Food Security, Trade and Violence: From the First to the Second Globalization in Colombia 1916-2016 (NR Online Session 2)

By Alexander Urrego-Mesa (Universitat de Barcelona)

This research is due to be presented in the second New Researcher Online Session: ‘Industry, Trade & Technology’



With world population forecasted at 9 billion by 2050, and climate change hazards, maintaining the capacity to provide food becomes paramount for national governments, especially in developing countries. After the Second War World and the Oil Crises, food aid and trade liberalisation helped to distribute food from surplus countries to those in deficit. (Dithmer, J., & Abdulai, A. 2017).

Nonetheless, some scholars suggest that trade liberalization and agro-export specialization threaten domestic food security in developing countries (Kumar Sharma, 2016), for the following reasons: it promotes increasing dependence on food exporters, increases vulnerability when confronting volatile agrarian prices, and jeopardizes domestic production by promoting agro-exports. Moreover, the rise of agrarian trade contributes to rising consumption of fossil-fuel-based inputs like nutrients, fuel, machinery, and intensifies the use of natural resources, thereby contributing to soil erosion, greenhouse gas emissions and the loss of biodiversity. (D’Odorico et al., 2014).

Nonetheless, little is known about how the relationship between trade, food availability, and food production has evolved. This research contributes to the food security debate at the national level by introducing a historic long-rung approach and comparing the two main periods of food trade, the First and the Second Globalization in a developing context.


Figure 1. Food trade balance (1916-2016)

Note: Positive values indicate imports, negative values refer to exports, and the solid black line indicates net imports.


I analyse the long-run trend of food security in Colombia, a relevant developing country and one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. I build on data from the early 20th century to the present, on agrarian trade, food availability, and self-sufficiency (SS) -understood as the capacity of the agrarian system to meet domestic demand.

I find that the country shifted from tropical exporter to food-dependent importer between the First and Second Globalisations. However, this change has not led to setting tropical exports aside, but to an increase in the amount of food imported from abroad. New cash crops like tropical fruits and sugar cane took the role of coffee under the FMI’s structural reforms (Figure 1). In ecological terms, this meant a change towards more intensive farming in water, land, fuel, and the use of fertilisers.

Although the import of wheat and rice served to face food shortages at the end of the 1920s and in the early 1950s, importing maize has become the rule to guarantee the availability of food during the Second Globalization. This increase in imports allowed the gains in per capita consumption but eroded the SS capacity of the domestic agrarian system to provide food. On the other side, the long-rung agro-export specialisation led to increasing the capacity to supply international markets with tropical products (Figure 2).


Figure 2. Self-sufficiency index by groups of products

Note: A result greater than one indicates the agrarian system is a domestic and international supplier of food, whereas a value less than one means the domestic consumption relies on imports.


Finally, I explore the role of international agrarian prices and political violence in shaping tropical specialisation and food dependence in the 1980s.  I find a negative relationship (-0.75) between the prices of cereals relative to tropical products (coffee, banana, sugarcane, and oil palm), and the trade balance. Regarding internal factors,  the self-sufficiency index and political violence are negatively correlated for cereals and pulses, and positively correlated for sugar cane.

Violence in Colombia contributes to land grabbing to develop agribusiness projects. It leads to the displacement of the labour force in the countryside. Thus, political violence is responsible for growing demand for food in cities and, at the same time, for the lack of capacity to provide it from the agrarian sector. If the evolution of relative prices is the incentive to deepen food dependence and tropical specialisation, violence is the means to achieve this.




Dithmer, J., & Abdulai, A. (2017). Does trade openness contribute to food security? A dynamic panel analysis. Food Policy, 69, 218-230.

D’Odorico, P., Carr, J. A., Laio, F., Ridolfi, L., & Vandoni, S. (2014). Feeding humanity through global food trade. Earth’s Future, 2(9), 458-469.

Kumar Sharma, Sachin (2016). The WTO and Food Security. Implications for Developing Countries. Singapore. Springer.


Alexander Urrego-Mesa



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