After decades of stability, the global prices of such food staples as wheat, maize and rice have skyrocketed since 2004. Causes include high energy and fertilizer costs, surging demand and economic development, and a move to biofuels. Virtually all of the world’s extra corn produced from 2004 to 2007—primarily grown in the U.S.—went to make fuel. Prices may not start to decline until the middle of the next decade. In the meantime, the high costs have put tremendous stress on the world’s poor and may exacerbate regional conflicts.

Number of countries in crisis because of food prices: 36

Number in Africa: 21

Metric tons of world cereal stocks in:

2003: 486.3 million

2005: 469.3 million

2008: 405.1 million

Expected prices, as percent increase above 2004 prices, of:

                2008      2010

Maize            79       76

Rice            101      113

Soybeans      56        44

Wheat          119      104

SOURCES: Rising Food Prices: Policy Options and World Bank Response, World Bank, April 9, 2008; United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization