Read what experts think of food reserves

“Resilience requires buffer and buffer can look wasteful until the moment when it isn’t.“

In the context of anxiety in the UK over the supply of vaccines from abroad during the pandemic which started in 2020. Sir Simon Stevens, Chief Executive, National Health Service, England made this statement before the UK parliament’s Health Committee on 26 January 2021. Sir Simon Stevens was referring to vaccines, not food. However, the statement is significant because this is an acknowledgement, by a top UK official, that a buffer stock of an essential item might make more sense than a ‘just-in-time’ supply chain.

“The paper’s great strength is to display an understanding of the way agricultural commodity markets behave and to propose a solution which works with markets rather than tries to circumvent them.”

Professor Christopher Ritson, Emeritus Professor of Agricultural Marketing, Newcastle University, United Kingdom in an email to the author, dated 31 January 2017.

“If left to market forces alone, grain production and price will display large volatility…
A possible remedy is to create a public reserve so as to stabilize the market and reduce price volatility… it mitigates the risks of social unrest and political instability.”

World Bank: Justin Lin, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, Roundtable on “Preparing for the next global food price crisis,” October 17, 2008, page 7.

“Governments should also consider policies … options include investing in strategic storage.”

Extreme weather and resilience of the global food system (2015). Final Project, Report from the UK-US Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System, Resilience, The Global Food Security programme, UK, page 11

“I have been following [ACTION’s] advocacy work on this topic with both admiration and respect.”

Prof. Olivier De Schutter, Co-Chair, International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), Former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food (2008-2014) Institute for Interdisciplinary Research in Legal Sciences (JUR-I), University of Louvain (UCL). Email 18 April 2015 to ACTION.

“You have written a cogent plea to take this issue seriously, with the regional stocks topic organized around community management as the main theme. Right on!”

Prof. Peter Timmer, Harvard University, USA in email to ACTION, dated 17 March 2015

“Stocks … are viewed by policy-makers as key to buffering market turbulence. Indeed, stocks have played an important role in price stabilization policies in the past.”

Matthieu Stigler and Adam Prakash in Safeguarding food security in volatile global markets, FAO, 2011, page 327.

“We may wish that crop production were an industrial activity that is as controllable as making automobiles or Christmas ornaments, but it is not. Joseph knew that back in the second millennium BC.

The best insurance against excessive volatility is to reinstitute a buffer-stock program sufficient to assure all grain users of a stable flow of the products they need.”

Professor Daryll E. Ray & Harwood D. Schaffer, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, in Policy Pennings, 25 May 2007, 28 Sept 2012 and 6 May 2011

“I completely share your preoccupation of setting up a system of public storage for basic agricultural commodities. … In addition, a public storage system would help decreasing the volatility of prices, removing large price risks for the benefit of all stakeholders.”

Professor Jean-Marc Boussard, Fellow of the French Academy of Agriculture. Letter to ACTION, 3 June 2013

“Votre idée est, en principe, excellente – j’estime que c’est un élément dans un dispositif de nouvelle politique de régulation du marché.”

M. Jean Feyder, Luxembourg, author of La Faim Tue, preface by Jean –Claude Juncker, published by L’Harmattan, 2010 in telephone conversation with ACTION, 24 June 2013

“I confirm my support for your proposal to establish food reserves.”

Professor Marcel Mazower, author with Laurence Roudart of Histoire des Agricultures du Monde, published by Seuil, 1997, in telephone conversation with John McClintock, 10 June 2013

“A very interesting idea.”

Geoff Tansey, Joseph Rowntree Visionary for a Just and Peaceful World, Member and Trustee, Food Ethics Council, UK in email to the authors, dated 8 December 2010

“I consider your proposal an important idea that I would hope to see vigorously pursued.”

Dr. Janice Jiggins, PhD, Guest Researcher, Wageningen University, Netherlands in email to the authors, dated 27 January 2011

“What you have described seems a realistic and pragmatic way to address hunger in a fashion that the current governmental structures don’t seem very good at.”

Professor Don Smith, Denver Sturm College of Law, Denver, Colorado, USA in email to the authors, dated 4 October 2010

“The proposal is relevant, clear and most interesting.”

David Nabarro, UN Special Representative for Food Security and Nutrition in email to the authors, dated 12 August 2010

“The proposal of a sovereignty-sharing organization to govern a shared reserve is interesting… I shall be happy to refer to your idea as a useful one for further exploration.”

Professor Dr. Joachim von Braun, Center for Development Research (ZEF Bonn), University of Bonn, in email to the authors, dated 14 July 2010

“Stocks need to be rebuilt and never again allowed to drift down as they did in the 2000s…Leaving the management of food stocks to private companies operating just-in-time inventories is not good enough.”

Steve Wiggins, Overseas Development Institute, London: in ODI Opinion 113, Is the global food system broken? October 2008.

