The Southeast Asia region comprises ten countries that are surrounded by China in the North, Japan to the East and India in the West. These countries are Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. It also includes Singapore, Brunei, Laos, and Myanmar. Southeast Asia consists of the poorest countries of the world while others are Asian economic hub. In this regard, Singapore and Brunei present the latter whereas Laos and Myanmar are on the other end of the spectrum. Many of these countries have recorded a significant increase in their population with reduced agricultural land. The effects of climate change, in particular, have negatively impacted on the Southeast Asia economies which significantly depend on agriculture. With such profound consequences on agriculture and economy, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries have raised concerns on food sustainability in the region.
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The paper, however, narrows its scope and critically evaluates the relationship between food sovereignty and food security in Thailand. Food and nutrition security refers to the availability of foodstuff in the markets and logistically in the warehouses regardless of their origin, whether locally produced or imported. It also means a condition where “all the people at all-time have access to nutritious, safe, and sufficient food to meet their dietary needs.” Food sovereignty, on the other hand, refers to a condition where people can potentially produce and market their foodstuff while exporting the surplus to the international markets.
Over the past few decades, ASEAN countries have been under pressure to remove their barriers to free trade. This policy increases the flow of goods and services from Thailand to foreign markets and vice versa. The removal of trade barriers will enable Thailand to create international markets and consequently growing local agricultural production of rice and other staple foods. As such, food sovereignty and food security positively correlate. The two aspects interconnect since food sovereignty enhances food security by increasing the country’s food self-sufficiency, self-reliance, food accessibility and its availability to the population.
The Status of Food Sovereignty and Food Security in Thailand
The previous studies show that Thailand is one of the food security countries in the Southeast Asia. However, it has attained this state at a macro-economic level, but the accessibility of staple food such as rice at the rural, remote areas, especially among people living in poverty is still a problem. The fluctuations in global food prices and production costs have destabilized the country’s food security. Thailand’s implementation of trade barriers, in particular, has worsened its food security since it leads to a decline in the production of rice, the country’s staple food.
However, Thailand has not achieved food sovereignty since it has not attained food security in its remote areas. It suggests that while Thailand exports surplus rice to the foreign markets, the needy families in the remote areas struggle to acquire nutritious food at a household level. Restrictive trade policies, in this case, has led to a decline in the household’s purchasing power and people’s ability to access foodstuff that meets their nutritional needs. Therefore, it is apparent in this perspective that Thailand can attain food security only if its food sovereignty policies aim to increase agricultural production of rice as a staple food.
The primary objective of food sovereignty and security is to meet people’s dietary needs and thus the two are closely related in their policy framework. The former enables Thailand to control production, distribution, and consumption of staple foods. Its policy framework enhances a country to meet the dietary needs of its population while earning from the export of surplus food. Food security, on the other hand, increases the availability of staple foods such as rice without considering self-reliance in agricultural production. Hence, it is worth noting in this perspective that Thailand should focus on implementing food sovereignty policies since it encourages domestic production of rice and other staple foods. This aspect is the basis of encouraging local production, unlike, food security that focuses on meeting the dietary needs of the population without considering the source.
Trade policies at a national and international level determine the status of a country’s food sovereignty and food security. Thailand, in particular, is implementing trade policies to stabilize the price of its rice and another staple foodstuff. Also, the goal of its policy framework is to support domestic agricultural production and thus attain self-sufficiency in staple foods. It is argued in this context that free trade agreements between Thailand and other Asian countries positively correlates with nutrition security and food sovereignty. In other words, the removal of barriers to free trade supports the country in achieving food security both at the household and national level. With the current situation, large scale producers of rice do not have the opportunities to sell their produce in the international markets. Hence, the removal of free trade barriers provides opportunities for consumers to buy from global markets. It also alleviates food insecurity besides promoting export development.
