After decades of stability, world food prices jumped more than 80% in 2008. Recent good harvests have brought prices down, but not to previous, historically-low levels, and most economists expect food costs to remain at much higher levels than before. At any moment catastrophic events like a drought or major crop disease outbreak could shock fragile grain markets and quickly send values skyrocketing anew.
People in wealthy nations feel food price inflation pinching their budgets, but may have a hard time imagining its effects on the extreme poor in developing countries. Poor people spend half or more of their meager incomes on food, and now must eat less each day or subsist on lower-quality fare. According to FAO Director General, Dr. Jacques Diouf, the number of persons who suffered from malnutrition had already risen from 850 to 925 million in 2007, even before the worst effects of the food price increases were felt in 2008. The current global financial crisis has exacerbated price increases and pushed already inadequate foodaid efforts to the breaking point. Rising unemployment will put even less-expensive food out of reach for many more of the world’s poor people.