Abstract

This article examines the historic and contemporary roots of chronic malnutrition and environmental degradation in the developing world. It chronicles the patterns of trade and production that contribute to this problem from the colonial period until the present, and analyzes the role of contemporary trade, aid and development practices in ameliorating or exacerbating the problem. The article argues that the neoliberal economic reforms imposed on developing countries through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) exacerbate hunger and environmental degradation by reinforcing pre-existing inequities in the global trading system that relegate many developing countries to the export of primary agricultural commodities as a means of generating the revenue with which to purchase food and manufactured goods. This economic specialization erodes food security by depressing domestic food production and by subjecting the export earnings needed to finance the import of food and other necessities to fluctuating world market prices for agricultural commodities and to the declining terms of trade for agricultural products. This economic specialization also degrades the environment by replacing biodiverse agroecosystems with monocultures that require massive application of pesticides and fertilizers. Furthermore, the structural adjustment policies of the IMF and World Bank, in conjunction with the reforms required under the WTO, have created a double standard in international agricultural trade that requires relative market openness in the developing world while permitting lavish subsidies and import-restrictive tariffs in industrialized countries. This double standard has depressed the export earnings of developing countries and has resulted in the widespread pauperization of small farmers in the developing world due to the influx of cheap subsidized food from developed countries. The article concludes with several recommendations designed to promote food security and sustainable rural development.