Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia (REU)

Panel: volatile food prices can be managed

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Price volatility in international grain markets has an impact on food security, and nowhere is this more true than in Central Asia.  How to prevent sudden ups and downs in prices from affecting people’s access to food was the topic of an expert panel organized by FAO and partners in the context of Green Week Berlin.  The experts drew some interesting conclusions.

After shocking food price increases in 2007-2008, and price spikes in the world grain market in 2011 and 2012, food security became a central issue of policy debate.  Grain price fluctuations hit especially hard in Central Asian countries – Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – where, according to FAO, grains account for as much as 65 percent of people’s diets, well above the global average. 

Rising demand for food is forecast in the coming years – not only in these countries but in neighboring Iran, Turkey and China.  Kazakhstan – a key grain supplier in this part of the world – is diversifying and expanding its market, opening transportation corridors to neighboring countries.

“Price fluctuations are driven by a range of factors,” said Guljahan Kurbanova, an economist working with FAO, a moderator of the session.  “These include weather conditions, other commodity prices such as fuel and fertilizers, production trends, and policy measures taken by governments, mainly the exporting countries.”

But how to keep price spikes from leading to hunger?  Rather than trying to control price volatility, the experts recommended monitoring market fluctuations, being prepared for volatility, and setting up close cooperation between the public and private sectors.  The panel also recommended long-term market monitoring, forecasting production, and complex research into the combined effects of export geography diversification, water, food and energy, climate change and food quality.  Agricultural diversification, especially towards high-value crops, was recommended as a means of increasing farmer incomes, along with improvements in agro-technology and better investment in the agri-food value chain.

"Grain is a key factor for food security in the Central Asia Region as malnutrition and undernutrition in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is still above 5 percent," said Raimund Jehle, senior field programme officer in FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia.

Experts participating in the panel represented different sectors:  Csaba Csaki of Hungary for academia, Yevgeniy Gan of Kazakhstan for the private sector, and Aziz Aliev of Kyrgyzstan for the public sector.  In addition, Iride Ceccacci of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Marc Sadler of the World Bank, and Diwakar Dixit of the World Trade Organization were members of the panel.

17 January 2014, Berlin, Germany