“…when stocks decline…prices become highly sensitive to small shocks. The lack of stocks in [1996/97 and 2007/08] left the market susceptible to large price spikes from small supply disturbances.”

Professor Brian Wright, University of California Berkeley: The Economics of Grain Price Volatility in: Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy (2011), volume 33, number 1

“If stock levels remain low in major markets…the risk of volatility in prices will remain high.”

World Bank, IMF, FAO, OECD, WTO et al report to the G20, “Price volatility in Food and Agricultural Market: Policy Responses, report dated 2 June 2011, p 11

“…low stocks and panic are the most fundamental ingredients of price spikes on agricultural markets.”

Professor Stefan Tangermann, Policy solutions to agricultural market volatility: a synthesis. Issue paper 33, International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, Geneva, p 27.

“[It is necessary] to improve international cooperation for food reserves management.”

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) Foresight Study on Global Food Security: 3rd Workshop 21-22 October 2013, Report by Albino Maggio, Tine Van Criekinge, Vincent Viaud and Johanna Trieb, page 6.

“It is indisputable that national and regional stocks can contribute to food security…..
Regional stocks would need to be 41% less than the sum of national stocks.”

Prof Ulrich Koester, International Food Policy Research Institute, Research Report 53, Regional Cooperation to improve Food Security in Southern and Eastern African countries, page 67 and page 73, July 1986.

“Urgent actions needed to prevent a new crisis include setting up global grain reserves that can be released in a crisis.”

International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, adapted from Fan (2010) Reflections on the global food crisis. Video comments by the authors [online] Available at: http://www /publication/reflectionsglobal-food-crisis [Accessed 12 April 2013], from Science Communication Unit, University of the West of England, Bristol (2013). Science for Environment Policy In-depth Report: Sustainable food. Report produced for the European Commission DG Environment, November 2013. Available at:

“The impact of shocks on commodity prices is moderated by stockholding.”

Professor Christopher Gilbert, University of Trento, Italy: An assessment of international commodity agreements for commodity price stabilisation, Paris, OECD, p 36, quoted by Daviron p 27

“…it is recommended…to explore forms of international cooperation regarding world food stocks…”

High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, established by the FAO Committee on World Food Security in report entitled “Price Volatility and Food Security” dated July 2011, led by Benoit Daviron, p78

“… strategic grain reserves should be used … to smooth out price volatility.”

International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington in Fan, S. & Headey, D. (2011) letter to Eurochoices journal 10 (1)

“… a food reserve system could be tremendously useful in allowing a swift response to food insecurity.”

UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (Professor Olivier de Schutter) in email to the authors, dated 10 March 2010

“To smooth supply it is necessary to create an international reserve. Stocks are very powerful in their role in reducing the ‘jitters’ in food markets.”

Ian McCreary, former Director, Canadian Wheat Board in: Canadian Foodgrains Bank Occasional Paper, March 2011

“We need to replenish our stocks.”

International grain trader Bunge (Alberto Weisser, chief executive) in interview with Gregory Meyer, Financial Times, dated 29 April 2011

“Food reserves … should make it possible to respond to food emergencies and to make sure that, simply put, the situation doesn’t get any worse.”

Government of France, Minister for Cooperation Henri De Raincourt, at meeting at WFP headquarters, Rome, 16 May 2011

“We need the World Bank, the IMF, all the big foundations, and all the governments to admit that, for 30 years, we all blew it, including me when I was president. We were wrong to believe that food was like some other product in international trade, and we all have to go back to a more responsible and sustainable form of agriculture.”

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton, Speech at United Nations World Food Day, October 1, 2008

“…Stocks remain one of the most important risk management tools, and it is one of the few tools we have to address the extreme volatility we are observing on markets for a number of years.”

Filippo Cerulli Irelli, Vice-President of EU industry association Caobisco, in an interview with Reuters 23 November 2011

“Larger cereal stocks should be created to buffer the tight markets of food commodities.”

United Nations Environment Programme, Nellemann, C., MacDevette, M., Manders, T., Eickhout, B., Svihus, B., Prins, A. G., Kaltenborn, B. P. (Eds). (2009) The environmental food crisis – The environment’s role in averting future food crises. A UNEP rapid response assessment. GRID-Arendal, page 21.

“The evidence suggests that public grain stocks can play a limited but important complementary role in improving food security… Public grain stocks as a food security intervention is most effective in the short term, especially for bridging the time needed to import food and targeting support to helping ensure the most vulnerable have food to eat in times of market shocks.”

The World Bank (2012), Using public foodgrain stocks to enhance food security, Economic and sector work, report number 71280-GLB, page xii.

“In the case of food crises ….access to food products requires functional markets and safety nets, noting the importance of reserves, insurances schemes, storage instruments, farmers’ access to market and financial services, and emergency stocks.”

Communication from European Commission, Learning from Food Security Crises, Brussels, 3.10.2012 COM (2012) 586 final