Avoid the blame game ahead of World Food Day

14 October 2010

Blaming speculation on futures markets for the volatility in world food prices risks neglecting the crucial challenges facing global agriculture in the coming years, according to ODI research.

A new briefing published by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and summarised in a blog and video interview by Steve Wiggins, highlights the uneven transmission of world food prices down to country level. It suggests that whilst global prices had some impact on Asian and Latin American markets, it continues to be local factors which drive price changes in Africa.

The findings reinforce the need to concentrate on strategic efforts to raise crop production, develop agriculture and lift the standard of living for the rural poor in order to lower the number of malnourished people across the world from 925 million – all of this whilst using less water and generating fewer carbon emissions.

A recent Ghanaian case study published by ODI provides clear evidence that the kind of changes needed to successfully feed populations can be made in a relatively short space of time.  Over the last 25 years, Ghana ranks among the five top performers in the world in agricultural growth. Cocoa production has boomed, and staple foods production has risen by 80% in a generation. This has contributed to an increase in rural living standards that had seen 1 in 4 people lifted out of poverty by 2006 and almost halved child malnutrition since the end of the ’80s.  Analysis from ODI shows Ghana will soon achieve MDG1 of halving 1990 levels of poverty and hunger by 2015.

ODI Research Fellow Steve Wiggins said:

“Whilst there are one or two measures relating to food stocks which could help stabilise food prices, blaming ‘the men in suits’ for price speculation is a red herring.  The real scandal on World Food Day remains the 925 million people without an adequate diet.

If we are to change this statistic then there are three crucial areas for focus:increasing cereal production, reducing poverty through agricultural development, and promoting health and wellbeing, especially for mothers.

If we are to avoid scarcity of food, fuel and water in a matter of decades, then a great deal of thought needs to be given to how we can achieve development in agriculture whilst economising on water use and cutting carbon emissions.”

ODI has refreshed its content on food to mark World Food Day, including an updated comprehensive FAQ on food prices, a focus on Ghana and Thailand’s progress as part of the Development Progress Stories, a blog from the Humanitarian Policy Group on delivering adequate food supplies to citizens undergoing protracted crises, and a briefing on food price transmission.