Food sovereignty relates to food security in that both are aimed at enhancing food sufficiency and availability of rice among another staple foodstuff. The availability of large tracks of arable land supports Thailand’s food sovereignty policy framework andalleviation of dietary insecurity.In this case, the Southeast country’s total land area is estimated to be 51.31 million hectares. Of this land, 40% is arable land that is under cultivation. The country’s cultivation of rice accounts 60% of its arable land. The other crops are upland crops (20.84%), tree crops (19.31%), and vegetables at 0.32%. However, previous studies indicate that there is a declining trend in the total rice cultivation area. The net returns from orchard have increased and thus encouraging people to expand the land for its cultivation. The table below shows the trends in the change of arable land for rice as a staple food alongside other crops.
|Period||Share of Planted Area (%)||Average cultivation|
|Upland Crop||Rice||Tree Crops||Vegetables||Total||(Million Ha)|
Source: Office of Agricultural Economics (see note 7.pp3).
The relationship between food sovereignty and food security is that they are interconnected. Rice is the staple food in Thailand; the government has initiated policy frameworks to attain food security. However, the country has not yet achieved a state of food sovereignty since the people who are directly involved in agricultural production do not control policies and the mechanisms that underpin rice production. The government is exporting a surplus of its staple foodstuff when the rural populace is struggling with the effects of food insecurity. This aspect suggests that a high cost of rice production has rendered many people unable to access the staple food at affordable.
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Food sovereignty and food security relate to managing fluctuations in the price of staple foods. Food sovereignty enables Thailand to withstand global volatility in the price of rice, as a staple food. Food security on the hand renders the local consumers susceptible to the fluctuations in the price of staple food. It implies that Thailand would not be self-reliant in the production of rice and another foodstuff that the population needs to improve their health and meet their dietary needs if it does not focus on self-reliance. Therefore, it is apparent in this context that Thailand should embrace policies that allow free trade through the removal of the underlying barriers. This aspect is necessary for the Southeast Asia country to attain food sovereignty besides alleviating the effects of food insecurity. This approach enhances the country to reach a state of self-sufficiency and self-reliance in the production of its staple foodstuffs. Since the country’s nationals have control over the production of rice and its distribution channels, it makes it easy for domestic consumers to access food at affordable prices.
Focus on food sovereignty makes Thailand an exporting nation that is self-sufficient in the production of rice and other forms of staple foods. This aspect implies that the farmers would have opportunities to sell their produce to the international markets. Also, farmers would enjoy higher income by exporting their surplus produce to the markets of their choice. The ultimate effect is that food sovereignty improves people’s ability to access affordable, quality, healthy, safe and nutritious food from the international markets. Focus on food security, in contrast, does not empower the populace to control their local production and marketing of the locally-produced staple food both in the national and international markets.
The Linkage of Free Trade Policies to Food Sovereignty in Thailand
The Ministerial Declaration of the WTO Doha Conference of 2001, recognized the relationship between food sovereignty and international trade policies. It acknowledged that multilateral trade negotiations play critical roles in stabilizing markets to enhance food and nutritional security. The ministerial conference further acknowledged that the developing countries, which Thailand is one of them, require differential treatment in negotiating trade policies. Accordingly, it is argued that food security and free trade policies are interconnected. Trade policies shape the landscape of food security directly through food availability and indirectly through the effects on stability and the accessibility of food.
Hence, Thailand should incorporate an aspect of free trade policies when formulating its food sovereignty policy framework. It leads to an increase in government revenue and enhanced domestic production which improves the availability of food at a national level. These effects are spread to the household level where it increases individual income from the sale of rice, and access to diets that meets people’s nutritional needs. The ultimate effects are the fact that liberal trade policies enhance the country’s nutritional security besides promoting the attainment of food sovereignty in the economy.
