Monday, June 27, 2011

Why lack of data affects food prices

One of the outcomes of the G20 food summit last week was an agreement to create a global database in an effort to better measure the level of supply, consumption and inventories of staple foods.

There is a justifiable view that insufficient information is contributing to volatilty in food markets. A price spike in 2007-8 was triggered by a fears of a shortage leading to bans on overseas sales and the hoarding of supplies. However, when better data became available, it was evident that fears of a shortage were misplace.

Outside the US little is known about the true state of supply, demand and inventories of staples. China, Russia and India are unwilling to share information with others about stocks in particular because they fear they could lose control over prices. Indeed, in China, such information is regarded as a state secret.

An earlier G8 initiative on oil markets is still struggling ten years after it was initiated. The agriculture market information system (Amis) has insufficient resources with the project based at the cash-strapped Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN.

It's a good idea which should enable markets to work better but whether it can be really effective remains to be seen.

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