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Popul Dev Rev. 2010;36(4):693-723.

Food security in an era of economic volatility.

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Stanford University.


This article analyzes international commodity price movements, assesses food policies in response to price fluctuations, and explores the food security implications of price volatility on low-income groups. It focuses specifically on measurements, causes, and consequences of recent food price trends, variability around those trends, and price spikes. Combining these three components of price dynamics shows that the variation in real prices post-2000 was substantially greater than that in the 1980s and 1990s, and was approximately equal to the extreme volatility in commodity prices that was experienced in the 1970s. Macro policy, exchange rates, and petroleum prices were important determinants of price variability over 2005–2010, highlighting the new linkages between the agriculture-energy and agriculture-finance markets that affect the world food economy today. These linkages contributed in large part to misguided expectations and uncertainty that drove prices to their peak in 2008. The article also argues that there is a long-lasting effect of price spikes on food policy around the world, often resulting in self-sufficiency policies that create even more volatility in international markets. The efforts by governments to stabilize prices frequently contribute to even greater food insecurity among poor households, most of which are in rural areas and survive on the margin of net consumption and net production. Events of 2008—and more recently in 2010—underscore the impact of price variability for food security and the need for refocused policy approaches to prevent and mitigate price spikes.

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