FAO GIEWS released today the November 2011 Final Food Outlook, a comprehensive analysis of the global agricultural market situation. According to the report, the outlook for the agricultural commodities markets remains difficult to predict; despite improved supply prospects and weakening demand for several important commodities, volatile prices and the uncertain global economic situation continue to play a part in high food prices.

In a long-awaited move, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission on October 18 approved limits on trading in the commodities markets. Specifically, the new rules limit the number of commodity contracts that any investor can hold in agriculture, energy, or metals contracts.

The ongoing crisis in the Horn of Africa has shown that the challenge of food insecurity is alive and well. The 2011 G20 meetings have paid particular attention to the issues of high food prices, food price volatility, and food insecurity. G20 leaders have involved leading international institutions, such as the FAO, IFAD, WFP, and IFPRI, and have established several action plans to address these important issues.

The HarvestChoice AgMarketFinder Tool is a collaborative development innovation from IFPRI, Esri, and SpatialDev.

A Commentary by Maximo Torero

Thailand’s rice exporters are warning that the country’s 2012 rice exports could drop by as much as 30-40 percent as the result of a proposed government policy that would guarantee fixed prices for both plain white rice and jasmine rice. The Pheu Thai Party, which was elected into power in July, has promised farmers fixed prices of 15,000 baht ($US 500) per ton for plain white rice and 20,000 baht (US$ 667) per ton for jasmine rice.

In June, the US Senate voted in favor of a deal to end a 45-cent-per-gallon subsidy for the ethanol industry, as well as a 54-cent-per-gallon ethanol tariff. Originally decried by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as a move that would cost American jobs, lead to less choice for consumers, and further dependence on foreign oil sources, the proposal is seen as progress by those who fear that using crops for fuel can destabilize the food and feed markets and lead to higher food prices.

After two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall, the Horn of Africa is experiencing the region's worst drought in 60 years. Drought conditions have led to widespread crop failure and livestock deaths, as well as increasing food prices. Somalia now faces famine conditions in the southern part of the country.

While increasing access to well-functioning markets for high-value agricultural products is one key component of agricultural and economic development, an equally important component is ensuring that smallholder producers, particularly women, have the capacity to take advantage of this increased access.

In a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, Christopher Barrett and Marc Bellemare write a stimulating note on the recent price movements in agricultural commodity markets. They appear to have three clear messages for policymakers:

With the global population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050, and incomes in developing countries to continue rising as well, increased global demand for food in the coming decades will place unprecedented pressure on sustainable food production. Climate change poses a further challenge, as changes in temperature and precipitation threaten agricultural productivity and the world’s capacity to feed a growing population.