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The food price crisis and urban food (in)security

Rapid increases in food prices in 2007 and the first half of 2008 attracted high-level policy attention. During the course of 2008, the United Nations organized an inter-agency High-Level Taskforce on the Global Food Security Crisis and issued a Comprehensive Framework for Action. Over 40 heads of state and government attended a High-Level Conference on World Food Security, sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and focused mainly on how to address the price increases. Donors pledged more than US $12 billion to assist low-income, food-importing countries in coping with the effects of soaring prices.~The speeches, declarations, plans, and pledges all duly noted the vulnerability of poor urban dwellers, who rely primarily on market purchases for their food, and for whom food purchases account for the bulk of expenditures. Yet most policy prescriptions focused on addressing constraints to rural-based food production. In addition to strengthening of social protection schemes, the declarations called for increased investment in smallholder agriculture, attention to macroeconomic and trade measures, and the development or rebuilding of national and regional food stocks. While action in these last three areas potentially contributes in the longer term to greater urban food security, policymakers and analysts nevertheless paid less attention to efforts that would have a direct impact on preventing urban hunger. ~~In this paper, we argue that the disproportionate attention that policy solutions to the food price crisis give to rural dwellers is likely misplaced. Although in developing countries rural poverty is often deeper and more widespread than urban poverty, rural dwellers are often net producers of food, frequently of the very staples whose prices are rising. We outline the pathways of impact of food price rises on urban dwellers; highlight the evidence so far on how those impacts have played out during this crisis; and describe current policy responses and suggest how to improve them to better protect the urban poor in the short- and longer-term.
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