A new vision for agriculture
momagri, movement for a world agricultural organization, is a think tank chaired by Christian Pèes.
It brings together, managers from the agricultural world and important people from external perspectives,
such as health, development, strategy and defense. Its objective is to promote regulation
of agricultural markets by creating new evaluation tools, such as economic models and indicators,
and by drawing up proposals for an agricultural and international food policy.
soaring food prices and world hunger
Point of view

Tackling the root causes of soaring food prices
and world hunger

José Graziano da Silva,

Director General, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),

Kanayo F. Nwanze,

President, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

Ertharin Cousin,

Executive Director of the World Food Program (WFP)

Amid rising food prices and the resulting threat to global food security, the FAO, IFAD and WFP issued a joint statement on September 4 to tackle their root causes. We are publishing below excerpts from the document1. José Graziano da Silva, Kanayo F. Nwanze and Etharin Cousin are reminding us that, while we are now better equipped than during the past crises to respond more quickly and effectively to price shocks, we must move further and tackle the very roots of food insecurity. Admittedly, following the 2007-2008 and 2010 crises, the international community has become more responsive to the risks linked to the excessive volatility of agricultural prices, and the G20 under the French then Mexican presidencies has enabled significant progress on the issue. But these steps forward are still insufficient, as shown by the current situation which clearly proves that identical causes lead to identical effects without any suitable regulation system. As we now undergo the third agricultural price spike in the past five years, it is crucial to move from a rationale of crisis emergency management to a genuine approach of crisis prevention that includes measures to regulate the hyper-volatility of agricultural prices.

Momagri Editorial board

The situation of global food markets––where we observe strong spikes in corn, wheat and soybean prices––is rousing fears of a duplication of the 2007-2008 food crisis. Yet, a swift and coordinated international intervention may prevent such recurrence. Immediate action is needed to prevent these price shocks from leading to a disaster affecting tens of millions people in the coming months.

Two parallel issues must be addressed. First and immediately, that of prices for some products, a matter liable to have a far-reaching impact on nations dependent on food imports and on the most disadvantaged populations. Then and over the long term, the way food is produced, traded and consumed in times of population growth, increased demand and climate change.

Today, we are in a better position than five years ago to meet these challenges. We developed new policies and instruments, like the UN High-Level Task Force (HLTF) on the global food security crisis, and the G20 Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), which improves transparency on global markets. We can also count on the AMIS-related Rapid Response Forum, set up to facilitate coordinated responses by the world major producers and traders of cereals and soybeans in the event of market upheavals.

We have learned that we are not all affected in the same way by the crisis consequences. Urban and poor rural people and citizens in food import-dependent nations are most vulnerable to international commodity price increases when these are transmitted to local markets, because they spend the largest portion of their expenses on food.

We have also learned that small-scale farmers, many of whom are also poor and victims of food insecurity can be helped to benefit from higher food prices, and become part of the solution by reducing price spikes and improving global food security.

We have thus adopted a twin-track approach that supports long-term investments in agriculture, particularly small-scale agriculture, while ensuring that safety nets are in place to assist poor consumers and producers in avoiding hunger, loss of their assets and the rapid plunge into poverty.

Many countries have social protection systems and safety nets––such as assistance to small-scale farmers, nutritional support to mothers and children and school meals–ensuring that their poorest citizens have enough to eat. Such mechanisms must be significantly developed in poorer countries. Affordable, predictable and transparent safety nets are a requirement against recurring price shocks and crises.

Small-scale food producers must also be better equipped to increase productivity, improve their access to markets and reduce their exposure to risk. And, of course, people need decent jobs and incomes so that they can afford to feed themselves and escape from poverty.

In addressing high food prices, the things we must avoid doing are just as important as the things we must do. In particular, countries must steer clear of panic buying and refrain from export restrictions, which, while temporarily assisting some national consumers, are generally inefficient and worsen the life of everyone.

We must, above all, understand that high food prices are a symptom and not the disease. So the international community must take action to prevent excessive price spikes, while tackling the root causes of such surges.

The world has experienced three international food price spikes in the past five years. Weather has been among the drivers for each. Droughts in some parts of the world have impaired global grain production practically every other year since 2007. Elsewhere, major floods also created severe damages to crops. The increased diversion of food crops for biofuels and the financial speculation have played a decisive role in rising prices and volatility.

Until we find the way to shield our food system from shocks and climate, the danger will remain. In the short term, this involves costs, not only for those directly impacted but also for the international community at large. For instance, the World Food Program estimates that every 10 percent increase in the price of its food basket means an additional $200 million a year for food assistance.

We are vulnerable because even in a good year, global grain production is barely enough to meet the growing demand for food, feed and fuel––and this in a world that counts 80 million additional mouths to feed every year. We are at risk because only a handful of nations are large producers of staple food commodities, and when they are affected, no one is exempt.

The challenge––and the opportunity––is both to reduce and to spread the risk. The most obvious way is to promote sustainable food production in poor, food-importing countries, where there is often a huge potential to develop production. That would make food available in local markets and create jobs and incomes, especially in rural areas where 70 percent of the world’s poor live. We must also deal with the fact that one third of the food produced globally is wasted or lost to spoilage, damage or other reasons. […]

1 The complete text of the statement is available from:
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Paris, 16 June 2019