With all the news of floods in Australia decimating the country’s wheat crop and adverse weather in the US cutting corn and soybean harvests, commodities prices across the globe are again seeing drastic increases, raising fears that we may be witnessing a return of widespread food insecurity and subsequent political and economic turmoil. Moreover, the FAO’s recent statement that global food prices reached a record high in December 2010 has sparked the memory of the crisis in 2007–08 and turned global attention back to the issue of food security.

As global food prices continue to surge, individuals and families in the developing world may be facing a new food reality. Fluctuations in the price of staple commodities may benefit some households’ welfare (producers) while hurting others (consumers). Understanding how price increases affect the developing world on a household level can pose a major challenge to global policymakers as they strive to respond to global and national food crises.

The dramatic surge in food prices in 2007–2008 seriously threatened the world’s poor, who struggle to buy food even under normal circumstances, and led to protests and riots in the developing world. The FAO’s recent statement that global food prices reached a record high in December 2010 has sparked the memory of this crisis and turned global attention back to the issue of food security.

The USDA Economic Research Service has released its January 2011 reports for wheat, rice, and soybean outlooks. These reports can help inform policy makers of important current issues involving food security, farming, natural resources, and global markets.

Download the January reports below. For more information regarding the USDA ERS reports, visit http://www.ers.usda.gov/

During the 2007-2008 global food crisis, the international price of major agricultural commodities such as wheat, rice, maize, and soybeans more than doubled. As floods in Australia decimate the country’s wheat crop and adverse weather in the US cuts corn and soybean harvests, commodities prices across the globe are again seeing drastic increases. Such price spikes spark the memory of the 2007-08 crisis, raising fears that we may be witnessing a return of widespread food insecurity and subsequent political and economic turmoil.

2011 has seen continuing fluctuations in the international price of agricultural commodities such as wheat, maize, soybeans, and corn. These staples often make up the bulk of the diet of the world’s poor; thus, any drastic change in the price of these commodities can have serious impacts on the economic stability and food security of the developing world. The fear and uncertainty surrounding changing commodities prices panic policy responses that only exacerbate food insecurity.

Commodity production and trade provide the primary livelihoods for millions of households throughout the developing world. The development of this sector is essential to poverty alleviation efforts and overall economic development. However, as witnessed in recent spikes in the price of wheat and soybeans, the commodity sector is challenged by severe price volatility and high marketing costs. Many believe that commodity exchanges provide a way to mitigate these risks and increase economic efficiency in a liberalized market environment.

The World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report provides monthly comprehensive forecasts of supply and demand for major U.S. and global crops, supplied by the USDA. Crops covered include wheat, coarse grains, rice, and oilseeds. This report can explain past and current global commodities trends, as well as predict trends for the coming year.

Download the January report below. For more information regarding the WASDE reports, visit http://www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/wasde/

With more and more emphasis being placed on trade liberalization, global agricultural markets are facing increasing interdependence. Commodities exchanges in particular are becoming more closely linked as traders draw on information generated both domestically and internationally.

In order for trade liberalization to be fair and effective, there must be a clear understanding of how these markets are linked so that regulation can be coordinated across countries. Appropriate regulation is key in preventing excessive price volatility and food insecurity.

The global food crisis of 2007–08 was characterized by a sharp spike in the prices of most agricultural commodities, including staple grains. High world prices were transmitted to domestic markets, eroding the purchasing power of urban households and particularly the poor. In dozens of countries, high prices sparked demonstrations and riots. A number of countries, including Argentina, India, Russia, and Vietnam, responded by restricting rice and wheat exports in an attempt to keep domestic prices from rising.