“Rising Food Prices and Public Policy” de Gary Becker no Becker-Posner Blog
The World Bank’s index of food prices increases by 140 percent from January 2002 to the beginning of 2008, and a full 75 percent just since September 2006.(…)this current food price rise because it has nothing to do with population growth, and is only a little related to the rapid expansion in world incomes in recent years.
Rather, the boom in petroleum prices and subsidies to ethanol and other biofuels are the most important forces explaining the recent increase in food prices. Both the sharp run up in oil prices, and the continuing subsides to ethanol production in the United States, and to a lesser extent Europe, induced an increasing diversion of corn from feed and human consumption to the production of biofuels. The main goal of the diversion has been to produce more ethanol as a substitute for gasoline. During the past year, one quarter of American corn production, and 11 percent of global production, was devoted to biofuels, and the US contributes a lot to the world corn market. The growth in demand for biofuels explains why acreage was shifted from other grains to corn-the acreage devoted to corn in the United States increased by over twenty percent in 2007-8, while that devoted to soybean production declined by more than fifteen percent. The reallocation of production away from other grains explains the rapid price increases for wheat, soybeans, and rice as well as for corn.
The huge increase in petroleum prices also pushed up the cost of producing foods, and hence food prices, since energy is an important input in the production of fertilizers and agricultural chemicals. Other factors affecting the rise in food prices include the drought in Australia in 2006-07 that cut world grain production during those years, and the fall in the value of the dollar that may have increased the dollar value of foods and other commodities.(…)
Although incomes in China and India, countries that account for almost 40 percent of the world’s population, did grow rapidly during this decade as well as during the 1990’s, global consumption of corn, wheat, and rice grew more slowly since 2000 than during the five years earlier. To be sure, the slower growth in consumption is partly the result of the rapid increase in grain prices. However, if an unusually large increase in world wide demand for grains to use as feed for animals and for human consumption explained the rapid increase in these prices, consumption should have grown more rapidly during the later period, even after adjusting for any induced increase in grain prices.