The structure and behavior of agricultural input markets, such as fertilizer or seed markets, can have significant regional and global effects on agricultural development and, thus, food security. Prohibitively high costs and other constraints can limit the use of beneficial inputs and lead to decreased agricultural productivity, which can negatively impact farmers as well as consumers. On the other hand, input producers may benefit from higher prices.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), funded by USAID, has released its latest monthly price watch detailing staple food prices for February 2011. These reports provide food security updates for 25 countries vulnerable to food insecurity, focusing on impacts on livelihoods and markets. These updates can help policymakers recognize and mitigate potential threats to food security.

Download the latest reports below. For more information regarding FEWS NET, please visit www.fews.net.

The 2007-08 food crisis saw the international price of staple agricultural commodities (such as wheat, maize, soybeans, and rice) more than double; today the international price of many of these commodities is again on the rise. A common assumption is that as the international price of such commodities increases, the domestic consumer price of basic food items such as bread, flour, wheat, corn, tortillas, and rice will also increase. However, the degree of this transmission may vary from country to country and from commodity to commodity.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network has released a food security alert for East Africa, citing ongoing drought, uncertain rainfall predictions, and increasing international food prices. Rainfall totals were less than 30 percent of average in certain regions of Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya from October-December 2010. This severe water shortage led to a failure of January-February harvests in the region. FEWS NET predicts that as many as five million people in the area will have difficulty meeting basic food and water requirements in the coming months.

On February 18-19, a meeting of the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors was held in Paris to address ongoing global financial and economic challenges. This initial meeting acknowledged that although the global economy has seen a certain level of recovery, there are still challenges and pitfalls to overcome in order to achieve the G20 mandate of improved economic growth and development.

Social protection encompasses safety net programs such as conditional cash transfers, insurance programs such as microinsurance or weather securities, and social sector programs such as free primary education. In addition to creating a fairer society, social protection programs can also be key in promoting economic growth through reducing risk and encouraging investment and innovation.

Biofuel production has increased drastically in recent years and is expected to continue doing so—by 2020, it is estimated that more than 110 million tons of oil equivalent will be generated by first generation biofuels. With this rapid growth, the role of biofuels in global energy and food markets has come under increasing scrutiny. In particular, the argument that the production of biofuels threatens world food supplies has heightened the sensitivity and controversy surrounding the subject.

The FAO Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS) has released several special alerts since the start of 2011. GIEWS alerts are the result of rapid evaluation missions and give information on countries' crop production, food supply situation at national and sub-national levels, and food aid needs. This regional and country-level information is essential for the international community to respond to crises in the developing world. Recent alerts have covered recent droughts in China and floods in South Africa.

The World Bank this week issued a statement saying that increasing food prices have driven an estimated 44 million people into poverty in low- and middle-income countries since June 2010. This staggering increase in global poverty levels has serious economic, social, and political implications. Many experts and media outlets worldwide have linked rising food prices to riots in Algeria, the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, and the recent riots in Egypt which led to the historic resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

With a growing global population putting increasing stress on agricultural productivity, there is a clear need for new policies and tools to meet this rising food demand. Promoting improvements in policies, institutions, and markets to generate agricultural growth will be crucial to stimulate productivity and improve the welfare of poor and disadvantaged populations worldwide.

IFPRI is at the forefront of efforts to increase agricultural productivity through research and capacity-building.