Learning from Failure

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  • Title: Learning from Failure: Postwar Efforts to Establish a World Food Reserve
  • Author(s): Bryan McDonald
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Common Ground Open
  • Journal Title: Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
  • Keywords: Food Insecurity, Food Reserve, Food Crisis, Famine, Food Policy
  • Volume: 8
  • Issue: 4
  • Year: 2018
  • ISSN: 2160-1933 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2160-1941 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/2160-1933/CGP/v08i04/1-15
  • Citation: McDonald, Bryan. 2018. "Learning from Failure: Postwar Efforts to Establish a World Food Reserve." Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 8 (4): 1-15. doi:10.18848/2160-1933/CGP/v08i04/1-15.
  • Extent: 15 pages


In the wake of World War II, policymakers in nations such as the United States, along with the leaders, staff, and representatives to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), sought to understand and address the short- and long-term causes of food and agricultural problems. This article examines the ways that tensions between national sovereignty and international problem-solving prevented the creation of a world food reserve that could be used to address food crises. For almost a decade, multiple leaders of FAO and panels of experts endorsed the value of establishing some form of reserve that the world could rely on in times of food emergencies. Through three waves of activity in the years after World War II—beginning with the ambitious World Food Board, the more limited International Commodity Clearing House, and the multiple expert-generated plans, including the exceptionally flexible Plan of Three Circles—FAO policymakers and planners were unable to overcome the reluctance of member nations to give up national control over even a limited aspect of agriculture and food production. This article examines the proposals made by FAO between 1946 and 1953 to explore the challenges between state control over agricultural production and international efforts to establish a world food reserve—challenges that persist today. Ultimately, we see that in order to better address global food insecurity, we must understand this critical tension between national sovereignty and international action.