Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility

The global food crisis of 2007-11 left food prices higher and more volatile than they had been for a generation. The Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility project explored the everyday aspects of people’s lives, as they responded to this change in prices. The project found that people are no longer experiencing price rises as shocks but rather as a constant pressure, particularly as wages are not rising as fast as the growing cost of living.

The Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility project was a four-year collaboration between Oxfam, IDS and research partners in ten focus countries: Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

The research involved yearly return visits to 23 urban and rural communities in ten countries, and analysis of national and international food data.

Precarious resilience – people are adapting to change but at what cost?

People are experiencing significant costs – across all aspects of their lives – as they struggle to get enough cash to pay for the basics and to squeeze value out of what they can buy. This has meant changes to how people on low incomes work, eat and care for others. As women increasingly work away from home, their ability to provide care is stressed; as people turn to fast food, their health is compromised; and with the uncertainties of unemployment or working longer hours, their relationships suffer.

While they are adjusting to prices rises and food crises, people are becoming more intricately involved in the market in ways that we describe as “precarious resilience”. It is not all bad news though. People are accessing new kinds of foods and are excited by new possibilities in the market.

We are seeing changes in four key aspects of people lives:

  • Working patterns
  • Eating habits
  • Social relationships within families and beyond
  • Attitudes towards the role of governments

Implications for global governance

Our research indicates that people facing hunger or livelihood stress have turned increasingly to the market because, even as it is risky, it fits with their notions of what it means to fulfill their part in the struggle for a right to food. In doing so, they have become more vulnerable to food price volatility, and they have lost some of the social protections once afforded by the local. But they have also gained new abilities to press the state for realisation of a right to food.

The critical challenge is for global governance, including human rights approaches, to protect the right to food against likely market volatility while promoting the vital functioning of popular cultures and public action to do with access to food of good quality.

Global reports

Country reports

Reports from our focus countries – Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Vietnam and Zambia – can be accessed and downloaded from the Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility collection

Related resources

  • Listen to the podcast ‘Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility, Year 1 Findings’
  • Earlier rounds of research in a subset of the focus countries were coordinated by IDS under the project The Social Impacts of Crisis
  • Read the blogs that our project researchers have written over the course of the project to date by clicking on the links in the right-hand column.
  • In a guest commentary for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Jen Leavy writes on the importance of investing in youth in the agriculture sector to alleviate hunger and poverty. Jen highlights Future Agricultures work and emerging findings from the Life in a Time of Food Volatility project.


Recent work