At last week's Agricultural Economics Society meeting, Jonathan Brooks of the OECD convened a panel on the links between agricultural market prospects and policy challenges at the global, European and UK levels.
At the global level, food prices increased sharply in 2007-8, sparking fears about food security as well as about the earth's capacity to produce enough food for a growing and increasingly wealthy population.
World population growth is slowing. The growth in consumption has halved over the last ten years and is not coming from per capita income growth with the exception of Africa. This pattern is different for dairy, sugar and vegetable oils. India is driving dairy demand. Cereal demand is driven by animal feed.
Since 2007-8, world agricultural markets have stabilised, with prices of most commodities well below the peaks of a decade ago. The return to lower prices has led to resurgent demands for agricultural protection, with several large emerging economies now adopting policies previously pursued by high income countries. PSE levels have increased in those countries.
Markets also remain vulnerable to periodic shocks, and many countries have sought to find ways of managing the risks such shocks pose to both producers and consumers, often via policies that may have a significant impact on world markets (such as public stockholding).
Over the next ten years, the demand for most agricultural commodities is projected to slow. This will provide relief to the supply side challenge of feeding a rising world population and provide greater room for policy makers to focus on the parallel requirements of using the world's resources sustainably and making an effective contribution to climate change mitigation.
One interesting point was that a small number of countries dominate the production of particular commodities which does lend some reinforcement to food security arguments. Russia and Ukraine are increasingly important in world grain trade, but could withdraw exports to protect domestic markets in conditions of tight supply.