You might find it hard to believe, but high prices of onions can trigger the fall of the government in India. In 1998, a supply side shock led to a sharp increase in onion prices in the country and most notably, in the state of Delhi. In the following elections, the ruling party was routed in large part due to its failure to control the price of onions in the capital state. Today, onion prices in India are up again, rising by over 100% in just three weeks in December.
Agriculture, food and nutrition
It is a matter of debate whether governments should play an active role in stimulating industrial upgrading. But it strikes me as highly unlikely that an activist role for government has much benefit for products low on the value chain. A new policy note from ODI on four product markets in five developing countries seems to bear this out.
The WSJ reports on the troubles that seasonal rains have brought to northern India. The federal government had previously bought up large quantities of local wheat and rice, and now has no place to store it, so seasonal rains are washing the rice away or causing it to rot. One New Delhi-based think tank says that the solution is simply to bring in the private sector:
Considerable effort and attention has been devoted to market-oriented reforms in the manufacturing and financial sectors and in physical infrastructure. While these are undoubtedly important sectors, there is very little by way of research on agricultural market reforms—loosely defined as deregulation of agricultural markets.
The World Bank's East Asia blog links to a fantastic graphic of the world's resources by country. There is a clear correlation between size and supply: the United States, Canada, Russia, China and Brazil dominate the list. In many categories, such as soy, uranium, rice, natural gas, cotton, and corn, over half of the world's supply is controlled by three countries or fewer.