National food self-sufficiency is an idea that appeals to many non-economists.
For example, George W. Bush (2001):
It’s important for our Nation to be able to grow foodstuffs to feed our people. Can you imagine a country that was unable to grow enough food to feed the people? It would be a nation that would be subject to international pressure. It would be a nation at risk. And so when we’re talking about American agriculture, we’re really talking about a national security issue.
I believe that in contrast, most economists view this as a bad idea.
The argument for self-sufficiency is easiest to counter. Anyone who believes autarky is the route to food security should look at starving North Korea. In world markets trade barriers, not the lack of them, have exacerbated the mess. The commodities that have seen the biggest price spikes are those which tend to be traded least. Only 6% of global rice production, for instance, flows across borders. Unilateral export restrictions, such as those imposed by Vietnam and India, have made matters worse. Global supply is disrupted and domestic farmers discouraged from producing more. The route to deeper, less volatile markets lies through freer trade and fewer distortions. The notion that free trade precludes food security is plainly wrong-headed.
in the long run, major rice-consuming countries that pursue self-sufficiency may be in danger. If these countries achieved self-sufficiency, import demand for rice would fall. This would push exporters, such as Thailand, Vietnam, and Pakistan, to cut back on their production to reduce exportable surplus and use their lands in planting other profitable crops.
The global rice market, which is relatively small compared with that of other major crops such as wheat, corn (maize), and soybeans, is likely to become even smaller if rice-consuming countries vigorously pursue self-sufficiency. A consequence of a smaller market is greater price volatility and, the smaller the market size, the more the prices have to move in response to any supply and demand shock.
In a year of low production, prices will rise rapidly; in a year of higher production, prices will fall rapidly with greater volatility. This is particularly worrisome since rice production can fluctuate greatly from year to year, at the whim of nature. And, if climate change predictions are realized, extreme weather conditions will be more frequent, leading to regular price spikes in the rice market. ...
A strong global market is essential to achieve global food security for rice. This does not mean that countries should give up rice production and depend on foreign rice. Every country has the basic right to produce enough food for its citizens and this is particularly true for rice, a staple for the world’s poorest of the poor. However, countries might be wiser to try to increase production by improving yield in a sustainable manner rather than pursuing self-sufficiency at any cost.
My question: Have there been any economists who have argued in favor of national food self-sufficiency and what are some of their arguments?
NB. The price of rice rose dramatically during the 2007–08 food crisis (source):