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Food Prices Knowledge Event

Posted by Chase Palmeri Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Food Prices Knowledge Event began with a presentation by Ganesh Thapa, Regional Economist from IFAD’s Asia and the Pacific Division, entitled Synthesis of IFAD’s Analytical Work on Food Prices.

In his presentation Mr. Thapa highlighted how increased food prices have resulted from a number of factors:
  • higher living standards - diet changes - increased demand for food
  • increased use of food grains for bio-fuels and animal feed,
  • declining value of US dollar used to denominate prices of traded food
  • speculation by investors and traders in commodity markets
  • high fuel prices
Thapa noted that in Asia government interventions, particularly price and trade restrictions have made mattes worse. His work showed that prices matter to farmers but that inputs matter more. Participants confirmed this.

This was followed by Mr. Purushottam Mudbhary, Chief of Policy Assistance Branch FAO/RAP who provided an overview of the FAO Initiative on Soaring Food Prices.

He noted that the ISFP is a programme is a multi-agency effort including FAO, World Bank, ADB, EC, other UN agencies, ASEAN, SAARC and others. More than USD 100 million has been received for the initiative. Main FAO action focusses on food and nutrition. FAO elements in the initiative include inter-agency assessment missions, country action plans, input supply, irrigation, linkages to markets, reducing crop losses and supporting policies.

Participants then conferred amongst themsleves about the food price crisis. In a Brainstorming session on food security that in the context of increasing commodity prices that was the next part of the event, they discussed their own experiences and views from the projects with respect to two questions posed by Chun Lai, who facilitated the session. The questions were:

What are the key constraints faced by smallholders in your projects to respond to opportunities created by rising food prices?

Are there any concrete examples or solutions oh how to overcome these constraints?

The constraints cited most often in discussion fell into the following types:
  • Inputs, especially seed, but also land, labour and capital, costs and availability
  • Storage and Processing, inadequate technologies and facilities
  • No bargaining power, limited support from government policies favouring consumers
  • Changing climatic patterns and no suitable seed or other technologies to face them
  • Not enough accurate information about prices
  • Government policies tend to protect consumers and traders
Amongst the most common solutions proposed were:
  • Crop diversification
  • Credit for inputs
  • Training and credit for processing and storage
  • Crop/livestock insurance schemes
  • Investment and research on organic, low input and stress tolerant agriculture
  • Direct marketing and reduced reliance on middlemen
  • More infrastructure for water control and for transport
  • Buffer stocks of seeds
  • Market infrastructure development
  • Partnerships between the private sector and public sector
  • Price information bulletins, text messages on mobile phones

A description with more detail on these participant views appears in the earlier post on the brainstorming session below.

The brainstorming by participants was followed by a lively Knowledge Market on Food Crisis and Climate Change that brought the event to a close. Market stalls were set up by nine country teams: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Viet Nam. ICIMOD, ICRAF, ICARDA, IRRI and BAAC also displayed their wares and shared their experiences. Maize from China, black sesame rice paper from Viet Nam, cartoons from Sri Lanka, colourful picture book training materials from India and dried cassava from the Philippines all travelled to Bangkok in participant suitcases destined for display in the market. The softest touch came from Tajikistan with the mohair products forming part of the ICARDA exhibit.