Markets, Politics, and World Food Security

Date Published:

Apr 1, 1999


Transitory food insecurity in poor countries is not directly or significantly linked to changing conditions in world grain markets. Per capita grain consumption in the developing countries did not generally worsen when grain export prices increased in 1973–74, or when they increased again briefly in 1995–96, and consumption generally grew more rapidly during the decade of the 1970s (when prices were high) than during the decade of the 1980s (when prices were low). This is partly because reliance on grain imports by genuinely poor developing countries is low, and lower today than several decades ago even when food aid is taken into account. This low dependence cannot be explained as a response to the instability of world grain markets or as a justifiable response to unreliable supplier concerns; it reflects instead a more general aversion by poor countries to all freely operating food markets, domestic as well as foreign. Transitory food insecurity thus seldom results from the malfunction of food markets. Its most conspicuous cause is violent internal conflict, plus non–accountable governments and natural disasters such as drought.


Working Paper 99–06, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, April 1999. 

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