Photo Credit: Flickr: WTO

Today’s global food and agriculture landscape is, in many ways, unrecognizable from what it was even at the start of the 21st century. From the widespread use of staple food crops for biofuel production to increased market volatility to growing threats from climate change, food security worldwide faces many new challenges. Add to that a burgeoning global population and complicated (and sometimes distortionary) national and international trade policies, and it becomes clear that policymakers need new, more coordinated options to ensure a food-secure future.

Photo credit: Flickr: McKay Savage

The FAO Food Price Index fell nearly 3 points in January, signaling a continued decrease in all of the commodities tracked by the Index and a decline of nearly 29 points from January 2015. This continued fall in prices is in part driven by the strong global supply highlighted in this month’s AMIS Market Monitor, along with an appreciating US dollar and lower global oil prices.

The surge in digital technologies available over the past few decades has transformed virtually every sector of the global economy, and agriculture is no exception. Information and communications technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones and SMS messaging are changing the way farmers track weather patterns, access market information, interact with traders and government agencies, and get paid for their crops.

Climate change has been front and center of the global agenda recently, driven by the historic COP21 meeting in Paris in December and concerns about the ongoing El Niño cycle.

By: Joseph Glauber, IFPRI
A strong El Niño continued through December, as indicated by above-average sea surface temperatures (SST) across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. The strength and duration of the current El Niño event has raised concerns about global crop prospects and food prices.

Knowing which types of policies are appropriate in a given country’s political, economic, and social context is key to ensuring that enacted policies are truly effective and inclusive. This is especially true for agriculture and food security, when well-timed and targeted policies can have significant effects on vulnerable populations.

The current El Niño cycle, one of the top three strongest on record since the phenomenon started being tracked in 1950, is expected to continue through the winter in the Northern Hemisphere, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

International trade has grown significantly over the past 60 years; the WTO (2008) estimates that between 1950 and 2007, the rate of growth of world trade in real terms was 6.2 percent, compared to 3.8 percent growth in global GDP. The impact of increased world trade cannot be measured simply in terms of economic activity, however; issues like gender equity, health, and nutrition (all key aspects of societal wellbeing) are also affected.

International agricultural trade has been a major headline recently, but as the latest WTO Ministerial Conference proves, disagreement about the best way to conduct such trade remains widespread.

Photo Credit: Flickr: WTO

On December 19, the 159 members of the WTO concluded the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference with the signing of a new international trade agreement, the Nairobi Package. The agreement contains several important outcomes on the issue of agriculture and represents the first major achievement by the WTO on this issue since the end of the Uruguay Round talks and the birth of the organization in 1995.