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Food crisis returns

06/07/2009

An interesting article at The Economist on world food prices. In some areas such as cereals they are behaving differently from what might have been expected.

On the face of things, markets last year were adjusting exactly as economic theory predicts they should: prices rose, drawing investment into farms; supplies then rose sharply, pushing prices down. But that was not the whole story. The price fluctuations of 2007-09 suggested that uncertainty in the world of agriculture was deepening under the influence both of oil prices and capital flows. The fact that prices are still well above their 2006 average, even in a recession, suggests that the spike of 2008 did not signal a mere bubble—but rather, a genuine mismatch of supply and demand. And this year’s price increase suggests that there is a long way to go before that underlying mismatch is eventually addressed. “I don’t see that anything has fundamentally changed,” says Mr Abbassian. “That means we cannot go back to where we were in 2007.”

Part of the problem seems to be regulation – especially in many less developed countries, part protectionism, part productivity – African production per hectare is far below Europe and Asian levels for example, and part our old friend ethanol.

One other comment resonated with Adam:-

Lastly, it is possible that the widespread hunger brought about by soaring prices—the FAO says a billion people will go hungry this year—may have reached a peak and the poor may be back in the market for grain again. This may sound unlikely, as traditionally poor consumers have had little influence over world food prices, but economic growth has continued in the largest emerging markets (notably China and India) and governments in much of the developing world have been expanding aid programmes for the poor, such as conditional cash-transfer schemes. That may be boosting demand; it would explain why prices of grain, which everyone eats, have been rising this year while prices of meat—the food of the rich and aspiring middle classes—have continued to fall.

That is not good news for NZ. In addition although the article did not address dairy as such, it may explain why dairy has not recovered.

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