Food prices volatility: watch this space

iatp.logoA recent article by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) outlines the food price situation and the actions that need to be taken to reduce price volatility. In 2012, as prices began to creep higher and a third food price spike since 2007 looked likely, governments should have been poised to act to curb food price volatility once and for all. As the IATP authors believe, governments did not take this opportunity and failed to address the root causes of food price volatility.

This recent article is an update to the authors’ 2012 report, Resolving the Food Crisis, and calls for action to be taken around a series of themes:

  • Donor funding for agricultural development
  • Reducing biofuels expansion
  • Curbing financial speculation on agricultural commodities
  • Building food reserves
  • Halting land grabs
  • Addressing climate change

These issues are neither original nor specific to solving the problem of food price spikes. Instead they are frequently raised by NGOs and other stakeholders across the world and, as the authors point out, these problems are not going away. Not enough is being done to address them. There are huge opportunities for progress in 2013 but whether governments will seize them is another matter, as history attests. Action to address food price volatility from the G20 has revolved to date primarily around the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) and, while G20 leaders plan to meet in Russia this year, no meeting of agricultural ministers is planned. Decisions over the future vision of the World Trade Organisation Doha Development Round could be an opportunity to ensure trade rules ‘protect and promote food security,’ but given the previous disarray of the Doha Round this may be too much to hope for. New farm legislation in the US and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in the EU show little sign of being transformative.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom, the UK plans to host a follow up to last year’s Global Hunger Event, as well as build on previous G8 work on food and nutrition security, as part of the UK’s G8 presidency meetings this summer. Furthermore, as the authors believe, the UN Committee on Food Security meeting in October, which laid out new guidelines for responsible land investment last year, could also bring real opportunities for change on biofuels and smallholder agriculture.

The world faces many interrelated challenges, of which food price volatility is one. Perhaps instead of ‘watching this space’ to see how governments will step up and tackle these challenges, we must more forcefully ensure they do. Campaigns such as the IF campaign on global hunger, launched this year, aim to make sure global leaders of the G8 sit up and listen, but also and most importantly, act.

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