IFPRI: ‘Food crisis not over when prices come down’

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While the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) does foresee an end to the current commodity price crisis, it underlines that the consequences will be visible for decades to come as children who have suffered from deficiencies in food, for even a couple of months, will never really recover. Von Braun was speaking to EURACTIV in an interview. 

Joachim von Braun is the director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (
IFPRI
). 

To read a news item based on this interview, please click here.

You said IFPRI already foresaw the looming food crisis two and half years ago. How, and what were the signs? 

Yes, we have, 15 years ago, developed a modelling system that looks into the future and it became ever clearer that grain stocks were drawn down. The world was eating more than it produced, so we had less and less grain in the storage, demand was going up fast and productivity investments did not happen and the prices were pointing upward. We have a discussion paper on this dating back to 2005 and we have been trying to alert the world on this ever since.

Earlier last year (2007) we publicly became very worried about biofuels policies heating up the world grain markets. And I think the paper we published in December 2007 triggered global media attention, starting from high nervousness in China and India. While the world was reacting a bit more slowly, we hope it reacted a lot faster than in the case of the food crisis in the mid-seventies.

IFPRI has proposed a two-fold policy response to the food crisis. What does it consist of?

We think it does not make sense to talk about long term versus short term policy responses and find it much more important to have immediate initiation of two types of actions. Those which have fast effects and need to continue for a long time and those which have slow, on-set effects but will have a lot more impact in the long run. The latter also have to start now. We cannot postpone any of the aid actions we propose. 

The four actions of the emergency package include emergency food assistance, a change in biofuels policies, overcoming the export bans which hinder the trade especially among the developing countries and fast-impact food production projects, with fertilisers and seed subsidies as well as subsidising credit to small farmers. 

Because the export bans have a more international nature, we propose the next G8 summit should discuss it. The others are more about regional and national actions. 

The set of four actions for the resilience package include much smarter social protection measures, such as improving the targeted nutrition programmes, which have to – in particular – protect the nutritionally most vulnerable people. We have great experience on this in Latin America, for example.

Secondly, more long term agricultural productivity investments are needed to avoid such crisis in the future – especially through investment in research, in improved water utilisation and in plant breeding. It takes a long time to breed a new crop – resistant crops.

Then, we need to overcome the deadlock of the Doha negotiations. That is absolutely critical. Fourthly, we also need to rearrange market institutions to bring peace and quiet into the markets – calm markets through better market-oriented regulation of commodity exchanges to avoid speculation and joint stockholding. We need higher stocks and more reliability there. 

Do you see an end to the crisis?

Yes, but only if the policy action points proposed by IFPRI are taken seriously. However, the problem is that the crisis is not over when the prices come down. Lives are already ruined forever. Under-nourished children, children who have deficiencies in food for a couple of months, which is already the case, will never recover. Research in our institute and elsewhere shows that. So it is difficult to say when the crisis is over, for hundred of thousands of people it will last for the next thirty years. That’s the sad part of the story.

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