Today the world seems to hold its breath again amidst the sudden hike in food prices caused by a historical drought in the US and lack of rain in Eastern Europe. It is a thorny task to predict whether the very recent increases in food prices will unfold into magnitude of the crises seen in 2007-08 and again in 2010-2011: differences between now and then in the price of energy, a critical driver of food prices, give a reason for optimism; as does the hope that governments now better understand the painful consequences of some panic policies that have been put in place during previous episodes. On the other hand, months of volatility in global food prices, low food stocks and food security crisis alerts in parts of East and West Africa all paint a gloomy picture.
(Summary of parallel session 10 at the ABCDE, Paris)
This session involved the presentation of three papers. The first looked at the importance of high food prices for poverty in developing countries. The second looked at the optimal policies for an individual country using trade policies to insulate its market from price volatility in the world market. And, the third considered the implications of the policies actually undertaken by developing countries.
The first paper presentation showed that high food prices raise poverty substantially, implying that policy makers in developing countries are right to be concerned. The second showed that—for individual countries—an appropriate response to high food prices appears to be use of export restrictions in exporting countries or reductions in import barriers in importing countries. The third showed that most countries actually respond in this way, but that these actions are collectively ineffective in reducing the volatility of domestic prices. What appears to be needed is to identify policies that can more effectively deal with the problem of food price volatility.
The World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings concluded Sunday, having brought renewed attention to the impact of the food crisis, challenges facing conflict-affected states, and progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, among other issues.
In case you missed one of the many announcements or discussions held over the last two weeks, here are a few highlights:
As the Bank reported earlier this week, global food prices are rising to dangerous levels and threaten tens of millions of poor people around the world. Rising prices have pushed an estimated 44 million people into poverty since last June.