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Is the global food system broken?

Written by Steve Wiggins


This Opinion argues for the rebuilding of global food stocks in the medium term to avert a repeat of the food price crisis that peaked earlier this year. It suggest that the world food system is not broken beyond repair, despite recent shocks. The current situation would have been worse, the Opinion suggests, had the system not performed rather well for the last 30 or more years.

The markets will recover: with high prices farmers will respond with higher production3 and prices will come down. The crisis will pass within 18 months, as it did in 1973/74, even though prices will stabilise at a level higher than those seen before the crisis hit. But action is needed to make sure that this crisis does not recur.

Stocks need to be rebuilt and never again allowed to drift down as they did in the 2000s. To do so, production needs to be increased: but not by much. Just raising the growth rate of cereals output to a little more than the growth rates of population and consumption — perhaps 2% a year — would be sufficient. A target this modest can be met: investing in research would help. In addition, governments need to pay for larger physical stocks, perhaps another 250 million tonnes on top of the 400 million tonnes currently in store, and coordinate policies to buy in and release stocks. Leaving the management of food stocks to private companies operating just-in-time inventories is not good enough.