The Institute of Medicine (IOM), with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the PepsiCo Foundation, held a workshop titled Mitigating the Nutritional Impacts of the Global Food Price Crisis on July 14–16, 2009, in Washington, DC, at the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Barbara Jordan Conference Center. Presenters were chosen by a planning committee to describe the dynamic technological, agricultural, and economic issues contributing to the food price increases of 2007 and 2008 and their impacts on health and nutrition in resource-poor regions. The planning committee quickly realized that it was impossible to ignore the compounding effects of the current global economic downturn on nutrition. Subject matter experts were invited to the workshop and asked to discuss these tandem crises, their impacts on the nutritional status of vulnerable populations, and opportunities to mitigate their negative nutritional effects.
The planning committee’s role was limited to planning the workshop, and the workshop summary has been prepared by the workshop rapporteurs as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop. The reader should be aware that the material presented here expresses the views and opinions of the individuals participating in the workshop and not the deliberations and conclusions of a formally constituted IOM consensus study committee. These proceedings summarize only what participants stated in the workshop and are not intended to be an exhaustive exploration of the subject matter and should not be perceived as a consensus of the participants, nor the views of the planning committee, the IOM, or its sponsors.
A strong evidence base underpinning and motivating investment in nutrition of vulnerable populations has emerged over the past 5 years. Specifically, a Lancet series, published in January 2008, clearly showed that maternal and child undernutrition is the underlying cause of 3.5 million deaths, 35 percent of the disease burden in children younger than 5 years, and 11 percent of total global disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) (Black et al., 2008). With this foundation, it seemed that the will, the tools, and the technologies had all been mobilized, and real progress in nutrition could be made. Then the sudden increases in global food prices in 2007 and 2008, exacerbated by the current global economic downturn, began to threaten the hoped-for trajectory of progress. Between March 2007 and March 2008, price rises of 31 percent for corn, 74 percent for rice, 87 percent for soya, and 130 percent for wheat were documented (Hawtin, 2008).
Per Pinstrup-Andersen explained that price volatility and rapid food price fluctuations most significantly affect the global poor. While higher food prices are of course problematic, if they were consistent and predictable, food buyers could better cope. Dr. Pinstrup-Andersen forewarned that such price volatility is