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Global wheat export prices fell in February as a result of slowing trade activity, ample supplies, and generally good growing conditions throughout the Northern Hemisphere, according to this month's FAO Food Price Monitoring and Analysis Bulletin. These prices reflect a decline of almost 20 percent from February 2015.

FAO's first Crop Prospects and Food Situation report of 2016 estimates that while global stocks remain at adequate levels, a total of 34 countries are in need of external food assistance due to a combination of civil conflict and El Niño-linked weather conditions. Twenty-seven of those countries are in Africa, where adverse weather resulted in significantly lower 2015 cereal harvests.

According to the February FAO Food Price Index released last week, food prices were steady in February but were 14.5 percent lower than in February 2015. The Cereal Price Index fell by 13.7 percent from a year before, led by a 1.5 percent decline in wheat prices due to slower trade activity and the expectation of large exports throughout the rest of the marketing season. Maize prices also fell in February, while rice prices rose slightly.

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Improved seed varieties that are more resistant to heat, drought, and pests and disease can help farmers increase their crop yields and adapt to the effects of climate change. However, smallholder farmers often do not use improved seeds, because of prohibitively high costs, a lack of access to seed dealers, or a lack of information about the benefits of improved varieties.

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Trade was the major theme in January's Monthly News Report on Grains, released earlier this week. Changes in several countries' export and import policies and volumes were reported.

Photo credit: IFPRI/David Popham

This post was originally posted on the blog. By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

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Markets play a crucial role in global agricultural development and food security, and well-functioning markets require effective, transparent regulations to ensure agricultural safety, quality, and economic efficiency. The World Bank’s 2016 Enabling the Business of Agriculture report examines the current state of agricultural and agribusiness regulations across the globe and provides some important lessons.

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International cereal prices remain significantly below last year’s levels due to abundant global supplies and strong export competition, says the latest Food Price Monitoring and Analysis Bulletin from FAO. The benchmark US wheat price was $214 per tonne in January, while the benchmark US maize price averaged $161 per tonne in January. Rice prices were slightly more varied depending on their origin; prices rose slightly for Thai 100%B white rice but fell for rice from Vietnam, India, and the US.

The USDA’s latest World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate was released this week, citing larger-than-predicted US surpluses for corn and wheat. Increased competition from Canada and South America have slowed US exports of those commodities by 25 million bushels, the lowest since 1971-1972. These 25 million bushels have also pushed US wheat ending stocks to the largest volume since 2009-2010. For corn, US ending stocks increased by 35 million bushels this month.

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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.