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粮价为什么这么贵?

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小编摘要:世界粮价在三年内第二次冲上了新高。有人将其归咎于对冲基金的投机行为,有人责怪政府(看看在几个发展中国家发生的骚乱),还有一些人认为,大量的贫困人口及收入的不平等才使得粮价波动成为问题。

Food prices have risen to record highs for the second time in three years. Some blame the hedge fund speculators who have funneled large amounts of money into futures contracts in food markets. They argue that market mechanisms are broken and need fixing. Others blame their governments (look at the riots in the streets of several developing countries) and find fault in the political systems, corruption and cronyism that have robbed them of the resources to afford higher food prices. Their solutions are political. Still others look to pervasive poverty and high income inequality as the reason why food price volatility is of such concern. They focus on the social aspects and solutions.


This separation into markets, politics and social stability is actually a useful frame for understanding how food prices affect developing countries and what needs to be done at a policy level. The issues are of course interconnected but too often the discourse becomes confused as one thread leads to another and the logic gets tangled.


As an initial point, it’s worth stressing that the crux of the food price challenge is about price volatility, rather than high prices per se. It is the rapid and unpredictable changes in food prices that wreak havoc on markets, politics and social stability, rather than long-term structural trends in food prices that we can prepare for and adjust to. And it is also worth noting that volatility cuts both ways—prices go up and down. The only reason food prices are going up so much this year is because they came down so fast after reaching 2008 peaks. Both rapid increases and rapid declines in food prices can create problems.


Food price volatility starts with the characteristics of food markets. What makes food markets distinctive is that both supply and demand curves are highly inelastic, meaning neither responds much to price changes in the short run. The most basic economics dictates that small shocks in either supply or demand will therefore lead to large price changes. Today, we have many shocks: supply shocks in important food producing countries due to extreme weather (droughts in Russia and China, floods in Australia and South Africa) and due to the higher cost of inputs (fertilizer, pesticides and transport over long distances) linked to oil prices. Demand shocks have come from sudden policy decisions to increase biofuel content in gasoline, for example. The result is volatility in food prices.


Because food prices are so inherently volatile, it is natural that speculators should enter futures markets in a big way. Speculators make money out of understanding and providing insurance against volatility. They do not create the volatility themselves, except under very strange conditions. Almost all serious studies have come to the same conclusion: the volatility inherent in the food marketplace causes speculation, not the other way around.


So what can be done? First and foremost, break the link between food prices and oil prices. The current global food system worked well in a world of cheap, stable energy prices which allowed food to be grown in concentrated locations and transported over huge distances to meet demands. That system will continue to give us volatility as long as oil prices remain volatile. I would not bet on a return to cheap, stable oil prices in the near term, so the answer must be to change the food system to adapt to the new economics of energy. That probably means more localized and more diversified production and consumption, less use of fertilizer, and less wastage (20 percent of all food gets spoiled in storage and transport today). Ironically, the organic, slow-food, go-local cooperative movement may find that market forces are their new best friend.


Second, invest more in agriculture. There seemed to be an international consensus that this was indeed important; and a U.S.-led international fund to promote investments in agriculture was launched last year (the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program), but faced with budget pressures few countries have made new pledges or lived up to their commitments. From a $20 billion headline goal, GAFSP is now struggling to find a few hundred million dollars to support its programs.


Third, get small-holder yields up. African productivity is only half that of India, one-quarter that of China and one-fifth that of the United States. The technology to increase yields is well-known but requires investments; 90 percent of Africa’s agricultural land is rain-fed and subject to the vagaries of weather. Mechanized power to till the soil would do wonders to raise yields.


Markets can only work if governments allow them to do so. In many countries, food markets are not allowed to operate freely precisely because they generate confusing price swings in the short term. Governments like to make sure that rural farmers get “fair” prices (usually meaning large public subsidies), while urban constituents get subsidized food to consume. The balance between these constituencies varies from country to country, but the large-scale presence of government intervention in food markets is common across the world. The trouble is that when food prices are volatile, government intervention becomes unpredictable in terms of its budgetary cost. When corrupt governments are faced with unaffordable food subsidies, political stability (what has been called the authoritarian bargain) is at risk. And some government interventions reinforce price swings. For example, food exporters like Russia have resorted to export restrictions when food prices rise, reducing supply on international markets. That drives up prices still further.


Many government interventions are designed to shelter local markets against volatility in the global price of food, but in fact it is precisely these national interventions that are spurring global volatility. The various border protections against the global market in place around the world segregate the world food market into a number of much smaller national markets, the exact opposite of what is needed today. If these distortions didn’t exist—in other words, if there was truly a single global market for food, and an actual “world” price of food—the volatility of prices would be much lower than the volatility in each of the protected local markets for food that we currently have.


