Raise food prices to better feed the poor, urges expert

A former senior agricultural economist at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has said low food prices driven by subsidies and retail pressure make it harder for people in poor countries to eat well, and also contribute to health and environmental problems in rich countries.

Image:Aidan Jones
Image:Aidan Jones
Writing on the Global Food Security website, Andrew MacMillan said: "Policies that keep consumer food prices low, especially when combined with further downward pressure on prices from supermarkets as they compete for customers, may raise the incidence of hunger and malnutrition in the medium- to long-term."

This is because most of the world's poor live in rural areas where agriculture is the main source of income, he explained.

The food price spike from 2007-08 onwards "led to a steady fall in the number of hungry in spite of the jump in prices", whereas food prices fell in real terms over more than 20 years up to 2007-08, making farming less attractive and accelerating rural-urban migration, he said.

Rising prices would also benefit developed countries, he added, where consumers "could easily absorb a substantial rise in food costs – even if they might complain loudly", he argued.

"Rising prices will also discourage food over-consumption, cutting future health costs from the overweight and obesity epidemic now affecting more than 1.5 billion people," while also cutting food waste and associated environmental costs, he said.

Meanwhile improving the diet of the poorest billion people "would still cost less than about 10 per cent of the OECD countries' farm subsidies".

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