This paper is one of a set of Theme Papers commissioned by the Forum for Food Security in Southern Africa which examine the 2001/02 food security crisis. This crisis highlighted a series of more chronic threats to the most vulnerable inhabitants of the region. In this paper we do not focus on the events of the crisis itself, instead we examine the underlying political-economy and governance issues which contributed to the crisis. We examine the political forces that appear to affect the practical results of market-based food policy. We examine policy failures in specific areas critical to agricultural development and food security – input provision, output marketing, import/export trade and the macro-economic environment and infrastructure provision. We hope that our analysis will stimulate debate about the interactions between donors and governments in the region and lead to a re-thinking of the viable options for food security policy.