FAO Food Price Index Decreased In March, But Drop Might Not Be Permanent

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Thursday that world food prices dropped last month for the first time in eight months, “but it warned that prices may resume rising as higher output may not be enough to replenish low stock levels,” the Wall Street Journal reports (Henshaw, 4/7).  

The FAO’s Food Price Index “averaged 230 points in March 2011, down 2.9 percent from its peak in February, but still 37 percent above March of last year,” a press release from the agency states. “The decrease in the overall index this month brings some welcome respite from the steady increases seen over the last eight months,” said David Hallam, director of FAO’s Trade and Market Division. “But it would be premature to conclude that this is a reversal of the upward trend,” he added (4/7). “All of the factors which were leading to the prices going up over the last few months are all still there,” Hallam noted, the Wall Street Journal reports. “We had something similar in 2007-08, when the stocks were run down to such a level that when there are shocks in the market there’s no safety valve there,” he said (4/7).

Hallam also highlighted how the recent turmoil in some parts of the world could affect food prices in the future, the U.N. News Centre writes. “We need to see the information on new plantings over the next few weeks to get an idea of future production levels. But low stock levels, the implications for oil prices of events in the Middle East and North Africa and the effects of the destruction in Japan all make for continuing uncertainty and price volatility over the coming months,” he said (4/7).

Agricultural R&D Spending In Africa Increased Over Last Decade, Funding Remains Low In Some Countries, Report Says

Though overall spending on agricultural research and development (R&D) increased by 20 percent between 2001 and 2008, “investment in some countries is still too low to improve rural development and reduce poverty,” according to a report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Nature News reports (Gilbert, 4/7).

Most of the R&D growth “occurred in only a handful of countries. Nigeria alone accounts for one-third of the increase,” according to an IFPRI press release (.pdf). “Spending in most of the region has stagnated or fallen … In a survey of 32 African nations, the study found that investment in agricultural R&D had rebounded in many of the larger countries, primarily Ghana, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. However, in 13 countries, spending actually declined. Even where funding did increase, much of the money went to boost low salaries and rehabilitate infrastructure and equipment after years of neglect,” the release states (4/7). 

Gert-Jan Stads, a program coordinator at IFPRI and one of the authors of the report, said although the “growth sounds impressive … it hides cross-country differences,” Nature News reports. “The report urges national governments to address underinvestment to ensure improved agricultural output. More support for basic science, as well as training and recruitment of the continent’s future scientists, should also be a priority. The study calls on governments, funding donors and researchers in the region to collaborate more closely to achieve agreed targets for agricultural R&D spending and reducing poverty and hunger” (4/7).

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