OECD / FAO food outlook – a lot worse than this time last year

This year’s OECD / FAO agricutural outlook, which looks ahead over the period from 2010 to 2019 (news release; summary), didn’t get terribly extensive coverage in the media – unsurprisingly, given that its key message (“real commodity prices to remain below recent peaks but well above recent decades”) is exactly the same as it was in last year’s report. 

But as soon as you start to delve into the quant projections, you see that there’s actually a big difference between this year’s and last year’s report – and not an encouraging one.

Last year, the 2009 to 2018 outlook (summary) projected that over the decade ahead, “average crop prices are projected to be 10-20% higher in real terms relative to 1997-2006, while for vegetable oils real prices are expected to be more than 30% higher”.

This year?  “Average wheat and coarse grain prices are projecte to be nearly 15-40% higher, while for vegetable oils real prices are expected to be more than 40% higher”. Most media coverage didn’t pick up on this (though the FT, as usual, did).

That’s a big deterioration of the outlook in just twelve months. So what explains it? I can’t immediatelymake out the reason, so I’ve emailed FAO’s press office to see if we can get some more detail for them. But as I noted in The Feeding of the Nine Billion (pdf), the OECD / FAO outlook is in some ways unduly optimistic – as in the past it has “largely overlooked the potential impact of long-term resource scarcity trends, notably climate change, energy security and falling water availability”.