Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP peopleandplanet.net
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Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP
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poverty and trade > factfile > food trade

Food trade

Posted: 03 Aug 2004

Most food is consumed in the country where it is produced. But between 1968 and 1998 international trade in major foodstuffs increasing twice as fast as production, as the graph below shows.



Source: FAO Food Balance Sheet Database 2001


In addition to the products listed, the other major food exports of developing countries are coffee, cocoa, tea, sugar and fish. The prices of many agricultural traded commodities, are at or near all-time lows. In March 2002 the world price of coffee was 125 cents a lb. In late July 2004 it stood at under 60 cents a lb. Around seven million resource-poor farmers grow coffee and are facing destitution. Farmers are now abandoning coffee growing in favour of drug cultivation, (see Poverty and Trade Features section).


In general, no one lives exclusively on imported food, although there are isolated cases such as small island states and isolated communities, where the food supply may predominantly be imported. On the whole, imported food constitutes approximately one-fifth of world food consumption. It contributes about 600 calories a day to the world's daily average of around 2800 calories per person. One may infer from this and say that this is equivalent to food supply for about 1.2 billion people. This is not equivalent to the number of people who depend on imported food for survival.

Transactional corporations (TNCs). Almost 70 per cent of world trade is between transnational corporations (TNCs). The largest 500 TNCs account account for about 80 per cent of foreign investment, 70 per cent of world trade and 30 per cent of world output. TNCs are particularly active in the processing and marketing of foodstuffs; it is common for a small number to account for over 80 per cent of the trade in an agricultural product.

Six corporations handle about 85 per cent of world trade in grain, eight TNCs account for between 55 to 60 per cent of world coffee sales, seven account for 90 per cent of the tea consumed in Western countries, three account for 83 per cent of world trade in cocoa, three account for 80 per cent of bananas.

One of the largest food TNCs, Cargill is a private US-based company describing itself as ´┐Żan international marketer, processor and distributor of agricultural, food, financial and industrial products´┐Ż. With 101,000 employees in 60 countries, Cargill is the world's largest oilseed trader, the second largest phosphate fertiliser producer, and a major trader in grain, coffee, cocoa, sugar, seeds, malt and poultry. In its fiscal year 2003, Cargill had a turnover of $59,894 million (more than the gross domestic products of the 15 poorest sub-Saharan African countries put together), making it one of the world's twelve largest companies. Descendants of Cargill's founder own 85 per cent of the company.

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Guillermo, a cocoa farme, Dominican Republic. Photo: Fairtrade Foundation
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