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S. Ito: Establishing Food Security

Address to the International Leadership Conference
Seoul, Korea - February 9-13, 2014

People desire to achieve a high level of food security. The higher it is, the better. Then, how can we establish such food security especially when any incidents occur? Such incidents are the question. Politicians often refer to emergency cases with statements such as: “if an emergency such as war occurs,” or “if food supplies are blocked by some enemy countries.”

Emergency cases can be divided into two categories: (1) wars and similar incidents and (2) natural disasters. The first ones are caused by human being, while the latter ones are caused by nature, which human beings can NOT control. Wars are intentionally created by people, and thus they can be avoided by people Food security can be devastated by both categories of incidents, and although it may be hard to get help from other countries during a war, it is certainly easier to get help in times of natural disaster.

When food is a concern, domestic agriculture is always involved. In other words, domestic food producers, namely, farmers, are involved. During free trade negotiations, the farmers are often opposed to it. They try to protect themselves by advocating that free trade would destroy food security: The more we import, the less we can be assured of food security. This tends to scare people.

Generally, farmers are politically very strong. Because they live in the same society for generations, the cohesiveness among the farmers in a region is quite solid. Therefore, the farmers often exercise greater political strength than the numbers of their voters. This influences politics. Politicians have to listen to them in order to be reelected. Even top political figures have to speak on behalf of the farmers, insisting on the protection of farmers and against the freer trade in agricultural goods. Even though that is the case politically, politicians do not talk that way. Instead, they often talk about cases of emergency such as wars. Such an advocate would say, “If we are surrounded by the enemy, we cannot survive without having adequate domestic food supplies.” This certainly scares people. The media tend to state things the same way and scare people. By nature, the media tend to scare people. Politicians tend to get more votes by making enemies, and the media may get more attention by scaring people rather than by providing mostly news, and such scary news may bring more business for the media.

What is the best means for establishing food security? We know the case of Singapore, which has had practically zero self-sufficiency in food for many years, but the country has established a peaceful environment and has achieved high economic performance. Their per capita national income is even higher than that of Japan or South Korea. The food self-sufficiency rates in Japan and South Korea are approximately 40 percent of their calorie base, much higher than that of Singapore. But still, governments often scare people by focusing on the rates.

In fact, the food security issue is used for political purposes, not necessarily for protecting the whole nation. Because of this, people in many countries suffer from inefficient market systems. In reality, the food self-sufficiency rate in Tokyo is 1 percent, and it might be even worse in Seoul. If this were the case a couple of hundred years ago, it would be a serious problem. Cities such as Tokyo and Seoul could have easily been attacked by the surrounding tribes. Nowadays, however, nobody is scared [of food shortages] in such big cities, except in case of natural disasters. Good relationship with the neighboring areas mean security for the big cities, in spite of the low food self-sufficiency rate.

If a mega-size earthquake occurs, the situation would be disastrous. Definitely, assistance from the world would be needed, and good relationships among countries would bring assistance from the outside to cope with such an emergency case, which we cannot predict even one hour before with the modern technology that we have developed.

Now, it is obvious that we need to build and maintain good, peaceful relationship among countries rather than creating enemies in order to gain political advantage domestically. The media and education have to be cautious about selfish politics. Instead of scaring people, we need to advocate generating better relationships across the world. Unlike Japan and South Korea, where land suitable for agricultural is limited, there are many developing countries where land is available to be developed for agriculture. In Southeast Asia as well as South America and Africa, there are tremendous amounts of land available to be developed for agriculture. Economically advanced countries should assist the developing countries with new technology and finances.

To achieve this, the role of media and education is very important. Rather than being pessimistic, they should promote a hopeful viewpoint that if peace can be established in the world, that is the key for true food security in each country. It is important that the media and education move in this direction and carry out their roles with this aim.