The difficulty, of course, is that there is little incentive for any single country to liberalize its agricultural trade so long as the distortions of other countries—and the volatility in global markets they encourage—remain. And this brings us directly to the failure to complete the Doha Development Round of trade talks, which is now in its 10th year of negotiations and has been stuck largely because of the impasse on agriculture. The ongoing failure of the Doha Round shows that the political will to take collective action to reduce food price volatility is lacking; there is no trust that the market will deliver access to food better than a government.


Politicians in developing countries care more about volatile food prices than those in developed countries because their citizens are more directly affected by the ups-and-downs of food prices. Just a few years ago, the main social issue in India was farmer suicides because of low agricultural prices. Today, it is the lack of affordability of food for the poor. In some sub-Saharan African countries, the poor might spend 70 percent of their income on food. If food prices double, these households literally become faced with the prospect of starvation. The solution: safety nets or social protection for the poor, to cushion the blow of rapid changes in food prices.


There are some drawbacks; good safety nets require effective targeting. Who should be protected? Economists might suggest the children, especially the very young, as there is ample evidence that early child malnutrition results in long-term deterioration of brain development. That line of thinking points towards subsidized school meals, or conditional cash transfer programs (sometimes means-tested, sometimes with self-selection). But politically it is the unemployed youth in urban areas that are most likely to riot. Getting cheap food to them is administratively cumbersome (government ration shops are the most common way) and normally subject to huge corruption. As a practical matter, few countries in sub-Saharan Africa actually have national social protection frameworks, although the concept of the value of social protection is now formally recognized (the African Union endorsed a social policy framework for Africa in 2009). So building social safety nets in poor developing countries remains a worthy but long-term project.


All this brings us back to where we started—big swings in food prices are happening more regularly (maybe because of climate change and the link to oil) and proving to be highly destabilizing for development and poverty reduction. The solutions lie in three areas—improving food markets and agricultural production, building political will to integrate food markets across countries, and developing social safety nets in poor countries. All are long-term projects that have been on-and-off for some years now. And because none of the challenges are being tackled with the urgency that is needed, we can expect more of the same in the years to come.

 

世界粮价在三年内第二次冲上了新高。有人将其归咎于对冲基金的投机行为,将巨额资金砸向食品市场的期货合同。他们认为市场机制已经破损,需要修补。有人责怪政府(看看在几个发展中国家发生的骚乱),认为政治体制、腐败和裙带关系剥夺了他们的资源,令其无法承受高昂的粮食价格。这些人认为要用政治手段解决问题。还有一些人认为,大量的贫困人口及收入的不平等才使得粮价波动成为问题。他们关注的是社会层面的解决方案。


市场、政治和社会稳定几方面因素合起来就构成一个框架,有助于理解粮价问题如何对发展中国家造成影响,以及在政策层面应该怎么做。这些问题当然是相互关联的,但因为相互之间的互相牵制和纠缠不清的逻辑关系,经常令人感到糊涂。


首先要强调的是,粮价问题的核心是价格的波动性,而非高粮价本身。导致市场、政治及社会稳定性出现问题的是粮价快速、无法预测的波动,不是一个我们可以准备并适应的长期的结构性趋势。同样值得一提的是,波动性,即无论粮价是涨还是跌,都会造成伤害。今年粮价之所以涨了这么多,完全是因为粮价从2008年的高点下跌的速度太快了。粮价的快涨快跌都会带来问题。


粮价的波动性源于粮食市场的特性,即其供应和需求两条曲线都极度缺乏弹性,在短期内对价格变化都不会产生明显反应。最基础的经济学理论指出,供需无论任何一方发生小的波动都会导致大幅的价格变化。各种原因都给我们的粮食供给造成波动,包括极端天气(中国和俄罗斯的干旱、澳大利亚和南非的洪灾)导致的主要产粮国的产量波动,以及油价导致的成本(肥料、杀虫剂以及长途运输的费用)的增加。需求的波动则来自于,比如说,增加生产生物燃料的政策。其结果导致了粮价的波动。


因为粮价固有的不稳定性,自然就有投机客大举投资于期货市场。他们理解这种不稳定性,为其采取了保障措施并从中获利。投机客本身并不会导致波动,除非情况非常特殊。几乎所有严肃的研究都能得出相同的结论:粮食市场固有的不稳定性导致了投机行为的产生,而非相反。