Thailand is a member of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN). The latter is a regional integration that brings together Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines. Malaysia. In 1992, the economic bloc negotiated and signed the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) to lower tariffs on the selected products. This aspect improved the availability of affordable food in Southeast Asia and thus economic growth. By the end of 1999, all the countries in Southeast Asia had joined AFTA after realizing its critical role in the implementation of food sovereignty policies. The previous studies that used per capita daily dietary energy supply (PES) shows a positive and direct correlation between food security and free trade agreements among the ASEAN member states. Also, the literature is in consensus that the removal of trade barriers to free trade, especially in the Southeast Asia countries leads to a moderate increase in the level of PES over time.
The correlation between food security and free trade policies in Thailand and other Southeast Asia countries has been analyzed in the literature. The previous studies that explored this relationship using price transmission models and equilibrium analysis show a positive relationship. It points out that trade liberalization reduces poverty and price fluctuations. Also, it increases household income and reduction of poverty, which leads to food security in the long-run. It is worth noting in this perspective that the elimination of barriers to free trade make stable foodstuff and other diets cheaper by making food physically available to the consumers. Since the 1970s, the Thailand government has been controlling vital industries of the economy, particularly sugar, rice and finance sectors. State regulations on the production of the country’s staple food suggest that food sovereignty is not yet attained. While the state has implemented policies to alleviate food insecurity, it is no doubt that much needs to be done to achieve food sovereignty.
However, it a precondition that for a country to attain food sovereignty, then it must have food security. This argument supports my thesis that food sovereignty and food security are interconnected to increase the availability of foodstuff. Thailand has maintained social control of its food system. As such, it suggests that the country’s food security entirely depends on the policies and the initiatives implemented by the state. While rice is a staple food in Thailand, some household units cannot afford rice produced domestically. Scientists have argued that Thailand and other Southeast nations need food sovereignty since it focuses on ecological sustainability. This aspect is critical amid climate change, and rapid growth of population.
The Nyeleni Declaration outlines preconditions that are necessary for food sovereignty in any country. First, the income should give the people directly engaged in agricultural production a living wage, security of housing, cultural rights, and tenure security. Secondly, the food system should be able to end the dumping of agricultural produce below the cost of production. Thirdly, there should be interdependence between the consumers and the producers. The past agrarian development policy in Thailand, however, has focused on food security and the exportation of the surplus produce. The country’s production of rice, in particular, has significantly increased with many farmers focused on large scale farming. Nonetheless, urbanization has led to changes in dietary needs. This aspect suggests that food sovereignty is necessary as people’s lifestyle and socio-environment.
Thailand has experienced multiple challenges that have negatively impacted on the availability of food especially to the people living in rural, remote areas. These people are under poverty that they cannot afford the country’s rice with high prices attributed to the high cost of production. The key factors that negatively impact on the livelihood status among these group of people are the rising inflation and an increase in the price of food. Also, an expansion in the production of food-fuel crops, the effects of climate change and global economic crisis directly impact on food availability and accessibility in Thailand.
Food security and food sovereignty in Thailand relate in different ways. First, it is a precondition that Thailand should attain food security to actualize food sovereignty. This relationship is based on the reasoning that food security enhances self-sufficiency, self-reliance, availability, and accessibility to affordable food. These aspects are fundamental in defining food sovereignty. Secondly, the implementation of food security policies cannot lead to food sovereignty if the primary objective is not to improve local production. For instance, food sovereignty is not attained if Thailand is to create food security by relying on the importation of staple food. Thirdly, the focus of both food sovereignty and food security is to increase food accessibility and availability.
However, while the objectives of food security policies are to improve the availability of food, the primary aim of food sovereignty is ecological sustainability and self-sufficiency while exporting the surplus produce. Fourthly, food security mechanisms increase the availability of food varieties and thus partially achieving food sovereignty. Thailand, however, is yet to have food sovereignty. People do not control mechanisms for the production, marketing, and distribution of the produce. The Southeast Asia country ought to negotiate bilateral trade agreements after removing the underlying barriers. This aspect will make staple food affordable to the population, and increase income at the household level through the expansion of markets.
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