The global governance response to shocks to the food system has been inadequate over the years according to Dr. Maximo Torero of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Dr Torero was the key speaker at last night’s fifth instalment of Teagasc’s and RDS’s public lecture series on the challenges facing global agriculture and food.

He noted: “Almost all of the global governance responses to the food crisis which we saw in 2008-2009 caused a problem. Many off the institutions implementing these policies were doing things which they knew would not work. They were supporting policies in developing countries, although their own studies showed they would not work. There was a significant inconsistency at that time.”

He continued: “The reason they did this is because they needed to move fast. The problem was there was no clear thinking about how these policies would work. In many cases they policy response exacerbated the problem. In some of these cases, we are able to show that policies implemented to mitigate against a rise in prices, actually ended up making the price twice as high.”

Dr. Torero was keen to emphasise that markets are inter-related. “We need to be careful of that,” he said. “We need to improve the market structure of staple commodities and in the input markets.”

In his presentation he highlighted that many key staple foods are highly concentrated in a few major exporting countries. Exports of key crops such as maize, wheat and rice are controlled by as few as five countries. He stressed: “Anything that happens to these countries will affect prices and we are very vulnerable to this.”

On volatility Dr Torero commented: “It is important to differentiate policies of short, medium and long term with objective to increase the resilience to excessive volatility.”

He added: “We need to develop models to link food demand and supply with: international prices, water, sustainability, climate change and trade.”