World Water Week 2012 opened today with the announcement of a new framework to address issues of water scarcity and food insecurity. Spearheaded by the FAO, Coping with Water Scarcity: An Action Framework for Agriculture and Food Security aims to improve global water management practices, particularly when it comes to agriculture.

A new report has been released by the Stockholm International Water Institute in preparation for 2012 World Water Week (August 26-31). The report, Feeding a Thirsty World: Challenges and Opportunities for a Water and Food Secure Future, highlights the crucial role that water plays in agriculture, food production, and food security.

Food security has been a constant topic in the media in recent weeks as commodity prices continue to climb following the drought in the Midwestern US. While the causes of this most recent commodity price spike seem clear - negative weather in the US and South America impacting crop yields, as well as decreased export sales from some of the world's largest exporters - a new tool provides insight into another potential factor in food price spikes and price volatility: the media itself.

Global maize markets are currently experiencing a period of excessive price volatility. This is the first such period since June 2011 and can be largely attributed to conditions in the Midwest United States, which is experiencing the worst drought in 56 years. The United States is the world's largest maize exporter.

Global soybean prices hit an all-time high on Monday in the wake of continuing hot, dry weather across the US Midwest. In addition to pushing prices higher, the drought and subsequent declining soybean stocks and lower expected exports are also causing a period of excessive price volatility in the commodity. It is the first time such a period has been seen for soybeans since December 2010.

Global maize and soybean prices have skyrocketed in recent weeks and experts fear that price increases will be unabated as dry weather in the US Midwest continues for at least another week.

The 2007-2008 and 2010-2011 food crises saw not only an increase in food prices, but also an increase in poverty in many developing countries. A staggering 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty worldwide, and 70 percent of those poor live in rural areas and depend in some capacity on agriculture to survive. For these poor populations, there is an urgent need for strong investment in agricultural growth to increase production, reduce hunger, and help lift them out of crushing poverty.

Agricultural productivity is an increasingly hot topic worldwide, particularly after last week's G20 Summit (read the Interagency Report on increasing agricultural production). If current estimates of global population growth are correct, farmers will need to roughly double the world's current food production in order to feed 9 billion people by 2050. Climate change presents an additional challenge, with changing weather patterns and severe weather events undermining farmers' ability to even maintain current production levels.

The 2011 Horn of Africa food crisis brought the stark reality of weather-related shocks to the world’s attention, as the region’s worst drought in 60 years led to widespread crop failures and skyrocketing food prices and plunged millions of people into severe hunger and malnutrition. An early, effective response could have prevented the kind of widespread tragedy seen in the Horn of Africa in 2011, reducing mortality rates and malnutrition of young children, as well as helping families get back on their feet after the drought.

With the world facing continued population growth and the specter of climate change, food prices and food security are issues of growing global importance. The 2007-2008 and 2010-2011 food price crises have had lasting impacts on the face of the global food security environment; since 2001, food price volatility has been at its highest level in 50 years, and the uncertainty caused by this volatility is particularly detrimental for the world’s poor.

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