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.

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 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.

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.