Reserves and trade jointly determine exposure to food supply shocks


While a growing proportion of global food consumption is obtained through international trade, there is an ongoing debate on whether this increased reliance on trade benefits or hinders food security, and specifically, the ability of global food systems to absorb shocks due to local or regional losses of production. This paper introduces a model that simulates the short-term response to a food supply shock originating in a single country, which is partly absorbed through decreases in domestic reserves and consumption, and partly transmitted through the adjustment of trade flows. By applying the model to publicly-available data for the cereals commodity group over a 17 year period, we find that differential outcomes of supply shocks simulated through this time period are driven not only by the intensification of trade, but as importantly by changes in the distribution of reserves. Our analysis also identifies countries where trade dependency may accentuate the risk of food shortages from foreign production shocks; such risk could be reduced by increasing domestic reserves or importing food from a diversity of suppliers that possess their own reserves. This simulation-based model provides a framework to study the short-term, nonlinear and out-of-equilibrium response of trade networks to supply shocks, and could be applied to specific scenarios of environmental or economic perturbations.

Marchand, Philippe, Carr, Joel A, Dell’Angelo, Jampel, Fader, Marianela, Gephart, Jessica A, Kummu, Matti, Magliocca, Nicholas R, Porkka, Miina, Puma, Michael J, Ratajczak, Zak, Rulli, Maria Cristina, Seekell, David A, Suweis, Samir, Tavoni, Alessandro and D’Odorico, Paolo (2016). In: Environmental Research Letters, 11 (9). 095009. ISSN 1748-9326