The commodities market is notoriously volatile. Just last week the market for the most reliable commodity, gold, dropped 15 percent.
Even here a drop can become self perpetuating. As one broker put it, “This is a market that has only got one thing on its mind: get me out”.
The growth of these markets into new sectors increases this instability. It also further removes what democratic control there is over where investment should be made.
In agriculture ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Dreyfus, known as the ABCD group, control half of the world’s grain and soyabean markets.
A single firm, Neumann Kaffee Gruppe, controls 14 percent of the global coffee bean market.
So these largely unregulated companies control what the price of bread will be in Bristol or Cairo, and what a coffee grower will be paid.
Between 2001 and 2010 the world grain trade grew by 21 percent.
This was not largely down to people consuming more, but the production of grain being opened up to free market profiteering.
Ethiopia’s total wheat bill shot up from £55 million in 2006 to £302 million in 2008.
A farmer, Nuria, explained that the increase in prices had more than doubled. She had to sell her cattle to feed her family.
They sold for a third of their value as “they had become skinny because of lack of adequate pasture, but still they were our only family assets.”