From an agriculture that mostly was producing locally for a local market with a straight forward production chain, the organization of food production has become more complex and structured over time. As we moved towards always more integration, traceability and globalized markets, the roles and bargaining positions of the different actors has changed.
Facing the possibilities of more food riots in the future, if we are not in a position to make food affordable for all, we certainly can expect to see new power struggles emerge.
If we place ourselves in a scenario of food shortage, it is normal to assume that the power would be in the hands of whoever owns the food. But who is the owner, or better said who is actually in charge?
Is it the retailer? Is it the farmer? Is it the owner of the land on which the crops are grown? Is it the futures contract trader? Is it the seed supplier? Because without farmers, there is not much food in the stores; and without seeds, farmers cannot grow much food, and without food, no futures contracts to negotiate.
In the same way, who should decide where to the food would go? Does it belong to the country and the people who produce it, or does it belong to a corporation that prefers to sell it abroad? In a situation of shortage, this could lead to serious conflicts.
Corporations look primarily at markets and try to maximize their profit. That is their mandate.
Governments have a different look at things, as politicians want to have happy citizens, so that their position of power can continue. All they want is avoid social unrest.
Potentially, this can lead to new regulations and even to the possibility of nationalizations if companies and governments do not agree.
To get back to the example of seeds and genetics, there is a growing responsibility resting of the shoulders of breeding and genetic engineering companies. Not so long ago, let’s say a bit more than a century, there was much more genetic diversity in agricultural crops and farm animals. This diversity has shrunk quite significantly and we face the potential risk of not having the right genes available if we were to face a natural situation that would eradicate plants or animals as a result of inability to resist and to adapt to the new conditions these organisms must deal with. The genetic pool used to be a collective asset, but it has moved more and more into a private asset. About this, too, one can wonder who is in charge and who has ownership, and what could the consequences be.
As long as we are not facing any severe supply unbalance, the current situation will probably linger as it is a bit further, with the players having the most power trying to grow their position and influence other deciders to their advantage, but this kind of consensual vagueness about who is the owner of food will sooner or later cause some major shake-up.
Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.