这样一来,我们可以做什么?首先,最重要的是,打破食品价格和石油价格之间的联系。当能源价格低廉而稳定的时候,人们可以集中种植粮食,并将产品输送到遥远的需求市场。基于这样的运行机制的全球粮食体系在油价不稳定的今天必然导致粮价的波动。而短期内油价依我之见不太可能保持低廉和稳定,而我们就必须改变粮食体系,以适应新的能源经济。这很可能意味着粮食的生产和消费都需要更加本地化、更分散,同时减少使用肥料,并减少浪费(当今所有粮食中20%在存储和运输中被浪费掉了)。讽刺的是,这种有机、慢食的(与快餐相对)、本地化的合作运动将受益于市场的力量。


其次,增加对农业的投资。这一点的重要性已经取得了国际社会一致认同,而美国领导的旨在促进农业投资的国际基金会已于去年成立(全球农业和食品安全计划,简称GAFSP),但由于几乎没有哪个国家愿意增加投资或兑现承诺,现在GAFSP正面临资金压力。尽管其目标是筹集两百亿美元,GAFSP现在勉强凑到了不过数亿美元而已。


第三,增加小规模农场的产量。非洲的农业生产率仅相当于印度的一半、中国的四分之一,或者美国的五分之一。增产技术并不是秘密,但需要投资。非洲农田的90%还需要雨水灌溉,处在靠天吃饭的状态。机械化的耕种对增产的作用将不可限量。


但是,市场的运作还需要政府的支持。因为市场作用会导致粮食价格短期内的波动,因此许多国家不允许粮食市场的自由运行。政府倾向于为农民确保“公平”的价格(通常这意味着大量的补贴),而城市居民则以补贴价购买粮食。这些补贴的均衡度不同国家各有不同,但政府对粮食市场的大规模干预是全世界的普遍现象。这样带来的问题是:当粮食价格波动时,政府的干预行为会因为其预算的原因变得无法预料。当一个腐败的政府遇上了过高的粮食补贴时,政治上就难以保持稳定了(即所谓的“专制政府的议价行为”)。并且,有些政府的干预还会加剧价格的波动。举例来说,在粮价上涨时,像俄罗斯这样的粮食出口国对出口进行限制,导致国际市场的供应减少。这进一步推高了粮食价格。


许多国家的干预行为意在减少国际粮价波动对本地市场的影响,而事实上,正是这种政府的干预加剧了全球粮价的波动。各国为本国粮价设置的保护措施将世界粮食市场分割成了若干个小市场,这和我们要做的事情刚好相反。如果不存在这些外力,换句话说,如果真的存在一个单一的全球粮食市场,以及一个全球统一的粮价,粮价的波动比我们现在各国分散的本地市场的粮价波动要小得多。


当然,这样做的困难在于,在其他国家不停止对市场的干预,全球市场的波动性依旧的情况下,没有哪个国家愿意实行农产品贸易自由化。多哈发展回合的贸易谈判迄今已经进入第十个年头了,其进程受到有关农产品贸易的拖累,而最终也将因此而失败。多哈回合谈判将面临的失败表明,世人缺乏为降低粮价的波动而采取集体行动的政治意愿。没人相信在粮食供应的问题上,市场能比政府做得更好。


相比之下,发展中国家的政治家更关系粮价的波动,因为发展中国家的人们受到粮价起伏的影响更为直接。就在几年前,印度的主要社会问题还是过低的农产品价格导致的农民自杀问题,到了今天就变成了贫困人口的吃饭问题。在一些撒哈拉以南的非洲国家,贫困人口收入的70%用于购买粮食。如果粮价翻番,这些家庭将面临挨饿。这个问题的解决办法是为贫困人口建立安全网或社会保障,以减少粮价快速变化造成的冲击。


问题是:好的安全网需要有良好的针对性,即保护的对象到底是谁。经济学家很可能建议保护儿童,尤其是幼童,因为幼年时期的营养不良会对脑部发育造成长期的恶果。按这种思路,校餐应该给予补助,或实施有条件的现金补助计划(其条件包括经济状况调查,或者基于自荐)。但是,在市区的无业青年才最可能实施暴乱。为他们提供食物是一项繁重的任务(政府配给商店是最常见的方法),而且通常伴随着腐败行为。事实上,尽管社会保护的价值受到了官方的认同(非洲联盟于2009年签署了一项社会政策框架协议),撒哈拉以南的非洲国家几乎都没有实施国家社会保护措施。因此,对于发展中国家而言,社会安全网的建设依然任重道远。


现在我们总结一下:大幅的粮价波动正在变得频繁(或许是由于气候变化和油价的上涨),从而对发展和脱贫造成不稳定的影响。其解决之道在于三个方面:发展粮食市场和农业生产,增进跨国粮食市场的融合,并发展贫穷国家的社会安全网。所有的这些项目都是长期性的,并已断断续续实施了多年。但是,由于世人对待这些挑战的态度还不够积极,在未来的日子里肯定还会出现更多的问题。

标签:粮价
7
2011-03-09 12:41 编辑:kuaileyingyu
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