The World Food Economy: A 40 Year Perspective on the Past, and a Look Forward

Published date01 March 2016
Date01 March 2016
World Food Policy - Volume 2 Issue 2/Volume 3 Issue 1, Fall 2015/Spring 2016
What is the special signicance
of a 40 year perspective, from
the vantage point of 2015? e
answer is mostly personal. In 1975, I rst
taught a course at Stanford University on
the world food economy. It was a course
that had a long history at the Stanford
Food Research Institute, which had been
founded in 1921. Merrill Bennett rst
taught the course, starting in the 1950s.1
Aer Bennett’s retirement in 1960, Bruce
Johnston took over the course and gave
it more of an Asian and African focus.
But Bruce was on sabbatical in Kenya in
1975 and I was asked if I would step in as
a young faculty and teach a course on the
world food economy.
C. Peter TimmerA
e World Food Economy:
A 40 Year Perspective on the Past, and a Look Forward
A is is a lightly edited version of the Keynote Speech I delivered at the World Food Policy Con-
ference, December 17–18, 2015 in Bangkok, ailand. e Conference was sponsored by the ai
Royal Society. I am the Cabot Professor of Development Studies, emeritus, Harvard University, and
Non-Resident Fellow, Center for Global Development, Washington, DC. Fuller details are available in
my book, Food Security and Scarcity: Why Ending Hunger Is So Hard (Philadelphia, PA: University of
Pennsylvania Press) 2015.
1 Bennett’s well-known book, e World Food Economy (New York: Harper and Row), was published
in 1954 and was an outgrowth of teaching the course.
What has changed in the world food economy in the 40 years since 1975? e
basic answer to that question is that ending hunger has turned out to be a
very dicult task. Henry Kissinger stated in 1976, at the rst World Food
Conference, that “within a decade, no child will go to bed hungry.” ere
would be no hunger within a decade. We failed miserably in that promise
and the question then is why? is paper attempts to answer that question.
ere are two basic questions: (1) What has changed, and what has remained
the same? (2) Why is ending hunger so hard? What has changed, obviously, is
an information and communications technological revolution that has radically
reduced the transactions costs of doing business. Even poor households can be
informed instantly about market prices. What has remained the same is that
resource scarcity continues as the dominant theme organizing market activities.
Making markets work for the poor is the only path out of hunger and poverty.
Keywords: Food security, markets, ICT revolution, world food economy,
ending hunger
doi: 10.18278/wfp.

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