AP110228027386

John Parker reports:

A combination of factorsrising demand in India and China, a dietary shift away from cereals towards meat and vegetables, the increasing use of maize as a fuel, and developments outside agriculture, such as the fall in the dollarhave brought to a close a period starting in the early 1970s in which the real price of staple crops (rice, wheat and maize) fell year after year.

This has come as a shock. By the 1990s most agricultural problems seemed to have been solved. Yields were rising, pests appeared under control and fertilisers were replenishing tired soil. The exciting areas of research in life sciences were no longer plants but things like HIV/AIDS.

(Photo: An Indian worker sleeps on rice bags at a warehouse in Gauhati, India. By Anupam Nath/ AP)

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.