural production that depends on water and soil. The continuing spread of COVID pandemic is testing the resilience of agricultural production, especially small farms. According to data jointly released by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the food security index of African countries such as the Republic of Congo, Mali and Chad fell sharply in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. The recent conflict between Russia and Ukraine has had a huge negative impact on global food security. Russia and Ukraine are the world’s No. 1 and No. 5 wheat exporters respectively, and Ukraine is the world’s fourth-largest corn exporter and the largest supplier of sunflower oil. The conflict between the two countries has stricken the global food supply chain, sending prices sharply higher than at any time since 1990.

The aforementioned crises have prompted a rethink of the food security concept around the world. Professor Putzel stated briefly that the ideas and practices of countries dealing with food security issues after World War II can be categorized into “self-sufficiency” and “international trade”. The concept of “self-sufficiency” advocates state-led food production and agriculture policies. Countries realize food sovereignty and security by establishing a state-owned food production system and guaranteeing food prices by government policies. By contrast, the neoliberal “international trade” model advocates giving full play to the comparative advantages of each country in the food industry chain through international division of labor and market trade, so as to improve the efficiency of global food production.

Combining the current global food price crisis with the concept of food security, Professor Putzel argued that the world is calling for a more equitable and sustainable global food system. This will require research and application of Agroecology, increased R&D and investment in green agricultural technologies, and adaptation of the role of countries and enterprises in food and agriculture production. Maintaining peace in the global food and agriculture production system is maintaining lasting peace in the world.

During the dialogue session, Professor Li Xiaoyun mentioned that the world is now facing the crisis of “deglobalization”, and developing countries have revealed certain vulnerability in food security. Professor Putzel’s analysis of the two food security concepts points to a probe into the agriculture’s nature. Every country faces a trade-off between productivity and equitable sustainability when developing food and agriculture policies. Food sovereignty is the right of every country to maintain and develop its own productive capacity. It is a basic right and the basic fairness that we should respect and attach importance to, said Professor Li.

After the lecture, Professor Putzel, Professor Li Xiaoyun and the audience discussed about the food security policies of Southeast Asian countries, the role of government in food security, ecological value evaluation and ecological compensation system.

James Putzel is Professor of Development Studies at the LSE. He served as a member of the British Academy’s Southeast Asia Committee, a Managing Editor of the Journal of Development Studies, and Director of the Development Studies Institute. He is most well-known for his book, A Captive Land: The Politics of Agrarian Reform in the Philippines

Li Xiaoyun is Chair Professor of Liberal Arts at China Agricultural University, member of the Social Science Committee of the Ministry of Education and member of the Expert Advisory Committee of the Leading Group on Poverty Alleviation and Development of the State Council. He served as a member of ESRC/DFID Expert Consultation, and a member of the Expert Consultation of DFID Emerging Countries Programme. His research interests include development theory, international development assistance, African development, rural development, and sustainable resource management. His major books include South-South Cooperation: China’s Practices and Implications and The Future of Development Assistance: The Dilemma of the Western Model and the New Role of China.

Edited by: Song Tianyun
Proofread by: Southeast Asian Studies research group

Typeset by: Cheng Yao