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Keywords:

  • Food security;
  • global trade;
  • maize;
  • network models

In this study, we developed a social network model of the global trade of maize: one of the most important food, feed, and industrial crops worldwide, and critical to food security. We used this model to analyze patterns of maize trade among nations, and to determine where vulnerabilities in food security might arise if maize availability was decreased due to factors such as diversion to nonfood uses, climatic factors, or plant diseases. Using data on imports and exports from the U.N. Commodity Trade Statistics Database for each year from 2000 to 2009 inclusive, we summarized statistics on volumes of maize trade between pairs of nations for 217 nations. There is evidence of market segregation among clusters of nations; with three prominent clusters representing Europe, Brazil and Argentina, and the United States. The United States is by far the largest exporter of maize worldwide, whereas Japan and the Republic of Korea are the largest maize importers. In particular, the star-shaped cluster of the network that represents U.S. maize trade to other nations indicates the potential for food security risks because of the lack of trade these other nations conduct with other maize exporters. If a scenario arose in which U.S. maize could not be exported in as large quantities, maize supplies in many nations could be jeopardized. We discuss this in the context of recent maize ethanol production and its attendant impacts on food prices elsewhere worldwide.