Trade and Climate Change Implications for Food Security: The case of mainland Southeast Asia

By Antonio Schiavone on June 24, 2010

There is little doubt that trade and climate change issues have (and will continue to have) important implications for food security, both at the national and regional levels in mainland Southeast Asia. However, the relationship of trade policy and climate change to food security is not straightforward. Making the right policy choices can be difficult. In fact, the cross-cutting nature of food security is being increasingly recognized by policymakers, though a full appreciation of its complexity still needs to be reflected in policy strategies. With the help of a country case study of Cambodia and by using a policy, trade and climate change perspective, this paper uncovers some of the underlying issues that determine food insecurity in the Mekong region.

Key findings:

  • Trade and climate change factors may impact on food security in three ways:

    • as a direct consequence of trade policies at the national and international levels (e.g., enhancing trade liberalization initiatives may stimulate exports, thus generating economic growth and increased incomes, and giving households greater capacity to access food);

    • climate change impacts on agriculture (e.g., more destructive weather-related events are predicted to take place in the future, which may affect food availability); and

    • as a result of the interlinkages between trade and climate change (e.g., climate change affecting global food availability will affect food prices, potentially triggering the adoption of restrictive trade policies).

  • Important lessons can be learnt by analyzing both the policies designed over the years by the Cambodian government and the effects on Cambodian food security of the 2008 food crisis and the 2008-10 global economic recession

Key recommendations:

  • Food security needs to be addressed holistically. The two external shocks (the 2008 food crisis and the 2008-10 global economic recession) highlight how food insecurity can be related to the overall vulnerability and weakness of the social and economic structure, beyond strictly agricultural issues.

  • Food security policymaking should follow a stronger participatory approach. When planning and implementing food security policies and programs, inclusive dialogue and participation enhance ownership, preventing the omission of potentially important priorities and increasing the impact of activities.

  • Food security needs to be addressed with a stronger long-term vision. Food insecurity is indeed a short-term emergency, but policymakers need also to look more into the future when dealing with this issue.

  • The need for a long -term vision also relates to climate change policies and how they affect food security.

  • As trade can play a fundamental role in ensuring food security, countries in the Mekong region should continue the integration and development path they have undertaken by joining the World Trade Organization, the Greater Mekong Subregion forum and ASEAN, and resist the temptation to adopt trade protective measures such as the establishment of a rice cartel of the kind that was proposed in the wake of the food crisis in 2008, but which never effectively materialized.

Report details

IISD, 2010