Chatham House launches resourcetrade.earth and Tim Benton writes an introduction on global food trade
The website resourcetrade.earth developed by Chatham House enables users to explore the dynamics of international trade in natural resources (including food and agricultural commodities), the sustainability implications of such trade, and the related interdependencies that emerge between importing and exporting countries and regions.
The visualization tools permit users to explore, assess and gain new insights into resource trade between countries, regions and groups in over 1,350 different types of natural resources. It also includes indicative data on the land and water embodied in some of these (non-livestock) agricultural flows - where available - to give a more holistic sense of the environmental significance of resource trade.
A blog-post by Professor Tim Benton (one of the FCRN’s advisory board members) introduces some of the links between global food trade and food security and food system sustainability. Benton highlights the need to address systemic risks created by the increasing interconnectedness of our global agricultural system. He highlights the dynamic way that food trade evolves and how a stable political climate is what favours the current model of comparative advantage-based trade exchanges. In a more protectionist world order (driven by Brexit and Trump) current trade relationships may well be disrupted with serious consequences for food security from rising prices, in turn potentially leading to increased intensification and further land use change and deforestation.
He writes: “Protectionism in the US could therefore be a triple setback for the potential of meeting the Paris climate agreement: with the reduction of climate change mitigation, re-intensification of fossil fuel use, and potential land use change from changing agricultural trade.” In his view, food trade can be seen as a guarantor of food security, but we need to recognize the risks that trade brings in order to ensure that global and local food systems maintain their resilience in the face of disruptions.
While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.