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How Many Countries Regularly Produce more Food than they Consume? April 8, 2013

By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau

Editor’s note: I originally wrote this editorial in 2009. I republish it here with updates.

 

Trivia Question: Globally, how many countries regularly produce more food than they consume? You know at least one: The United States.

Of the 194 countries in the world (U.S. Dept. of State’s number), only seven countries produce more food/grains than the country itself consumes, according to the United States Department of Agriculture : U.S., Canada, Argentina, Ukraine, Russia, Vietnam and Australia. They are all very large producers and exporters of edible grains and the core staples that include rice, corn, wheat, beans, lentils and animal proteins.

So, less than 4% of the world’s countries can feed themselves, feed others and have left over. Don’t know about you but it makes me a bit nervous when I look at the statistic that way.

This leaves an important and heavy burden on these seven countries creating food surpluses for the world. Surpluses keep us fed, keep food prices down and assure “carry over” for the next growing season. Biblical stories of storehouses come to mind.

 

China and India can feed themselves and actually rank highest in certain commodities, for instance China produces more rice than any other country, but according to the statistics really don’t have major food grain reserves. The European Union (EU) is back and forth. In 2008, this collection of European countries produced more than they consumed. But the three previous years, these countries consumed more than they produced. While there is contentious debate on this, many food scientists believe much of this is because the EU has banned genetically modified crops.

 

The other approximately 158 countries, while they can grow food, depend on others to meet their total food needs. These are countries that know hunger and easily understand starvation on a massive scale. Think North Korea; while they’re ready to attack us they can’t feed their nation an adequate caloric daily intake.

 

I remember a speaker at a conference years ago explaining why Europe was so focused on protecting its farmers. They couldn’t forget starvation on a massive scale during both World Wars and they didn’t want to repeat the experience. But are younger generations forgetting their history?

 

American agriculture can do this — continue to feed the world beyond its own consumption. We’ve been doing this for a long time. But American agriculture must be allowed to continue growing abundant, economical and healthy food especially on large-scale operations (98% of American farms are family-owned — they might be large and they might be incorporated, but they are family owned).

Yet, many Americans don’t care about continuing to make American agriculture available to the rest of the world. I remember talking to a “foodie” whom I’d classify as upper middle class. She callously said, “Let other countries worry about feeding themselves.”

 

I assured her many countries are working to improve their agriculture practices to become food secure and independent. But they also need help.

 

If we are so self-focused as Americans today, at least consider the value of agriculture exports. Agriculture is the only net-exporter. In other words, we export more agriculture product than we import. This is good for the country and good for our economy.

 

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