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2012 Starts with Commodity Prices, Food Inflation and Food Security High on the Policy Agenda

2012 has started off with commodity prices, food inflation and food security featuring
as part of the international policy agenda. As the World Bank has recently reported in
their Food Price Watch (www.worldbank.org), world commodity prices still remain a
cause for concern. Though the pressure on world prices had weakened in the latter
part of 2011 (world prices falling by around 8 per cent between September and
December 2011), world prices are still high and continue to be volatile; the annual
world food price index over 2011 was 24% higher than the 2010 price index.

Commodity prices on world markets are of course not the same as prices in domestic
markets as the Food Price Watch clearly indicates. But a particularly interesting
observation from the data is not just the different magnitudes of the domestic price
experiences as we look across countries but, in some cases, also the different
direction. Take, for example, domestic wheat prices between December 2010 and
December 2011. In Belarus, domestic wheat prices rose by 88%; in China, they had
risen by 10%; in Bangladesh, they had fallen by 10%! Similarly, for maize, local
prices in Kenya had risen by 117% but fell by 37% in Bolivia. Clearly, the range of
experience reflect a number of factors including the use of social safety nets,
government intervention and exchange rate movements among other factors but the
data clearly indicates that understanding the link between world and domestic prices
is a potentially complex matter.

In developed countries, we face the same challenge in understanding these issues.
Take the European Union which is the focus of the TRANSFOP project. The table
below shows annual food price inflation for 2011 for selected EU countries. Again,
the range of experience is notable. In Estonia, annual food price inflation was
recorded at 9.7% while, in the Netherlands, annual food price inflation was -0.9%. In
Hungary, food price inflation was 7.2% while only 1.2% in Ireland. Beyond the
borders of the EU, food price inflation in Switzerland was -3.3% So, notwithstanding
the geographical dispersion in the experience reported for emerging economies
highlighted above, even for developed countries in close proximity and with
‘common’ policies, understanding this experience is an important challenge for
research.

Annual Food Price Inflation Across Selected EU Countries: 2011

Country Annual FPI (%) Country Annual FPI (%)
Austria 4.2 Hungary 7.2
Belgium 2.4 Ireland 1.2
Denmark 4.0 Netherlands -0.9
Estonia 9.7 Poland 5.2
Finland 6.3 Spain 2.1
France 2.0 Sweden 1.3
Germany 2.9 UK 5.5

Source: OECD

Finally, the World Economic Forum in Davos also focussed on food security issues,
the emphasis being on developing countries
(http://www.weforum.org/videos/ensuring-food-security-annual-meeting-2012).
Aside from the not unexpected calls for more investment and productivity
improvements, many of the speakers highlighted the importance of addressing supply
chain issues and, to use the phrase of one of the principal speakers, increasing the
“transparency of food prices”. Importantly, the issues addressed by the TRANSFOP
consortium are not only important for understanding food policy issues across the EU,
but will hopefully contribute to the agenda for understanding food price issues across
a wider range of countries.

2,150 comments to 2012 Starts with Commodity Prices, Food Inflation and Food Security High on the Policy Agenda

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