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How Can Trade Improve Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa?
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Center on Food Security and the Environment

January 23, 2013

For decades, earnings from farming in many developing countries, including in Sub-Saharan Africa, have been depressed by a pro-urban and anti-trade bias in own-country policies, as well as by governments of richer countries favoring their farmers with import barriers and subsidies. Both sets of policies reduced global economic welfare and agricultural trade, and almost certainly added to global inequality and poverty and to food insecurity in many low-income countries. Progress has been made over the past three decades in reducing the trend levels of agricultural protection in high-income countries and of agricultural disincentives in African and other developing countries. However, there is a continuing propensity for governments to insulate their domestic food market from fluctuations in international prices, which amplifies international food price fluctuations. Yet when both food-importing and food-exporting countries so engage in insulating behavior, it does little to advance their national food security. This paper argues that there is still plenty of scope for governments to improve economic welfare and alleviate poverty and food insecurity by further reducing interventions at their national border (and by lowering trade costs). It summarizes indicators of trends and fluctuations in trade barriers before pointing to changes in both border policies and complementary domestic measures that together could improve African food security.

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