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Guardian Examines Global Food Price Volatility

“Rising food prices and shortages could cause instability in many countries as the cost of staple foods and vegetables reached their highest levels in two years, with scientists predicting further widespread droughts and floods,” the Guardian reports in a story examining the significance of rising food prices worldwide. The article points to several recent developments that have created cause for concern and includes quotes from global experts.

According to the newspaper, “opinions are sharply divided over whether these prices signal a world food crisis like the one in 2008 that helped cause riots in 25 countries, or simply reflect volatility in global commodity markets as countries claw their way through recession.”

“The situation has deteriorated since September,” said Abdolreza Abbassian of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation. “In the last few weeks there have been signs we are heading the same way as in 2008. … We may not get to the prices of 2008 but this time they could stay high much longer.”

“A food crisis on the scale of two or three years ago is not imminent, but the underlying causes [of what happened then] are still there,” said Chris Leather, Oxfam’s food policy adviser. “Prices are volatile and there is a lot of nervousness in the market. There are big differences between now and 2008. Harvests are generally better, global food stocks are better,” he added.

Last week after the World Bank extended its food crisis response fund, Robert Zoellick, the bank’s president, said, “There is growing concern among countries about continuing volatility and uncertainty in food markets … World food price volatility remains significant and in some countries, the volatility is adding to already higher local food prices.” Indian food analyst Devinder Sharma warned, “Unless the world encourages developing countries to become self-sufficient in food grains, the threat of impending food riots will remain hanging over nations.”

The Guardian also notes the recent report on the competition for agricultural land by Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food. In addition, the World Development Movement has “warned that food speculation by hedge funds, pension funds and investment banks was likely to prompt further inflation” (Vidal, 10/25).

The Guardian’s website also published a related list of “six casualties of the food crisis.” They include: cabbage in South Korea, garlic in China, tomatoes in Israel, corn in the U.S., bread in Russia and sugar in Pakistan (Branigan et al., 10/25).

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