Tag Archives: Food markets

G8 Shift Away From Food Aid Towards Agriculture Investment

Today’s biggest news appears to be the shift in G8 food security policy reported by the Financial Times. It seems that the “L’Aquilla Food Security Initiative” at the forthcoming G8 summit will take forward an international policy move away from food aid and towards support for agriculture. It is expected that later this week the G8 (with the US and Japan providing the bulk of the funding) will announce more than $12bn for long-term agricultural development, particularly in Africa.

The background to the story includes the impacts on food security of the 2007 food crisis, the 2008 petrol price hikes and the ongoing international financial crisis.

The world’s first reaction to the 2007 food crisis, which saw record prices for crops such as wheat and rice triggering food riots from Haiti to Senegal, was to increase food aid. The UN’s World Food Programme doubled its budget to more than $5bn. The thinking since then has shifted, with Japan and the US leading the way in talking about helping poor countries, particularly in Africa, to feed themselves.

Mr Nwanze, a Nigerian national, says, “The financial crisis is worsening food security in many developing countries,” he says. “Wholesale food prices had been falling but prices remain very high in developing countries.” He commments on the policy shift by saying,  “Too much of the first [food aid] could flood African domestic agricultural commodities markets, starving local agriculture. Too little and the farmers who are supposed to produce the local food could perish before their first crop.”

Revised approach to fighting hunger. Photo: EPA, Telegraph

I think that Mr Nwanze’s statement sums up the need for food price monitoring and market information systems in Africa. I hope that the revised international approach to fighting hunger will reduce the emphasis on response (often too little too late) and will focus on monitoring food stocks, aleviation of chronic food insufficiency and prevention of shocks.

I think that affordability and therefore access to food is a bigger problem than its availability. When food security is conceptualised as a long-term, local issue, it is significant to monitor the prices of agriculture inputs (food, fertilizers, seeds etc.) in food producing regions and the prices of agriculture outputs at local, as well as national and international commodity markets. When farmers are provided with information about the prices of the commodities produced by them, they can use that information in making their seeding, planting and harvesting decisions. Conversely, the provision of information at markets and commodity exchanges about the stock availability of farming produce and the direction of its flow, can significantly improve the resilience of the food supply chain and avoid bottlenecks.

via FT.com / In depth – Poor nations look for help to feed themselves.

via G8 countries shift from food aid to investing in agriculture – Telegraph.

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Alternative Food Systems: Urban Agriculture in an Era of Global Warming and Oil Price Shocks

In the last couple of days the issues related to the implementation of alternative food systems have been largely featured in the UK media. The BBC touched on the topic of alternative food systems through its “Cuba and Urban Gardening” edition of Radio 4 – The Food Programme, and its “Urban  Farming Takes Root in Detroit” article pertaining to urban agriculture (BBC NEWS – World – Americas). The interest in the topic has largely been provoked by the Capital Growth initiative of the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, whereby 2,012 new food growing spaces should be established in London by 2012.

“Cuba and Urban Gardening” shares views and commentary on the experience of Cuba in the 1990s when the country entered a “Special Period in Peace Time”. Sacrifices in living standards, insufficient food supplies and a drive towards self-sufficiency in the food sector dominated the period.  Cuban researchers, policy-makers and producers were encouraged to eschew agressive agricultural techniques on the basis of necessity because agrichemical inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers were not attainable at the time.  Additionally, there was very limited access to fossil fuels for the transportation of food produce from the countryside, where it is naturally grown, into  urban areas.  As a result, sprung initiatives promoting urban organic agriculture.  These were aimed at meeting the nutritional needs of urban dwellers through the use of urban spaces for the organic production of foodstuffs.  The program was also aimed at improving the recycling and use of urban waste.

“Urban Farming Takes Root in Detroit” introduces the work of Urban Farming, a Detroit-based charity aimed at reducing inner city hunger through the growth of agricultural produce on unused urban land and the distribution of the produced food among hungry people.  The idea is very simple: turn wasteland into free vegetable gardens and feed the poor people who live nearby.  Motown has lost more than a million residents since its heyday in the 1950s and it is common to see downtown residential streets with just a few houses left standing. Taja Sevelle saw the hundreds of hectares of vacant land in the city and came up with the idea of creating an organic self-help movement that would be “affordable (and) practical”.

Even though, on the surface ot it, the experiences of people in Cuba and Detroit might appear a long way away from the design of mobile marketplaces in developing countries, I am inclined to think otherwise.  In the current age of global warming and oil price shocks the localisation of food production appears to be a public policy imperative on a worldwide scale.

The mobile market design problem for developing countries is inextricably entwined with the problem of improving the food supply chain in developing countries and the problem of creating food supply systems, alternative to the currently dominant industrial food supply chain, in developed countries. Traditionally, aggressive agricultural techniques and drives towards agricultural exports have been regarded as a prime road to development and poverty reduction in many LDCs. In the current global environmental situation, the solutions to both of these problems demand re-thinking.

The Cuban experience can be seen as an inspiration for the efforts of people in industrialised countries to find alternative food systems. It is a story of adaptation to the constraints of a “fuel famine”, assurance of food self-sufficiency and nutrition.  The film The Power of Community: How Cuba survived Peak Oil illustrates that story.  What about developing countries? How would smallholders there be able to improve their livelihoods if/when advanced industrial countries manage to improve their food self-sufficiency?

FEWS NET issues Food Security Alert for West Africa

In the last week I came across the alarming news that the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) has issued a food security alert with regards to West Africa. The alert came on 17 Feb 2009 and it is due to the above-average market prices of local agricultural produce across West Africa.

west-africa-food-security-alert1According to the FEWS NET information, during the 2008/09 growing season West Africa has been fortunate to ascertain above-average harvests in the region, meeting the local consumption demand. The 2008 rainy season has been marked with agreeable regularity and distribution of rains in the Sahelian countries and West Africa. Thereby, the performance of crop production in the region is expected to be more than satisfactory. Nonetheless, price movements in the region, coupled with the presence of the international food crisis have raised a considerable level of alert. Despite the good harvesting season 2008/09, cereal prices in the region have remained at worrying levels.

After the arrival of the new harvest in September 2008, the price of cereals stabilized or declined, except for the price of rice and wheat. In December 2008, the nominal retail price of millet, the main food staple for the majority of the Sahelian population, was 24-48 percent above the five-year average. Prices for cereals and other foodstuffs have largely been rising since January 2009. Similar trends have been observed in maize and rice markets. Markets in the cereal production zones of Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso have already recorded post-harvest price increases between November 2008 and January 2009, whereas these increases were expected between January and March. Post-harvest price increases in line with this trend could lead to moderate, high, or extreme insecurity for populations in West Africa who are net food consumers. Such price movements can be expected to occur by the start of the June-September lean season.

Commentators have speculated that in order to protect national supplies, some surplus countries such as Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mali, and Niger could turn to erecting trade barriers to limit the transfer of cereals to net food importers in the region. FEWS NET and its partners will undertake an assessment mission in February 2009 to analyze markets, stocks, cross-border trade, and food security in the region. In March 2009, results of the mission are expected to explain causes for current prices and to offer recommendations for action.

I will continue monitoring the price dymanics for cereals (particularly sorghum and millet in the region). I have previously reported on the use of mobile phone for price collection in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal (Encouraging foreign exchange: A cross-border initiative to share market information in West Africa). Given the raised relevance of the mobile price collection efforts in West Africa I will be following closely the mCollect project pilot and its possible extensions to Benin and Ghana.