Food Geopolitical Relationship Between the Global South and North in the Era of 4IR

by Lovemore Itai Zuze

During a trip to Elora market in Wellington County in Ontario, Canada after exploring the local farm products, I was fortunate to have Canadian colleague and former QE Scholar Amanda Joynt to take me on a small tour around the farms in this county. “This farming area is considered predominantly rural by Canadian standards” she told me. Well, the view of a heavily mechanised farming landscape geared to produce in abundance is all I could see. If a rural landscape like Wellington County can be this mechanised, what could it be like for the highly commercialised farms across the country?

With the coming in of the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), there is anticipation of even more advanced technological use in the farming industry, not only in Canada but in all other countries across the Global North. Therefore, high food production trends are likely to continue being biased towards countries in the developed nations, because most of these technological advances will be out of the reach of most farmers in the developing world. All these thoughts clouded my mind!

Visiting from Malawi, a predominantly agricultural country with one of the world’s lowest rates of mechanisation in the farming sector, made me realise the gap between production patterns across the globe. Processed foods in Malawi are mostly imported from regional and international trading partners with South Africa being one of the biggest trading partners. Interestingly, the country has a population almost half that of Canada but has a surface area about eighty times less! This is just one of the many faces of countries in the Global South which are extremely diverse and in constant need of dynamic complex policy interventions to solve country-specific challenges. The mere comparison or population and land area alone got me re-thinking the national and local food policy and governance issues likely to face such small countries with high population growth rates and a finite land resources.

I reflected on a series of internal and external variables that are already affecting the sustainability of food security systems in most developing countries during this transition period and realised that adaptation could be a big challenge. Internally, Malawi already suffers from erratic rainfall patterns, small farm sizes, limited use of improved and modern inputs, poor market accessibility, and so on . In an era where advanced economies are experiencing slow population growth and reduced population, producers in these countries will increase their participation in food markets in the Global South. This scramble for food markets will have major implications for local food systems in these developing nations. Some of the effects will include the supermarketisation of the food economy, collapse of the already struggling food agricultural communities, and collapse of the underdeveloped food processing industries.. This will ultimately lead to the rise in unemployment rates, considering that agriculture is the main economic activity that employs the majority of workers in Malawi.

Africa missed out on the green revolution of the last half of the 20th century, and might again lose out in the 4IR. How can countries in the Global South be positioned to benefit from the probable outcomes? Without undermining the enormous contribution of agricultural production to food security, sustainable food systems should be built upon principles that acknowledge that food availability, accessibility and distribution are not an outcome centred on sufficient agricultural production capabilities alone. Also, there must be acknowledgement that Africa will provide much of the food produced during a period of decline in the population in Global South countries. In a highly competitive globalised food production system, countries such as Malawi have an opportunity to participate in shaping food systems which sustain the population by focusing on more than their ability to produce. Food systems in countries where local production capacity is likely to be outdone by global production can embrace a path where public sector policies that govern food systems (food production, processing, distribution, and consumption) could be brought together in an effort to embrace this anticipated revolution in a sustainable way.

Even though food policies in Malawi and other developing nations have been acknowledged on most developmental agendas, their integration across other policy areas has been absentThe rolling out of food policies has occurred either as standalones or cutting across a single sector (especially health) Future food policies in the Global South need to be integrated across policy areas covering agriculture (production), trade (markets), migration (demography), industry (processing), social (service provision) and health (well-being). In so doing, countries from emerging markets can sufficiently and sustainably address issues arising from unbalanced food production and make up for the losses that may be incurred by an increased importation of food products.