US research has shed light on how trade and the centrality of the global wheat trade network, affects food security.
The study shows that many nations depend on trade to fulfil their food needs and that the global wheat trade is concentrated in a handful of countries whereby disruption in only a few countries would have global impacts.
Led by researchers at the University of California, Davis, in conjunction with the International Food Policy Research, the study calls for a greater emphasis on regional and localised food systems, because well-functioning local food systems more effectively counter shortfalls and disruptions in the larger globalised food system.
Co-author of the study Catherine Brinkley said global grain supplies were now at the forefront of global trade concerns: “Food grains – wheat, maize and rice – account for over 50% of human caloric consumption and underpin global food security.”
Subhashni Raj, assistant professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, added that the war in Ukraine, combined with supply chain issues, had contributed to price increases in cereal grains and food prices globally, but particularly in the Global South (Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Pacific Islands, and developing countries in Asia, including the Middle East) where countries rely on cereal imports.
The researchers also found that having more agricultural land does not necessarily translate to higher levels of national nourishment.
Brinkley said: “One might expect that having lots of farmland would help buffer against hunger. Yet, agriculturally rich areas of the world are often literal battlegrounds for control over resources.”
The food resources are often plugged into the vast globalised food chain with little to no positive impact on communities where the chain started, the researchers said, undercutting the food security of their own people to leverage the country’s advantage in the international food economy.
Countries in the Global North, with low production capacities control a significant share of that supply chain giving their purchasing power and location adjacent to important wheat trade hubs.
“Historically, patterns of wealth accumulation through colonisation and the slave trade are also visible when you look at the global wheat trade. Many European countries with limited agricultural lands find themselves highly central to the global wheat supply chain, reflecting trade agreements and trade patterns that emanated from their colonial past, “ Raj said.
Researchers used international wheat data to reconstruct the global trade network and identify the most influential countries. They found that countries most central to the global grain trade account for more than half of all wheat exports globally by volume:
This makes the global wheat value chain vulnerable, as a shock to one of these countries is likely to propagate across the globe.
“That is the curse of operating with a food system where components, big or small, are all connected,” added Brinkley
The study, “Connected and Extracted: Understanding how centrality in the global wheat supply chain affects global hunger using a network approach” has been published in the journal PLOS One