The recent increase in food prices throughout the world has caused tremendous social upheaval - especially in developing countries where people spend a larger proportion of their income to feed themselves, says UAB political scientist Nikolaos Zahariadis, Ph.D. 

Zahariadis, an expert on European public policy and foreign aid and director of international studies at UAB, is author of the new book State Subsidies in the Global Economy.

Zahariadis says a confluence of events have led to this crisis. The increased use of alternative fuels is taking some staples such as corn out of the food market to produce ethanol and biofuels. The price of oil is another factor, he says, because agricultural production today largely is mechanized and depends on oil and gas. Climate also plays a role.

The long-term solutions will require bold steps primarily in multilateral environments, Zahariadis says, pointing to the Doha Round of world trade talks as an example. Here, countries are working together to reduce barriers to trade and lower prices, but agricultural subsidies provided by the European Union, the United States and other major developed countries continue to be a stumbling block.

Zahariadas says the U.S. subsidizes its farmers significantly for very good political and other reasons, but argues that subsidies need to be lowered to more accurately reflect the price of food. "Then developing countries are going to be able to export more food to our markets, and they will have an incentive to produce more food and help solve their own food problems."