Course ObjectiveThe course is part one of the five courses in the minor ‘Global Food
The general aim of the minor is to provide knowledge to students who ask
themselves “How can I contribute to global FNS?“
The specific aims of the course "Economics and Politics for Food and
Nutrition Security" are threefold, namely,
1) to teach students the economic principles of local, national and
global food systems,
2) to introduce students to the politics of food systems and to local,
national and global policies that are needed to achieve FNS, and
3) to increase students’ debating, writing and presentation skills about
how global FNS could be achieved within their lifetime.
Course ContentThe course examines why in todays’ world food system one out of every
nine people is still food insecure and another one is at the edge of
food and nutrition security (FNS). The food system is defined as the
whole of interactions governing the production of food by farmers
(supply side) and the consumption of food by households (demand side),
including the activities that are needed to bring the foods from the
farmers to the households such as trade, transport, agro-processing and
food retail industries (food value chain).
Several elements of a food system will be discussed by introducing
economic theories of (subsistence) farming, food markets and food value
chains. It is explained how well-functioning national food markets and
international trade in food can help to promote FNS and how this
well-functioning depends on economic and social policies.
The textbook for the course is “The World Food Economy”, 2nd edition
2011, by Douglas Southgate, Douglas Graham and Luther Tweeten. There
will be supplemental academic readings in the form of journal articles
and book chapters and also reports and policy briefs on the FNS
situation published by governments, journalists, NGOs and international
agencies such as the World Bank and the FAO.
The textbook puts emphasis on competitive markets as the best way to
balance the supplies of food with the demands for food, where ‘the best
way’ means that the price mechanism acts as an ‘invisible hand’ leading
to a Pareto-efficient allocation of food.
This efficiency of competitive markets is a much lauded property, mainly
because it leads to a high total income. Yet, from the perspective of
social desirability and in view of concerns with FNS, efficiency is
certainly not the only property we seek, nor even the most important
one. An efficient allocation of food can be quite disappointing in terms
of FNS. It can reflect huge inequalities, namely when literacy and
education (human capital) as well as ownership of assets (land; capital)
are concentrated in only a small part of the population and when the
political system of taxes, subsidies and transfers fails to be pro-poor.
Clearly, FNS policies are needed to address this equity issue and
strengthen the position of the poor and enable them to overcome the
poverty traps that they are in.
Policy interventions are also needed to address other well-known
failures of competitive food markets, in particular the requirements
regarding food safety, regarding animal welfare and regarding the
environment. The policy challenge is to design rules and regulations
that effectively internalize such externalities.
Finally, on some parts of the food value chain, competition is far from
perfect in the sense that some companies are so large that they become
price-setters rather than price-takers. Or at least they have a certain
monopoly power to influence the price and exploit the economies of scale
in their production process. These markets are served by relatively few
companies, often multinational in seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and
herbicides or large commodity traders and retailers. The policy
challenge here is introduce monopolistic competition in these markets
and to regulate multinationals in the food industries in avoidance of a
level of profits that is socially undesirable.
Teaching MethodsThe course consists of lectures, tutorial and working groups, a debate
and the presentation of a series of policy briefs.
The lectures use the textbook as well as various other assigned readings
that complement the content of the textbook and that will be posted on
CANVAS. The lectures will address the following topics. Introduction:
Striving for global FNS; Population growth and food demand; Income
growth and food demand patterns; Agricultural production and food
supply: The farmer; Agriculture and globalization: Beyond the farmers;
Partial equilibrium food markets; Wages, non-labor income and food
consumption in the Robinson Crusoe economy; The two welfare theorems
applied to the food markets; Economic growth, income inequality and food
poverty traps; Externalities in food systems. Homework exercises will be
given at the end of the lectures.
The homework exercises will be discussed during the working groups and
tutorial classes. Because VU students from all departments can
participate, at the start of the course an inventory will be made about
possible gaps in prior knowledge about microeconomics and social welfare
theory. In particular, competitive food markets are an important concept
in the course, along with the challenge to realize social welfare in an
economy with competitive markets. These concepts involve a certain
formalization of micro-economic models and corresponding mathematics. As
and when required, some of the working groups and tutorial classes will
be devoted to fill the gaps.
The remaining working groups will be devoted to the policy brief that
each student must write and present. The students will propose a topic
to the group and, if necessary, adapt it in response to the comments by
their peers and the teachers. After the choice of the topic, students
will work on their policy brief, identify data sources, find an
attractive title and write a short abstract (<150 words). Towards the
end of the course, each student will present his or her food policy
brief and act as a discussant of one of the other policy briefs
In the middle of the course, there will be a debate on the question
whether or not global FNS can be achieved by 2030. Students are assigned
randomly into groups of 4 to 6 persons. Each group has to make an
opening statement that argues either for or against FNS in 2030, it has
to defend its position during the debate, and it has to formulate a
closing statement to convince the audience of the correctness of its
Method of AssessmentHomework assignments (assessment is formative only, no grade)
2-page summary of the debate (10% of grade)
FNS Policy brief, <1500 words (20% of grade)
Presentation of FNS brief (10% of grade)
Exam (60% of grade)
Southgate, Douglas, Douglas Graham and Luther Tweeten (2011) The World
Food Economy. 2nd Edition. John Wiley & Sons.
Supplementary readings (preliminary, the assigned readings will be
announce and posted on CANVAS later).
Barling, David and Jessica Duncan (2015) The Dynamics of the
Contemporary Governance of the World’s Food Supply and the Challenges of
Policy Redirection. Food Security 7:415–24.
Barro, R. and X. Sala-i-Martin (2004) Economic Growth. 2nd edition.
Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Dasgupta, Partha (1997) Nutritional status, the capacity for work, and
poverty traps. Journal of Econometrics 77:5-37
FAO (2015) The State of Food Insecurity in the World. Rome: Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
FAO (2016) The State of Food and Agriculture: Climate Change,
Agriculture and Food Security. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations.
Keyzer, MA, MD Merbis, IFPW Pavel and CFA van Wesenbeeck (2005) Diet
shifts towards meat and the effects on cereal use: can we feed the
animals in 2030? Ecological Economics 55: 187–202.
Leenstra, FR (2013) Intensification of animal production and its
relation to animal welfare, food security and climate smart agriculture.
Report 702 Wageningen UR Livestock Research.
Malthus, Thomas (1798) An Essay on the Principle of Population. Library
of Economics and Liberty.
Ray, Debraj (1998) Development Economics. Princeton University Press.
Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Varian, Hal R. (2009) Intermediate Microeconomics - A Modern Approach.
8th Edition. W. W. Norton & Company.
Weil, David N. (2013) Economic Growth. 3rd edition. Essex: Pearson
Wolford, W., S. M.Borras, R. Hall, I. Scoones and B. White (2013)
Governing Global Land Deals: The Role of the State in the Rush for Land.
Development and Change 44:189–210.
World Bank (2015) Ending Poverty and Hunger by 2030: An Agenda for the
Global Food System. Washington: World Bank Group.
Target AudienceThis course is part of the minor ‘Global Food Security Studies’, open to
students from all departments
Recommended background knowledgeAt the start of the course an inventory will be made about possible gaps
in prior knowledge about microeconomics and social welfare theory As and
when required, tutorial classes will be devoted to fill such gaps.
|Language of Tuition||English|
|Faculty||School of Business and Economics|
|Course Coordinator||drs. G.J.M. van den Boom|
|Examiner||drs. G.J.M. van den Boom|
You need to register for this course yourself
Last-minute registration is available for this course.
|Teaching Methods||Lecture, Study Group|
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