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Life in a time of food price volatility

Huong Ha Nhan Dat sells ricecakes in Hanoi, Viet Nam. The cost of the ingredients for rice doubled in 2008. Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

At a glance

A collaborative research project between Oxfam and IDS monitoring the impacts of, and responses to, volatile food prices in 10 developing countries.


Life in a time of food price volatility was a research project that ran from 2012-15, monitoring the impacts of, and responses to, volatile food prices in poor communities in 10 developing countries. The research has now ended with the publication of a wide-ranging report Precarious Lives: Food, Work and Care After the Global Food Crisis.

When food prices spiked in 2008, the international price of basic food items peaked at unprecedented levels, bringing a wave of food riots in low-income countries. Subsequent price volatility and peaks have had huge - and long term - impacts on millions of people. They have increased people's dependence on the market for where they obtain their food and the means to buy it, and accelerated urbanisation and migration, especially by the young. 

Through yearly visits to 23 urban and rural communities, and analysis of national and international food data, researchers observed how the food price crisis contributed to huge changes to:

  • Food and diets, with people struggling to feed their families nutritiously and turning to 'Western-style' cheap, readily-available processed alternatives that are high in sugars, fats and salt, with dangerous implications for future health;
  • The care economy, with women especially working more outside the home to earn income and finding that the little time they had in their customary roles of caring for children and the household is being squeezed even more, causing exhaustion and anxiety;
  • The world of work, with more people having to work harder, for longer hours, in more jobs, often with less security and in sometimes dangerous and exploitative situations.

This project will inform short-term efforts in helping people cope with fluctuating food prices, and influence the design of food security and social protection responses over the longer term.

Our approach

This research was a collaborative effort between Oxfam, the Institute of Development Studies, and research partners in the 10 focus countries. It was based on generating evidence through integrated in-depth qualitative and innovative quantitative research, complementing and building on a synthesis of existing data sources.

Specifically, it looked at the following aspects of high and unpredictable food prices:

  • How they affect the essential day-to-day work of keeping families fed and cared for.
  • How well the support systems on which people routinely rely (whether state or non-state) help people cope with sharp changes in the cost of living.

The research was designed to be longitudinal to understand the dynamics of these impacts and responses (how they change over time and  and against a backdrop of changing prices).

UK Aid logo

Earlier rounds of research in a subset of the focus countries were coordinated by IDS under the Social Impacts of Crisis project. 


This project is funded by The UK GovernmentIrish Aid, Oxfam and the BRAC Development Institute.

Watch the video

A short video summary of the report 'Precarious Lives: Food, Work and Care After the Global Food Crisis'.