There are no easy solutions to the ongoing food price crisis. Maize and wheat prices doubled between 2003 and 2008, and the price of rice doubled in the first four months of 2008, rising 33 percent in a single day. Even with declines in food prices later in 2008, prices remain well above 2000–2005 levels. To address the complex causes of this phenomenon, IFPRI has recommended a combination of “emergency” and “resilience” actions. One of the proposed policies emphasizes the need to boost agricultural production. This “emergency” agriculture package requires carefully targeted subsidies to ensure increases in production of major foodcrops (rice, wheat, and maize) in favorable environments with good soils, moisture, and market infrastructure. Following the Green Revolution model, delivery of improved varieties of seed, fertilizers, and other inputs, along with targeted, short-term subsidies, would augment production through higher yields rather than area expansion, so that scarce land can be reserved for other crops and uses.
As part of the “resilience” package, IFPRI proposes scaled-up investment in agricultural growth to bolster production responses over the longer term. Until recently, public complacency regarding food abundance has contributed to a prolonged decline in agricultural investment by aid donors and developing-country governments.
In-depth field research—undertaken by IFPRI with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and other partners in India, Kenya, and Mali—brings to light new evidence about farmers’ access to seed and the role of village markets in supplying it, with a focus on semi-arid environments. The findings point to several policy options aimed at improving the effectiveness of these markets, which can be crucial for reducing the potential negative impacts of high food prices. Such options might be considered in tandem with those recommended for more favorable environments, where seed systems already function more effectively. This brief introduces the issues that drove this research project, relevant concepts, and methods. The accompanying briefs present findings of specific country case studies.