Food Turns into a Luxury

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Soil erosion, rising fertilizer prices, and severe weather brought on by climate change have all contributed to the volatility of crop yields and food prices. This is particularly harsh in countries where most people depend on basic foods, such as unrefined grains and rice, which are more directly linked to global commodity prices than are the refined foods found in supermarkets.

Food prices have been volatile in recent years, yet the overall trend is clear. The international market commodity price for food has increased by a factor of 2.7 between 2000 and 2011. This has a disproportionately large effect on the world’s poorest, for whom the increased cost of food translates into a reduced ability to spend on education, health, shelter or transportation. Indeed, consumer expenditure on food has already risen up to 60 percent of total consumer expenditure in some low-income countries.

The poor bargaining position of small farmers in low-income countries often means that they cannot obtain fair prices for their products. As a result, the rising international market prices for commodities do not necessarily correspond to increases in the producer’s income. Nor are the effects of high food prices on the urban poor offset by improved economic opportunities for rural populations.

Rising prices can also restrict the access of poor populations to food through both unaffordable cost and physical shortages (due, for example, to measures taken by producing countries to restrict exports). UNCTAD estimates that 119 million additional people experienced hunger as a result of the 2008 food price crisis, pushing the global total to 1 billion people.

Global Footprint Network’s research shows that many of the poorest countries, particularly in Africa, are bound by their own dwindling biocapacity constraints. That is, countries with limited financial means to import resources are not able to extend their Footprint much beyond local biocapacity limits, shrinking their per capita Footprint (for example, in Zimbabwe and Uganda ) and leaving the most vulnerable people at even greater of risk of hunger and other deprivation.

Further information:

  • UNCTAD commodity price indices
  • See Africa Factbook 2009
  • FAO Food Outlook 2011
  • UNCTAD Commodities Report 2012
  • OECD/FAO Agricultural Outlook 2008-2017
  • Science Journal articles on Food prices article on impact on urban and rural people: Food Price Complexities; Response—Food Price Complexities