May 18, 2012

Understanding food crisis

The case of Malawi. In this article Ellis and Manda (World Development, 2012) argue that  food crisis are the result of market forces and government policies. Nothing new here. The richness is in the details however and the authors do a good job at explaining them. 

In page 1414 they say referring to the market: 
In seeking to understand how this particular pathology keeps replicating itself every few years in Malawi, a first point to note is that market prices are the most accurate single indi- cator of the true maize availability position in Malawi at dif- ferent points of the year. The maize market in Malawi is fundamentally a competitive market, with plentiful and di- verse traders operating in it, and efficient spatial arbitrage reflecting local surpluses or scarcities (Myers, 2008). The mar- ket price is a more accurate predictor than production esti- mates that seem to have performed variably in indicating the true volume of maize available from the domestic harvest from year to year. However, the market price is not utilized as a crit- ical indicator in food security analysis in Malawi. Rather the emphasis is on the forecast maize harvest figure, the crop esti- mates for substitute foods (rice, cassava), the stock position, food aid operations, and localized vulnerability identified by MVAC investigatory procedures.
And to the government:
Second, most government reflex action exacerbates sea- sonal price instability in a deficit market as predicted by the “Jayne hypothesis” stated in the introduction to this paper (Jayne et al., 2006). Aggressive procurement by ADMARC or NFRA in a short market increases upward price pressures when supply is limited. Prohibiting private trade has the same effect, since it reduces spatial arbitrage, and reduces the volume of informal cross-border trade (handled entirely by private traders). In all maize shortage episodes of the 2000s, cross-border import trade helped diminish the shortage of domestic supply to a significant degree. In all episodes government openly charged the private sector with excess stock holding (“hoarding”), and efforts to get this stock released through punitive action failed to add significantly to supply.
The article is here.  

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