Responding to rising food prices

Mozambique, Angonia province, nr Ulongwe town

The global financial crisis currently monopolizing the attention of economists and policymakers throughout the world has diverted attention from the earlier and potentially more dangerous food crisis that began in earnest in 2006 and peaked in mid 2008.

The news may not be all bad. Higher prices for livestock products, for example, may well favour small-scale livestock keepers. But because the volatility of food prices is nowhere more precarious than in sub-Saharan Africa, understanding how food prices work in this difficult region is key to finding solutions.

Responding to the need for answers and suggestions, collective action from various research partners is called for. Besides ILRI, these include regional organizations such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA), as well as a network called the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS), which has a central node in Washington and three sub-regional offices in Africa: at Pretoria for southern Africa, at Ibadan for West Africa and at Nairobi for East Africa. The latter office, located at ILRI and coordinated by Joseph Karugia, is called ReSAKSS-ECA (Eastern and Central Africa).

“Research from a multi-institutional regional study undertaken by ASARECA, ILRI, ReSAKSS-ECA and other partners,” says Karugia, “shows significant variation in the regional food situation compared to the global one, largely because of the region’s exceptional diversity in production and trade conditions.”

Significantly, rice and wheat, two crops that dominate global commodity trade, are not particularly important in ECA. Moreover, demand for maize, the dominant cereal, is largely satisfied locally in both formal and informal markets, making little impact on global trends. The results of the regional study referred to by Karugia provide practical short-, medium- and long-term options for governments and other stakeholders. This information is freely available at http://www.ilri.org/research/Content.asp?CCID=96&SID=264.

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