Strategic grain reserves—also called emergency food reserves or food security reserves—have received considerable attention following the global food crisis of 2007–08. Various models for holding reserves have been discussed at such high-level forums as the G-8 Summit and have been studied by the New Economic Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and other regional economic organizations. By early 2009, countries that already had such programs scaled up their existing reserves, while countries that had dismantled such policies began a discussion about re-instituting them.

Nutrition has been gaining momentum as an important issue in high-level global development debates. Dr. David Nabarro of the UN High Level Task Force on the Food Security Crisis recently shared his views on how human nutrition is being prioritized, addressed, resourced, and assessed by different groups of stakeholders at global, regional, and national levels. At the 20th Annual Martin J. Forman Memorial Lecture, held on November 4 at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington DC, Dr.

Apparent similarities between today’s rising wheat prices and the food-price crisis of 2007-2008 are just that: apparent, not real. Suggestions to the contrary serve to drive up prices and hurt poor people, who spend much or most of their incomes on food. They need neither jittery markets nor ad hoc protectionism, which has exacerbated past food crises.

Recent events in Russia, one of the largest suppliers of wheat in the world, have raised concern about the current and future price of wheat and wheat-based products. This article briefly examines the issue and determines if there is in fact cause for serious alarm.

Summary of Facts

Emergency food reserves, or strategic reserves, have received considerable attention since the 2007-08 food crisis. Since that time, many countries have either established new strategic reserve programs or scaled up their existing programs by increasing stock levels. The rationale behind these policies is that, with increasing international food price volatility, governments must be prepared to protect their most vulnerable populations from food price shocks, declining purchasing power, and famine.

Price volatility is one of the most critical economic and food security challenges facing global policymakers today. Moreover, spikes in food prices can have significant impact on incomes, markets, and nutrition worldwide. In extreme cases, food price volatility can have serious political and social repercussions; in the 2007-08 food price crisis, 33 countries saw violent riots and social unrest as a result of volatile food prices, while in 2011, food price spikes have been at least partially blamed for political turnover in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as riots in several other countries.

“The G-20 is the premier forum for our international economic development that promotes open and constructive discussion between industrial and emerging-market countries on key issues related to global economic stability. By contributing to the strengthening of the international financial architecture and providing opportunities for dialogue on national policies, international co-operation, and international financial institutions, the G-20 helps to support growth and development across the globe.” (G20 Mandate)