Food and Water

Has globalisation increased the risk of food price shocks?

Chris Arsenault
Writer, The Thomson Reuters Foundation
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The chances of shock food price rises in import-dependent states are rising as the world’s population grows and nations become more reliant on global markets, researchers said in a study published on Tuesday.

Countries dependent on food imports, and states where rising populations are putting pressure on scarce land and water resources, are the most susceptible to sudden jumps in food prices, the author of the University of Virginia study said.

“The world’s food system is less resilient because of globalisation,” Paolo D’Odorico, an environmental sciences professor who co-wrote the study, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A flood, drought or political unrest in one country can affect the food security of another elsewhere in the world, he said, citing grain export bans imposed by Russia in 2010 because of a drought and the need to protect domestic consumers.

“Increasing reliance on local food, whenever possible, is a good approach,” D’Odorico said.

Import-dependent states in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are particularly vulnerable to shocks in other regions, he said.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analysed data for 140 countries on demographics, food production, consumption and trade flows from 1986 to 2011.

Global food prices are at their lowest in more than four years, the U.N. Food and Africulture Organization reported in March.

But the world’s growing population and increased trade dependency make it almost certain there will be further food price shocks, D’Odorico said, though he declined to say when this might happen next.

This article is published in collaboration with The Thomson Reuters Foundation Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Chris Arsenault covers global food security and agricultural politics for the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Rome.

Image: A worker carries a box of passion fruit at the Municipal Market in Sao Paulo. REUTERS/Nacho Doce.

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Related topics:
Food and WaterIndustries in DepthStakeholder CapitalismSocial InnovationYouth Perspectives
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