Infrastructure investment ‘needed to limit food shortages’

4 Jul 17

Global governments should invest in infrastructure that allows the easy passage of food around the world and avoids shortfalls and price spikes, according to a think-tank.

Chatham House pointed out that increasing volumes of traded food are now passing through 14 ‘chokepoints’ – where containers build up – which are susceptible to risks. 

“A serious interruption at one or more of these chokepoints could conceivably lead to supply shortfalls and price spikes, with systemic consequences that could reach beyond food markets,” the report Chokepoints and Vulnerabilities in Global Food Trade stated.

“More commonplace disruptions may not in themselves trigger crises, but can add to delays, spoilage and transport costs, constraining market responsiveness and contributing to higher prices and increased volatility.”

The risks to these ‘chokepoints’ – at sea and inland – include weather and climate hazards, security and conflict hazards [such as piracy and war] and institutional hazards [such as a decision by an authority to restrict the passage of food through export controls].

The think-tank suggested governments set up national-level independent infrastructure committees to advise on investment and policy decisions relating to major transport infrastructure. 

In countries where state-owned railways, roads, waterways or ports are failing as a result of poor management or underinvestment, they should adopt a ‘landlord’ model of public ownership and private concessions for critical infrastructure in countries, Chatham House recommended.

The most important inland and coastal ‘chokepoints’ are in the US, Brazil and the Black Sea, which accounts for 53% of global export of wheat, rice, maize and soybean.

Maize, wheat and rice account for 60% of the world’s global food energy intake and soybean is the world’s largest source of animal protein feed.

Dependency on chokepoints is increasing, Chatham House pointed out. It noted that, in the past decade and a half, the share of internationally traded grain and fertilizers passing through at least one of the maritime chokepoints has increased from 43% to 54%.

“New institutional and governance arrangements need to be negotiated and implemented at international and national level,” the report suggested.

The United Nations should identify critical food security corridors, the think-tank said, and governments in food-importing countries should undertake assessments of exposure and vulnerability to chokepoint risk at national and sub-national level.


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