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Two roads diverged in the food crisis: Global policy takes the one more travelled

The 2007-8 food price crisis provoked renewed policy debate on a wide range of important matters long sidelined from mainstream consideration—the role and value of smallholder agriculture, the need for public investment in the sector, the importance of public agricultural research, the value for developing countries of growing more of their own food, the dangers posed by climate change in an era of thin global commodity markets, and the potential value of food reserves for both food security and price stability.

Some policies and funding priorities have shifted, but powerful market actors have driven those policies in a familiar direction, toward expanded industrial production of agricultural commodities in financialized markets. If the progressive realization of the right to food is our goal, this “productionist” response—emphasizing increased agricultural production and yields as the solution to hunger—fails to address the challenges posed by the price crisis.

As the poet Robert Frost (1916) observed in “The Road Not Taken,” when two roads diverge, a decision must be made. The food price crisis brought the consequences of our past choices into stark relief. The road “more travelled” in food and agricultural policy has brought rapid growth in production of a few staple commodities, but hunger and malnutrition persist, as do environmentally unsustainable production practices.

Seven years after the 2007-08 food price spikes, global and national policy-makers remain reluctant to change course. They are intent on following that well-worn path, ignoring the folk wisdom: “If we don’t change direction we are going to get where we’re going.”


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