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2011 Events


Tuesday 15th November at 8.15am

Business Breakfast generously hosted by Cass Business School, in association with JustShare and the City of London Fairtrade Steering Group.

'Let them eat cake: The role of global food pricing in political change.'

Aurelie Walker (Trade Policy, Fairtrade Foundation); Professor Paul Palmer (Cass Business School); Phil Sigley (CEO, Federation of Cocoa Commerce), and Alderman Alison Gowman


Professor Palmer began by asking why food is such a political issue, even in wealthy societies where it accounts for a lower percentage of our expenditure? He suggested that it is because we are not the rational individuals of market economics when it comes to spending on what we eat; a small price increase on bread or milk generates a much more emotive response than a bigger increase in the price of, say, copper. He also suggested that food prices are likely to increase further due to exponential population growth (as opposed to linear agriculture growth, such that agricultural outputs will not keep pace with increased populations), whilst our behavioural patterns - increasing meat consumption, increasing waste throughout the supply chain - worsened the problem.


Phil Sigley developed this point, arguing that the priority should be increasing agricultural yields  and that this would not be achieved by NGO campaigns. Rather, it needed public-private partnerships to invest in food sufficiency and energy sufficiency, and in particular it needed consultation with smallholder farmers to establish what they needed to make them more efficient. This would enable farmers to use land efficiently to increase yields, without wasting land which could be used for conservation or other purposes. He suggested that capitalism is not working for smallholder farmers; capitalism usually entails setting aside surpluses for investment into further growth, but small farmers in developing economies were unable to do this. Action from mainstream market stakeholders was required in order to achieve greater co-ordination and investment, and thus more food security.


Aurelie Walker focused on the negative impact of commodity trading which increases the volatility and price of food today, hurting farmers and others in the developing world who are usually net purchasers of food. She agreed with Phil Sigley that farmers need to be empowered but in contrast with him, she suggested that the Fairtrade mechanism could help to achieve this empowerment. She concluded that to achieve positive political change, transparent and equitable trading relationships and pricing mechanisms were vital.