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Seven Pillars of Food Security Wisdom

April 5, 2011

Photo: IFPRI.

As observers of world food security strain to see whether another major crisis like that of 2007-08 looms on the horizon, CGIAR food policy experts are sending a strong message to developing and developed country governments as well as international organizations: Action must be taken now to prevent food price crises from becoming a recurring world nightmare in the decades to come.

The actions needed – constituting a comprehensive approach to the problem – are spelled out in a recent policy brief from the CGIAR’s International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), with headquarters in Washington, D.C. Titled Urgent Actions Needed to Prevent Recurring Food Crises, the brief calls for key actors to:

  1. Minimize food-fuel competition through policy reforms.
  2. Strengthen social safety nets.
  3. Make global trade more fair and transparent.
  4. Create a global emergency physical grain reserve.
  5. Promote and invest in agricultural growth, emphasizing improved smallholder productivity.
  6. Invest in realizing agriculture’s potential for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
  7. Set up an international working group to monitor the world food situation.

While not necessarily predicting another another major crisis, the IFPRI experts point out that international prices of maize and wheat almost doubled from June 2010 to mid-March 2011, noting the “substantial impacts” such increases can have on “domestic prices in many parts of the world.”

The policy brief also explains that the forces driving the 2007-08 crisis – such as expanding biofuel production, rising energy prices and export restrictions – still weigh heavily on current price trends. In addition, it describes important differences between today’s predicament and the food price situation 3 years ago, some of which are positive (like increased overall grain production) while others are not (especially high food inflation in China and India).

Most important, the authors emphasize that, with or without another major crisis, unrelenting food price inflation and volatility will continue to cause great harm to the world’s poor consumers. These people spend half or more of their income on food, and their means of adjusting to rapid prices increases are extremely limited.

National governments and international organizations face constraints too. But it is clearly within their power to reduce chronic hunger, and IFPRI’s wise advice makes clear how this power can best be applied.

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