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Poverty and vulnerability in an era of global instability

southern Africa and the 3 'F's crisis

Frank Ellis
Philip White



This paper considers the recent ‘3 Fs’ (food, fuel and financial) crisis from the retrospective standpoint of mid-2010 and from a southern African perspective. First, it revisits international commodity price trends up to May 2010. Second, it draws attention to differences in opinion and research findings regarding the causes, effects, and severity of the crisis for vulnerable people in poor southern African countries. Third, it considers departures between domestic and international food price behaviour and the reasons for such differences. Fourth, it broadens the discussion to interpret the reactions of global institutions to the crisis, and the emerging policy response.

The food price crisis attracted particular attention on the part of institutions and individuals concerned about hunger and vulnerability in the world’s poorest countries. It was almost universally agreed that high food prices would have a catastrophic effect on poor countries and on the poorest families within them. A series of high profile initiatives were set in motion by international agencies to ameliorate the crisis in the short term (heightened emergency responsiveness) and longer term (initiatives to raise agricultural output in poor countries and regions). Yet the calamitous predictions tended to be long on punditry and advocacy and short on careful analysis. In using what was essentially a short-term crisis to lever donor resources that might augment their budgets and international standing as champions of the weak and powerless, agencies may well have deflected attention from the longer term crisis of poverty and vulnerability in which much of southern Africa is mired. An element of ‘kneejerk’ opportunism in these responses increases the risk of ‘donor fatigue’, and detracts from more serious efforts to understand persistent poverty and vulnerability, and to search for better and more consistent ways of addressing them.

Publication Type(s)

Conference Paper

Ten Years of War Against Poverty Conference Papers

Conference: Ten Years of War Against Poverty


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