Photo Credit: Jon S.

Food security and food prices are driven by a complex range of interacting factors, including weather, crop production levels, trade, and conflict. For several years, IFPRI has been studying whether and how another factor influences food prices: the media.

The Food Security Media Analysis System (FOMA) was first developed in 2012 by IFPRI in collaboration with Sophic Systems Alliance Inc. (Sophic Intelligence). Today, an updated and expanded version of the tool has been launched. The tool examines the extent to which perceptions of the global food security situation, as presented by daily global media, align with the actual current food security environment (food prices, stocks, etc.). This research supports the premise that a lack of accurate information regarding agricultural markets and global food stocks may contribute to driving up food prices by leading governments to engage in harmful policies such as export bans and unnecessary stockpiling.

FOMA uses a flexible relationship-based search engine that highlights connections between key words or phrases related to commodity prices and food security. Daily reports generated by the system then analyze the impact of media articles about food prices, agricultural markets, and food stocks on the global and regional prices of key staple foods, such as wheat, maize, soybeans, and rice. The updated system allows users to search for related key words and phrases at both the article level and the sentence level; this new function will allow researchers to drill down and gain a clearer picture of the links between key words and phrases. The enhanced system also produces reports for media in three different languages – English, Spanish, and French – to allow for broader coverage of food price- and food security-related news from non-English-speaking countries.

FOMA forms an important feature of IFPRI’s Food Security Portal suite of websites, which include the global portal, an Africa south of the Sahara portal, an India portal, and a Central America and the Caribbean portal. These websites act as a clearinghouse for global and regional food security and food price data, policy analysis tools, and research. They also feature several important early warning tools to help alert policymakers to significant movements in food prices, including the FOMA system and IFPRI’s Excessive Food Price Volatility Early Warning System.

Maximo Torero, Ph.D., former Director of IFPRI’s Markets, Trade, and Institutions Division, said, “There was a devastating food price crisis in 2007/2008 and since then, we have developed economic models to analyze the cause of this disaster and to help us avoid similar crises in the future. We are now using Sophic Intelligence to provide valuable daily information that will allow us to more accurately measure the influence of press articles on current commodity price fluctuations. The Sophic Intelligence commodity media analysis reports and heatmaps help us to understand the relationships between events that affect food and commodity prices in countries around the world, and are one more tool in the fight against global hunger.”

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

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