With droughts and poor harvests in both North America and in Russia and the Ukraine, there are worries that food prices are likely to see sharp rises in the coming months. This is clearly bad news for consumers, especially the poor for whom food accounts for a large proportion of expenditure.
But it’s also bad news more generally, as higher food prices are likely to have a dampening effect on the global economy, struggling to recover from five years of low or negative growth. And it’s not just food prices. Oil prices are rising again. Since mid June, they have risen by nearly 25%. This too is likely to have a dampening effect.
Another contributing factor to rising food prices is a response, in part, to rising oil prices. This is the diversion of land from growing food to growing crops for biofuels.
G20 countries held a conference call on 28 August to discuss food prices. Although representatives decided against an emergency meeting, they agreed to reassess the situation in a few weeks when the size of the US harvest would be clearer. If the situation proved as bad as feared, then the G20 would call an emergency meeting of the Rapid Response Forum, to consider what could be done.
But is the sole cause of rising food prices a lack of production? Are there other problems on the supply side, such as poor distribution systems and waste? And what about the role of demand? How is this contributing to long-term increases in food prices? The articles consider these various factors and what can be done to dampen food prices.
G20 points to ‘worrying’ food prices Financial Times, Javier Blas (28/8/12)
US food prices to surge on drought Gulf News(30/8/12)
Best to get used to high food and energy prices – they’re here to stay The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (29/8/12)
Feeling a drought The Economist (14/8/12)
Q&A: World food and fuel prices BBC News (14/8/12)
G20 considers global meeting as food prices rise BBC News (28/8/12)
Biofuels and Food Prices (direct link) BBC ‘In the Balance’ programme (25/8/12)
U.N. body urges G20 action on food prices, waste Reuters, Patrick Lannin (27/8/12)
Ethanol industry hits back over food price claims EurActiv (28/8/12)
The era of cheap food may be over Guardian, Larry Elliott (2/9/12)
Food Price Index Index Mundi
- Why have food prices been rising in recent weeks?
- Use a demand and supply diagram to demonstrate what has been happening to food prices.
- What determines the price elasticity of demand for wheat? What might this elasticity vary over time?
- What is the role of speculation in determining food prices?
- Illustrate on an aggregate demand and supply diagram the effect of a commodity price shock. What is likely to be the policy response from central banks?
- What determines the price elasticity of supply of food in (a) the short term and (b) the long term?
- What determines the cross price elasticity of supply of food to the price of oil? Is the cross price elasticity of supply positive or negative?
- What can governments do to reduce food prices, or at least reduce food price inflation?
- What benefits may come from higher food and fuel prices over the longer term?
Are we heading for ‘perfect storm’ in commodity production and prices? Certainly the prices of many commodities have soared in recent months. These include the prices of foodstuffs such as dairy products, cooking oils and cereals, crude oil, cotton, metals and many other raw materials. The overall world commodity price index has risen by 28% in the past 12 months. The following are some examples of specific commodities:
Price rises in the 12 months to February 2011
• Wheat 62%
• Maize 59%
• Coffee 70%
• Beef 39%
• Sugar 46%
• Palm kernal oil 142%
• Soybean oil 50%
• All food price index 32%
• Crude oil 20%
• Cotton 132%
• Fine wool 55%
• Softwood timber 25%
• Iron ore 78%
• Copper 29%
• Tin 55%
• All metals index 58%
• Rubber 79%.
The problems are both short term and long term, and on both the demand and supply sides; and the effects will be at micro, macro and global levels. Some hard choices lie ahead.
The following webcast, articles and reports explore both the current position and look into the future to ask whether rising commodity prices are likely to continue or even accelerate.
The first link is to a BBC World Debate which considers the following issues: “Is scarcity of natural resources a serious challenge for developing and advanced economies? How great is the risk that scarcity might lead to conflict, both within and between nations? Might a scramble for resources lead to a retreat from globalisation and to greater protectionism?”
World Debate: Resources BBC World Debate, Louise Arbour, President and CEO, International Crisis Group; James Cameron, Global Agenda Council on Climate Change; He Yafei, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of China to the UN; Malini Mehra, Founder and CEO, Centre for Social Markets; Kevin Rudd, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Australia (19/1/11)
Global Food Prices Continue to Rise Reuters, Steve Savage (7/3/11)
The 2011 oil shock The Economist (3/3/11)
Global Food Prices Will Probably Be Sustained at Record This Year, UN Says Bloomberg, Supunnabul Suwannaki (9/3/11)
Food prices to stay high as oil costs, weather weigh livemint.com, Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat (9/3/11)
‘Perfect storm’ threatens agriculture in developing nations Manila Bulletin, Lilybeth G. Ison (9/3/11)
IMF sees no immediate respite from high food prices Commodity Online (7/3/11)
Drought, supply, speculation drive world food prices to record high NZ Catholic (8/3/11)
The Factors Affecting Global Food Prices Seeking Alpha, David Hunkar (7/3/11)
World food prices climb to record as UN sounds alarm on further shortages FnBnews (India), Rudy Ruitenberg (9/3/11)
Food crisis: It’s a moral issue for all of us New Straits Times (Malaysia), Rueben Dudley (8/3/11)
Oil prices: Green light from the black stuff Guardian (5/3/11)
Cotton hits $2 a pound Guardian, Terry Macalister (17/2/11)
Supermarkets are raising prices faster than inflation, says UBS The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (1/3/11)
What next for commodity prices? BBC News, Jamie Robertson (5/5/11)
FAO Cereal Supply and Demand BriefFood & Agriculture Organization, United Nations (March 2011)
Rising Prices on the Menu Finance & Development (IMF), Thomas Helbling and Shaun Roache (March 2011)
Commodity prices Index Mundi
Commodities Financial Times, market data
- Identify the various factors that are causing rises in commodity prices. In each case state whether they are supply-side or demand-side factors.
- How can the price elasticity of demand and supply, the income elasticity of demand and the cross-price elasticity of demand be used to analyse the magnitude of the price rises?
- To what extent are rising food prices the result of (a) short-term (i.e. reversible) factors; (b) long-term trends?
- Why are food prices in the shops rising faster in the UK than in many other countries?
- To what extent is the future of food security and prices and moral issues?
- Why may current oil price rises become an opportunity for the future?
- What might be the respective roles be of government, business and consumers in responding to natural resource constraints?