The World Bank this week issued a statement saying that increasing food prices have driven an estimated 44 million people into poverty in low- and middle-income countries since June 2010. This staggering increase in global poverty levels has serious economic, social, and political implications. Many experts and media outlets worldwide have linked rising food prices to riots in Algeria, the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, and the recent riots in Egypt which led to the historic resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

The USDA Economic Research Service has released its February 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 February reports below. For more information regarding the USDA ERS reports, visit http://www.ers.usda.gov/

A child in Bangladesh receives nutritional supplements.

The FAO has released its Food Price Index for January, 2011. This report provides a measure of the monthly change in international prices for major food commodities. The January Price Index rose for the seventh consecutive month, showing a marked increase in the global price of all major commodities. Such an increase makes this month's Price Index the highest (in both real and nominal terms) since the index was first backtracked in 1990.

To view the whole report, visit http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/FoodPricesIndex/en/

Durante la crisis alimentaria mundial de los años 2007 y 2008, los precios internacionales de los productos agrícolas tales como el trigo, el arroz, el maíz y la soja subieron a más del doble. Mientras que las inundaciones en Australia diezman los cultivos de trigo del país y las inclemencias climáticas en los Estados Unidos reducen las cosechas de maíz y soja, los precios de los productos básicos a nivel global se ven nuevamente afectados por aumentos drásticos.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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