The advent of a global pandemic certainly added volume to the narrative that local equals resilient when it comes to economies, especially food-related economic systems.

But Jayson Lusk, food and agricultural economist at Purdue University, says that evidence suggests otherwise, and that a vibrant trade economy actually adds resiliency to local economies.

To demonstrate his point, Lusk tells the story of Isolationville, a fictional town that relies very heavily on its own food production. But when a weather event wipes out the food, Isolationville has to look elsewhere to feed itself, and because neighbouring towns have not counted on trade with the town, there isn’t excess to share.

It’s an over-simplified example, but it’s one that demonstrates why trade can actually protect a town, province, or country, from crop failures or a disease outbreak. What’s more, Lusk explains that there’s real value in growing what you grow best and buying the rest — that’s what competitive advantage is all about.

The pandemic has certainly put these theories to the test, and there is evidence from the last 18 months that challenges the idea that smaller, more local in processing, doesn’t always mean safer or more resilient, either.

In this audio interview, Lusk discusses how we measure or assess resiliency of an economy or food system, and what we have learned from the global pandemic. 

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