While the likely outcome of the World Summit on Food Security being held this week in Rome prompts much skepticism about what will be agreed, it is essential for grain-based foods to maintain a watch on such proceedings. After all, the conference sponsors, the United Nations and its Food and Agriculture Organization, have pressed for two major steps — a dramatic increase in direct food aid in response to expanding global hunger and an even greater increase in direct government investment to expand food output in developing countries. Implementing either of these steps would have a major impact on domestic agricultural markets.

This is the fourth food summit convened by the U.N. The first, in 1974, promised an end to hunger within a decade. Later sessions were less ambitious, but proved equally ineffective. This week’s gathering was prompted by the 2008 surge in food prices and the shortages that led to the current estimate that more than 1 billion are undernourished. This represents nearly 20% of population in developing nations.

Whether just rhetoric or concrete results will emerge from the 2009 summit depends importantly on the role that the United States elects to play. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reflects the Obama administration’s views that food security for hungry people is an important key to global security in all its aspects. "Food security is not just about food," she said. "It is all about security." Whether this means real change remains highly uncertain.