There is a "realistic possibility" that the world could see a repeat of the 2007-2008 upsurge in food prices that "caused a sharp rise in the number of hungry people around the world," the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Monday at a forum of experts who are meeting in Rome through Tuesday, Reuters reports. "Food commodities prices are likely to stay high and volatile in the medium term," according to the FAO.
The price of basic food commodities worldwide increased by 60 percent between 2006 and 2008. By the middle of last year, "food prices on international markets reached their highest level in nearly 30 years, causing riots and hoarding in some countries and sparking a drive by import-dependent rich nations to secure farmland mainly in poorer countries," the news service writes. Although prices have gone down, they are still relatively high and are not likely to drop below 2006 levels, FAO said.
Homi Kharas, a forum panelist who is a global economy and development scholar at the Brookings Institution, said erratic prices are "almost inevitable." Reuters writes: "He said that the factors which led to the food price crisis last year -- droughts, volatile energy prices, U.S. dollar instability and market speculation -- all threatened to push prices up again" (Aloisi, 10/12).
On Monday, Jacques Diouf, FAO director general, "opened two days of talks on the challenges that lay ahead for farming over the next 40 years," the Guardian's "Katine Chronicles Blog" reports. "Around 300 experts and scientists on agriculture and food security turned up in Rome for the first day of the high level forum on how to feed the world in 2050," according to the blog (10/12).
Diouf told the forum that the demand for food is expected to almost double because of a combination of population growth, income increases and urbanization, the U.N. News Centre writes. To address these challenges, "[a]griculture will have no choice but to be more productive," he said. Diouf "pointed out that in addition to dwindling natural resources such as land, water and biodiversity, 'global agriculture will have to cope with the effects of climate change, notably higher temperatures, greater rainfall variability and more frequent extreme weather events such as floods and droughts'" (10/12).
To mark the forum, SciDev.Net examines a recent FAO report that found, "[f]ood production in Sub-Saharan Africa grew [last year] ... for the first time in decades." Several factors contributed to the 3.5 percent increase, including increased use of technology, national policy changes and higher food prices, which have spurred growth. Hilary Clarke, a spokesperson for the FAO, said, "Increased research in agriculture has led to improved crop varieties more suited to specific African regions." The article includes comments from an agriculture expert in Kenya (Wururu, 10/12).
This article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.