Rising Food Prices Continue to Threaten Political and Economic Stability

The United Nations’¬†Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published a report Tuesday showing that, while global food prices haven’t changed since April, the global price for a basket of basic foods is still 37% higher than this time last year, with no signs of alleviation within the next year.

Prices this year are now at the same levels as the 2007-2008 global food crisis that incited rioting all over the world. And Oxfam recently launched an international campaign warning that food prices could double in the next 20 years and that our current troubles might only be the beginning of a permanent food crisis.

While this information means Americans may switch to generic brands or spend a little more on their produce, rising food prices have pushed 44 million people from less affluent countries — people living on about $1.25 a day — into extreme poverty. Worse still, high food prices mean the World Food Program, which distributes food to impoverished peoples all over the world, might have to reduce the size of rations or the number of people who receive rations.

The solutions being attempted around the globe are numerous. Governments in Caribbean countries, which have largely relied upon imported food in the past, are now encouraging citizens to plant their own gardens and try to buy locally grown produce. In Kenya, people are calling for government regulation of pricing. Sunday’s UN conference on trade and development also suggested that governments might have to regulate food prices.

G20 agricultural ministers will meet in Paris later this month to discuss how to bring pricing under control. One thing they are asking is that governments around the world be transparent about their production and consumption of food commodities. China has even agreed to a certain amount of visibility in that department, a first for them. The United States has also made information readily available, but many other countries, though willing to participate, don’t have the information organized in any coherent, interpretable form.