Urgent Action Needed to Prevent Recurring Food Crises

Policy Brief outlines seven key measures for international community

Residents queue for subsidized rice in Davao City, June 2008.

Just three years after the 2007-08 food crisis, the food security of poor people and vulnerable groups, especially women and children, is under threat as the prices of basic food items skyrocket. Expanding biofuel production, rising oil prices, U.S. dollar depreciation, export restrictions, and panic purchasing are again driving up food prices—to the particular detriment of the world’s poorest consumers, who spend some 50-70 percent of their incomes on food.

Although a number of factors are different this time around, the situation calls for decisive action, according to a new IFPRI policy brief by Director General Shenggen Fan, Markets, Trade and Institutions Division Director Maximo Torero, and Research Fellow Derek Headey. They urge:

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  1. Curtailing subsidies and reforming policies, particularly in the United States and Europe, to minimize biofuels’ contribution to volatility in food markets.
  2. Creating or strengthening social protection for women, young children, and other especially vulnerable groups—something few countries have done during or since the 2007-08 crisis.
  3. Improving the transparency, fairness, and openness of international trade to enhance the efficiency of global agricultural markets.
  4. Setting up a global emergency grain reserve to handle food price crises.
  5. Pursuing policies and investments to promote agricultural growth, in particular smallholder productivity, in the face of climate change.
  6. Investment by national governments in climate change adaptation and mitigation using the full potential that agriculture offers.
  7. Establishing an international working group to monitor the world food situation and trigger action to prevent excessive price volatility.

“Timely research has presented important lessons gleaned from the last crisis—lessons that should be used to inform current actions,” the authors conclude.