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What's the Real Driver of High Food Prices and Hunger?

Yes, the global community is facing a food crisis but here are the real reasons why -- and the solutions are relatively straightforward.

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Stop the further expansion of biofuels and you’ve saved millions of tons of grain for food and feed.

Reverse its recent growth, by introducing more flexible mandates that are triggered by tight supplies, and you’ve placed people over cars in the great global food chain.

Elliott’s solutions ultimately focus on the false choice between hi-tech industrial farming to produce more meat or having the world eat less meat so we can live from what he says are “lower yields” from organic agriculture. We can feed the world, even China’s growing number of meat-eaters, and increasing agricultural R&D is an important part of the solution. But first we should stop putting food into our cars.

We should also consider four other straightforward and proven policies:

1. Expand food reserves – US reserves are virtually non-existent thanks to government policies to just let the market do its magic. The market’s magic has given us three price spikes in five years, and the absence of food reserves has left us no flexibility to handle a drought as severe as the current one.

2. Regulate financial speculation in commodity markets – The financial sharks are circling as prices spike, hungry to play the volatility for their benefit. Regulations are still not in place to get them out of our food. Governments can act to reduce speculation-driven food price volatility.

3. Address waste – An astonishing one third of food is wasted all along the food chain. Public investments – in water systems, storage, roads, and markets – can save more food for the hungry. The impact would be even greater than reducing biofuels use. (So, too, would the related goal of more equitably distributing the food we produce.)

4. Expand sustainable smallholder food production – The current consensus recognises that the “yield gaps” are greatest among small-scale farmers, and that they can expand their food production through “ sustainable intensification”.

Elliott puts his finger on the urgent crisis facing the global community in the ongoing food crisis, but he misses the mark on his diagnosis and the cures.

Timothy Wise is the policy research director at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute. He is the author, with Sophia Murphy, of Resolving the Global Food Crisis: Assessing Global Reforms Since 2007.

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