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Coping with Rising Food Prices: Policy Dilemmas in the Developing World


  • Nora Lustig

    () (Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University)


This paper examines the policy dilemmas and challenges faced by developing country governments when confronted with rising food prices, especially when it comes to the prices of basic foods such as rice and corn. One option for governments is to let domestic prices adjust to reflect the full change in international prices. However, this generates inflationary pressures, and if poor households lack savings or access to credit and social safety nets are inadequate, high food prices can cause severe hardship.Countries with large international reserves could mitigate these effects by appreciating their currency. But an exchange rate appreciation hurts the tradable sector and may cause macroeconomic imbalances down the road. Alternatively, governments can use food subsidies or export restrictions to stabilize domestic prices, shifting the burden of adjustment back on to international markets. The former measures exacerbate global food price fluctuations, hence are a beggar-thy-neighbor policy response which undermines a rules-based trading system and reduces welfare particularly in food importing countries. Without a multilateral solution to food price volatility in international markets, however, it is not surprising that developing countries pursue what is perceived as best for them even if the rest of the world is made worse off. With the introduction of biofuels, food commodity prices are likely to behave more like industrial commodity prices, so episodes of rapidly rising food commodity prices are bound to happen more frequently in the future. Biofuels not only lead to a rise in the long-term price of food staples but will also make food prices much more sensitive to the business-cycle much more than in the past. Beggar-thy- neighbor policies will become a common practice every time nonrenewable energy prices go up.

Suggested Citation

  • Nora Lustig, 2009. "Coping with Rising Food Prices: Policy Dilemmas in the Developing World," Working Papers 2009-04, The George Washington University, Institute for International Economic Policy.
  • Handle: RePEc:gwi:wpaper:2009-04

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Kgathi, Donald L. & Mfundisi, K.B. & Mmopelwa, G. & Mosepele, K., 2012. "Potential impacts of biofuel development on food security in Botswana: A contribution to energy policy," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 70-79.
    2. Berazneva, Julia & Lee, David R., 2013. "Explaining the African food riots of 2007–2008: An empirical analysis," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 28-39.
    3. Isabel Ortiz & Jingqing Chai & Matthew Cummins, 2011. "Escalating Food Prices: The threat to poor households and policies to safeguard a Recovery for All," Working papers 1101, UNICEF,Division of Policy and Strategy.

    More about this item


    Food Prices; Inflation; Poverty; Policy Dilemmas; Safety Nets;

    JEL classification:

    • E31 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Price Level; Inflation; Deflation
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • Q18 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Policy; Food Policy
    • O24 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy - - - Trade Policy; Factor Movement; Foreign Exchange Policy


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