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Food as Security

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Concerns over food security have emphasized food while appearing to give less attention to the meaning and significance of security. Consequently, the valuation and perceptions of food have not secured its place at the top of a state’s priorities and at the heart of development. Many states have already bargained food production for resource extraction in their quest for revenues and this bargain is now being made in Laos. Observation and analysis of this process reveal why food consistently comes second to resource extraction, leaving people facing the peril of food insecurity. Valuation and perceptions of food often overlook its special significance as the source of life, sustaining society and its security. Food is as critical to national security as resources such as oil, steel and rubber that often pre-empt it. Food security will improve with the recognition of food as security.

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  1. Definition: Food security is a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (FAO 2003a).

  2. Arable land per person shrank 40%, from 0.43 ha in 1962 to 0.26 ha in 1998 (FAO 2003b, ch2).

  3. Roberts (2009) and Weis (2007) describe and analyse these trends in considerable detail.

  4. Resource curse here refers to a situation where poor states rich in resources do not succeed in using revenues generated by this natural wealth to finance their development, instead remaining mired in poverty, corruption and conflict.

  5. Numerous reports cast serious doubts on the stock of wild game and fish, some conclude that severe declines are underway due to environmental destruction and the demands of regional markets. Morgan Galland et al provide a comprehensive overview (Galland et al. 2007).

  6. Announced in August 2008.

  7. Official figures archived at

  8. Chinese investment now exceeds Thai investment amounting to $3.577 billion (Pongern 2009a)

  9. The World Bank’s Doing Business rankings for 2010 place Laos among the worse places with a rank of 167, down from 165 in 2009, between Mauritania and Cote d’Ivoire (World Bank 2009a).

  10. At least 119 companies are examining 193 prospects (Barney 2007).

  11. China uses 26% of the world’s alumina, 36% of aluminium, 23% of copper, 30% of zinc, 53% of iron ore, 37% of steel and 8% of gold (Hanna 2009)

  12. It is unclear if these figures are annual or cumulative.

  13. Competence, capacity and the weak track record of similar schemes as well as the Kyoto Protocol itself raise serious questions over REDD (Brown and Bird 2008)

  14. For discussion of natural resources and big push development see Sachs and Warner 1999.

  15. “Allowing large scale commercial development where there is a weak regulatory enforcement framework is having an adverse social and environment impact on local people’s livelihoods,” said Ahsan Tayyab, senior natural resource economist, Asian Development Bank (Phouthonesy 2009)

  16. The situation was outlined at a meeting of the international NGOs’ Land Issues Working Group in Vientiane, January 2009

  17. Serge Verniau, FAO country representative Laos.

  18. The Bank acknowledges problems with resettlement although it may disagree with NGOs over the severity and prospects for improvement. “The progress remains mixed across the resettled population (World Bank 2009b).”

  19. A position attributed to the governors of Attapeu and Sekong by a Vientiane Times report cited by Lawrence (2008), p61


  21. Weber-Fahr’s paper was written for the World Bank, which has financed the Nam Theun II dam and appears to support mining in Laos.

  22. Criteria described in a speech by Ian Porter, World Bank country director Laos, in Vientiane, 2007.

  23. An indication of the evolving approach to land and agriculture was hinted at by Kham-ouan Boupha, president of the National Land Authority, who said agriculture would be given primacy over other projects on the fertile soils of the Bolaven Plateau (Vientiane Times 2008c).

  24. Latest figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization

  25. Barlow cites Van Zalinge et al. (2004) and Hortle et al. (2008)

  26. These figures are calculated using the first sale value of $1,893 per tonne for migratory fish catches in the lower Mekong basin provided by Barlow et al. (2008 p17) citing Hortle et al. (2008)

  27. Pegg cites de Soysa (2001) and Collier (2000) World Bank


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This paper is informed by research the author undertook with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation for a working paper examining the food security situation in Laos. The Agency does not endorse the views or arguments of this paper. The author is grateful to the anonymous reviewers who examined an earlier draft of this paper.

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Correspondence to David Fullbrook.

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Fullbrook, D. Food as Security. Food Sec. 2, 5–20 (2010).

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