Volatile Food Prices Grab G-20's Full Attention A meeting of agriculture ministers comes as some experts are predicting another rise in grain prices like that of 2008, which sparked panic and deadly riots. A relief organization estimates rising staple prices have pushed 44 million into poverty in recent years.
NPR logo

Volatile Food Prices Grab G-20's Full Attention

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/137324767/137336379" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Volatile Food Prices Grab G-20's Full Attention

Volatile Food Prices Grab G-20's Full Attention

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/137324767/137336379" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Eleanor Beardsley reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR CLOSING)

JEAN LOUIS CHAMPY: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Jean Louis Champy grows wheat on the rolling plains of northern France, in a fertile stretch of land known as the breadbasket of the European Union.

LOUIS CHAMPY: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: But this year's drought, the worst in 50 years, has likely cut his harvest by a third. Champy and his dog wade into a field of wheat that is toasted golden brown.

LOUIS CHAMPY: (Through translator) See here? We have half the usual number of heads on the wheat, and the stalks are much shorter than they should be. This wheat should be green and still growing, but it's already at full maturity and ready to be harvested. And it's only June.

BEARDSLEY: Because of these shortages, some experts are already predicting another rise in grain prices like that of 2008. David Nabarro is a food security expert with the United Nations. He says that for decades, governments thought they didn't have to worry about agriculture because prices stayed even or dropped. But 2008 changed all that.

DAVID NABARRO: Food became an issue that was of central political importance to presidents, heads of governments. In addition, we found that food production systems were getting intertwined with environmental issues and climate change. So, food and agriculture has now become a big political issue.

BEARDSLEY: Nabarro says decision-makers must find ways to ensure sustainable agricultural growth to feed a planet of nine billion people by 2050. Production must be increased, but market distortions must also be addressed. Countries must work together, says Nabarro. The 2008 food crisis was worsened when some countries panicked and began blocking their exports.

NICOLAS SARKOZY: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, which is hosting the G-20 this year, has made fighting food price volatility a central plank of the G-20 agenda. In particular, Sarkozy has called for controlling excessive commodity market speculation that exacerbates food price swings.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

BEARDSLEY: Last week, on the eve of the agriculture ministers' meeting, farmers from 120 nations gathered in Paris, calling their meeting the G-120. Wheat farmer Robert Carlson, head of the North Dakota Farmers Union, was there. Carlson says it is now vital for farmers to understand the global situation and not just what's happening in their own country.

ROBERT CARLSON: What we have become interested in in the United States is this question of are we really in a new era now when, instead of dealing all the time with how to get rid of surpluses, the challenge is going to be to grow enough food for the world. Are we really there?

BEARDSLEY: Mr. DJIBO BAGNA (Farmer) (Through translator) Those who bear the brunt of shortages and hunger are not countries in the G-20, but mostly African farmers. So it's important that our leaders be able to participate in world meetings on agriculture.

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley, in Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.