Averting a Global Food Crisis

Policy and data needs

Keith Boyfield

Published: March 2013

The World Bank’s Food Price Watch reached a new historic peak in August 2012. High and volatile food prices spell real hardship for the world’s poor, and supply problems due to volatile climatic conditions have exacerbated the surge in global food prices. Investment in agriculture is handicapped by the lack of reliable, accurate data. In many developing countries, the methods of collecting agricultural statistics have hardly advanced in 50 years. This article analyses these flaws and omissions and reviews initiatives to resolve current shortcomings. Plantation agriculture offers one of the most effective means of producing sufficient food to meet global demand. The scope for enhancing production is considerable, particularly in certain countries such as Nigeria which are faced with a substantial food import bill. This article reviews a dozen key staple commodities and explores the opportunities to expand output with a particular reference to Sub-Saharan Africa. Recent research reveals the opportunities to improve production through planting more appropriate seeds and the use of fertiliser. Any step change in production hinges on the adoption of larger scale commercial production, for which private capital will be required. In the case of palm oil, the last few years has seen significant investment in Africa by global agri-business groups keen to complement production from the two major exporting countries: Malaysia and Indonesia. The potential for large scale agriculture has never been so bright as it is today in Africa.

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