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Another jolt to global food prices
09 August 2012, The New York Times
For anyone doubting the importance of American agriculture to world markets, the latest price report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization will be revealing. The agency reported on Thursday that its food price index jumped by 6 percent in July. That was largely because of rising grain prices, with the drought in the United States and its expected impact on the corn harvest being the biggest factor. The cereals component of the index jumped 17 percent.
The report is a reversal of the recent trend in food prices; they had declined for three straight months. And it is a reminder that the global food crisis that came to a head in 2008 and again in 2011, with riots in dozens of countries, is by no means over. Many prices are still below their peak levels of recent years, true enough, but they are high by the standards of recent decades. And they could rise further as the impact of higher feed-grain prices works its way through meat and dairy markets. Cereal prices stand only slightly below their all-time peak levels in April 2008.
As I reported last year, the high temperatures and droughts of recent years, which many scientists say have become more likely because of human-induced climate change, are turning into a serious stress on the food system. Rising demand in developing countries is also a major factor.
Many experts are worried that future demand cannot be met at prices the world’s poor people can afford. Reacting to Thursday’s report, groups campaigning against hunger demanded that governments in the advanced countries redouble their focus on poor farmers in developing countries. Steps have been taken in that direction since the crisis peaked in 2008, but they remain inadequate, in the view of some of those groups.
"World leaders must snap out of their lazy complacency and realize the time of cheap food has long gone," Colin Roche, head of economic justice advocacy at Oxfam International, said in a statement. "Without action, millions more people are in danger of joining the billion who are already hungry."