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The Global Food Crisis:
Policy Analysis for Structural Reform

The spikes in global food prices in 2007-8 served as a wake-up call to the global community on the inadequacies of our global food system. Commodity prices doubled, the estimated number of hungry people topped one billion, and food riots spread through the developing world. A second price spike in 2010-11 drove the global food import bill for 2011 to an estimated $1.3 trillion. The third price spike in five years, prompted by drought in the U.S. Midwest, only deepened the sense that the policies guiding agricultural development and food security are deeply flawed.

Under the leadership of Timothy A. Wise, GDAE is assessing these global changes in order to identify the policy reforms that can address the underlying structural causes of the global food price crisis. Some policies have begun to shift, new institutions have been created, and new funds have been offered for agricultural development. The key question is whether such initiatives replicate the unsustainable model of industrial agriculture, or instead recognize, as a UN/World Bank report acknowledged, that “business as usual is not an option.”

Drawing on more than a decade of research on agricultural development, Wise’s work focuses on the following areas:

A Rights-Based Approach to the Global Food Crisis
Timothy A. Wise's 2013-2014 Open Society Fellowship research on US policies, food security, and climate change

Resolving Food Crisis CoverResolving the Food Crisis
This January 2012 report assessed policy changes since the new food crisis erupted. It launched a new area of GDAE research that examines the root causes of the food crisis, the policy reforms that can address them, and the obstacles to such reforms at the national and international levels. Research includes work on: the ever-closer links between food, fuel, and financial markets; the reliability of projections that we will not be able to feed the world in 2050; and research into the impacts of U.S. biofuels policies on developing countries.

Resolving Food Crisis Cover Revaluing Smallholder Agriculture
In response to the food price crisis, this project seeks to identify ways small-scale farmers can increase their production of basic foods, for family consumption and for local and regional markets. The emphasis is on the domestic and international policies needed to reinvest in smallholders and sustainable agriculture in developing countries. It includes recent work on Mexico’s capacity to regain self-sufficiency in corn production, which is also available in Spanish.

Beyond Agricultural Subsidies
Much attention is focused on US agricultural subsidies as the cause of agricultural dumping in the developing world. This project analyzes U.S. agricultural policies, with work showing that subsidies are not the primary problem and agribusiness interests, not farmers, are the main beneficiaries. As part of this work, the "Feeding the Factory Farm Project" documents the “implicit subsidies” that went to industrial livestock firms from below-cost feed prior to the recent price surges.

Promise & Perils of Agricultural LIberaliztion Cover
Promise and Perils of Agricultural Liberalization

The GDAE-sponsored Working Group project on globalization and agriculture in Latin America highlighted both the limited promise of export agriculture and the high costs to small-scale farmers and food security.

Lessons from NAFTA
Since 2000, GDAE has carried out extensive work on NAFTA's impacts in Mexico, with a particular focus on agriculture. This includes extensive work on the impact of US agricultural dumping in Mexico. You can see a full list of GDAE publications on the lessons from NAFTA for agriculture.

Key Publications:

Two Roads Diverged in the Food Crisis: Global policy takes the one more travelled, Timothy A. Wise, Canadian Food Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2 (2015)

Mandating Food Insecurity: The Global Impacts of Rising Biofuel Mandates and Targets, Timothy A. Wise and Emily Cole, GDAE Working Paper No. 15-01, February 24, 2015

Can We Feed the World in 2050? A Scoping Paper to Assess the Evidence, Timothy A. Wise, GDAE Working Paper 13-04, September 2013. (A related report from ActionAid is also available.)

Two GDAE Working Papers and ActionAid reports on U.S Ethanol costs to developing countries.

Achieving Mexico’s Maize Potential, by Antonio Turrent Fernández, Timothy A. Wise, and Elise Garvey GDAE Working Paper 12-03, October 2012

Resolving the Food Crisis: Assessing Global Policy Reforms Since 2007, by Timothy A. Wise and Sophia Murphy, GDAE-IATP Policy Report, January 2012.

Mexico: The Cost of U.S. Dumping, by Timothy A. Wise, NACLA Report on the Americas, January/February, 2011.

Are High Agricultural Prices Good or Bad for Poverty?, by Timothy Wise, GDAE Globalization Commentary, from Triple Crisis Blog, November 19, 2010.

Small-Scale Farmers and Development: Assume a different economic model, by Timothy Wise, GDAE Globalization Commentary, from Triple Crisis Blog, September 27, 2010.

Trade, Agricultural Expansion, and Climate Change in the Amazon Basin, a research program led by GDAE Senior Research Fellow María del Carmen Vera-Díaz, 2009-2010

Agricultural Dumping Under NAFTA: Estimating the Costs of U.S. Agricultural Policies to Mexican Producers, by Timothy A. Wise, GDAE Working Paper No. 09-08, December 2009.

The Limited Promise of Agricultural Trade Liberalization, Timothy A. Wise, Working Group Discussion Paper DP19, July 2008

Policy Space for Mexican Maize: Protecting Agro-biodiversity by Promoting Rural Livelihoods, by Timothy A. Wise, GDAE Working Paper No. 07-01, February, 2007.

Revaluing Peasant Coffee Production: Organic and Fair Trade Markets in Mexico, by Muriel Calo and Timothy A. Wise, October 2005.

Confronting Globalization: Economic Integration and Popular Resistance in Mexico, Timothy A. Wise, Hilda Salazar, and Laura Carlsen (eds.), Kumarian Press and Editorial Miguel Angel Porrua, 2003. (Published in Spanish as Enfrentando la Globalizacion: Respuestas Sociales a la Integracion Economica de Mexico, Laura Carlsen, Tim Wise, and Hilda Salazar, eds., Editorial Miguel Angel Porrua, 2003.)

The Promise and the Perils of Agricultural Trade Liberalization: Lessons from Latin America, by Mamerto Pérez, Sergio Schlesinger, and Timothy A. Wise, with the Working Group on Development and Environment in the Americas.

See full library of Globalization Program publications.

The Global Development and Environment Institute’s Globalization and Sustainable Development Program examines the economic, social and environmental impacts of economic integration in developing countries, with a particular emphasis on the WTO and NAFTA's lessons for trade and development policy. The goal of the program is to identify policies and international agreements that foster sustainable development.


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