The spikes in global food prices in 2007-8 served as a wake-up call to the global community on the inadequacies of our global food system. Commodity prices doubled, the estimated number of hungry people topped one billion, and food riots spread through the developing world. A second price spike in 2010-11, which drove the global food import bill for 2011 to an estimated $1.3 trillion, only deepened the sense that the policies and principles guiding agricultural development and food security were deeply flawed.
How well has the international community responded to these challenges? In this policy report from the Global Development and Environment Institute and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Timothy A. Wise and Sophia Murphy argue that the recent crisis has been a catalyst for important policy reforms, but they conclude that governments have yet to address its underlying causes. They warn that the international community is avoiding deeper structural reforms, leaving the world at risk of another devastating spike in global food prices. Wise and Murphy call for urgent attention to three issues:
- Reducing financial speculation on commodities markets – Reforms have been limited, leaving commodities markets prone to wide price swings. Proposals to increase the use of food reserves to limit volatility have been largely rejected.
- Limiting the further expansion of crops and land dedicated to biofuels – Over 40% of US corn now goes to ethanol production, backed by a range of government subsidies and incentives. Similar programs spur biofuel expansion in other industrialized countries, contributing to the underlying demand-growth that is driving agricultural prices steadily upward.
- Halting ”land grabs” – As food-producing resources become more valuable, resource-constrained countries and speculative investors have bought or leased millions of acres of agricultural land in Africa and in other developing regions. This unregulated new market compromises the long-term food-producing capacity of developing countries while dispossessing those who have traditionally worked the land.
The report, ”Resolving the Food Crisis: Assessing Global Policy Reforms Since 2007,” is based on a comprehensive assessment of the policies and actions taken since 2007 by four international groups of actors: the UN, the G-20, the World Bank and international donors. The authors document the welcome renewal of attention to agricultural development and to the contributions of small-scale farmers and women. They also find encouraging signs of improvement in the attention to environmental issues, including climate change. But they warn that policy reforms fall well short of what is needed to meet the world’s current and future food needs in a sustainable way. Wise and Murphy put the onus on rich-country governments to take responsibility for their agricultural policies that are contributing to the fragility and volatility in food systems around the world and to support the renewed interest in many developing countries to increase agricultural development and reduce dependence on food imports.
Download the Executive Summary
Read “Resolving the Food Crisis: Global leaders fail to make crucial reforms,” an op-ed by Wise and Murphy
See an interview with the authors on Real News Network.
Read more on GDAE’s Globalization and Sustainable Development Program.
Read more on GDAE’s work on the global food crisis.
Read more on IATP’s work on food and agriculture.