How can grain reserves at local, national, regional and international levels fit into food security strategies?.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has produced a document called Grain Reserves and the Food Price Crisis: Selected Writings from 2008 – 2012. This provides an overview of recent writings and practices on reserves to bring insightful discussion on how grain reserves fit into food security strategies at different levels. 

The relevance of food reserves in general and grain reserves in particular was an ancient practice of food security mechanism in which excess grains stored in times of good harvest for emergency. However, the issue of food reserve has gained a considerable momentum in the food security discourse after the 2007/08 food price spike. The shortage in grain production mainly due to bad weather attached to climate change and market malfunctioning led to dramatic grain price volatility. This has worsened the global figure of people in hunger to reach 975 million which is a rise by more than 100 million prior to the food price shock. 

“...A transparent, predictable and accountable reserve is a powerful tool against such volatility” (IATP, June, 2012). This is how grain reserve has been picked-up as important mechanism to build food security nowadays. As noted in the document, grain reserves can also respond to food emergencies; provide market for small-scale farmers; and create a reliable food supply for varied forms of social safety nets. 

According to the IATP document, the role of grain reserve work differently at different levels such as at local, national, regional and international levels. The practice of grain reserve is different at the different levels. The benefits from and challenges associated to the practice of reserves also vary accordingly. 

The advantage of reserves at the local level is clear. The grains are very easily accessible to the communities when needed while their dietary habits remain unchanged and dependency on products from outside reduced (Kristin Sampson, 2010). At this level the role of women is vital especially in the process of food preservation and processing and management of vegetable gardening. Sampson in his example of the Asian Partnership for the Development of Human resource in Rural Asia (Asia DHRRA) demonstrated the role of reserves towards helping Philippines local farmers to reduce income variability and improve their farm’s production and resilience. 

On top of that, the practice of local grain reserves will also be important. Communities retain and preserve their native seeds which have been found to be resistant to diseases so reduce perennial food crises. 

At national level, according to Sampson, grain reserves can help grain producers to stock emergency grains. They also can stabilize markets as well as motivate farmers to invest in their farms. To be practical, reserves at national level needs a considerable degree of government investment on facilities like storage at different parts of the country, effective transport system to make distribution of reserves easy from one end to another end of the country. Apart from that, decisions on setting grain prices and when to distribute reserves is another issue which should take into account constellation of different actors. 

As noted in the document, reserves at regional level can help to prevent governments’ monopolization of reserves to win short-term political gain in which reserves are monitored at supranational level. In addition to that a live discussion on Food Security Strategies in linkedin has agreed on the benefits of regional grain reserves to small island nations (like the Maldives) where growing grains is not common practice.  Regional food reserves are critical in the cases of small island nations
as they are more dependent on imports in which they can benefit by linking to regional food security programmes. However, the success of regional food security strategies depends on how fast countries reach agreement on setting grain prices and the issue of distribution.

The presence of grain reserves at the global level is an advantage for natural disasters and climate change calamities where local, national and regional strategies are ineffective.

Therefore, based on the IATP document and live discussion on the Food Security Strategies it is unquestionable that the presence of grain reserves can greatly contribute to food security through stabilising food prices. However, the presence of dynamic changes to the food prices, reserves strategies at all levels must strengthen their institutional capacity to better understand the ever changing food market and develop capacity to make quick responses to change. 

A full copy of the IATP document is available here 

Link to the Food Security Strategies live discussion: