Food Price Watch, August 2012
The prices of internationally traded maize and soybeans reached all-time peaks in July, following an unprecedented summer in both the United States and Eastern Europe in terms of high temperatures and lack of rain fall. Wheat prices have also soared to levels comparable to the 2011 peaks but below all-time records. Prices of rice remain stable from abundant supplies. The abrupt food price increases turned favorable price prospects for the year upside down.
World Bank experts do not currently foresee a repeat of 2008; however negative factors—such as exporters pursuing panic policies, a severe el Niño, disappointing southern hemisphere crops, or strong increases in energy prices—could cause significant further grain price hikes such as those experienced four years ago.
Countries in the Middle East and North and Sub-Saharan Africa are most vulnerable to this global shock. They have large food import bills, their food consumption is a large share of average household spending, and they have limited fiscal space and comparatively weaker protective mechanisms. Domestic food prices in these regions have also experienced sharp increases even before the global shock due to seasonal trends, poor past harvests, and conflict. Local circumstances will also largely determine how high domestic prices will be pushed from much higher international prices.
In addition to their effects on prices, previous droughts in developing countries have had severe economic, poverty and nutritional impacts, turning transitory shocks into lifetime and intergenerational perils. In such contexts, investments in drought-resistant crop varieties have provided large yield and production gains.