Grain Reserves

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GRAIN RESERVES. Grain is the foundation of the world's diet. Since the beginning of agriculture, farmers have recognized the need to manage stocks of grain to prevent starvation in times of scarcity. In the Hebrew Bible, the Egyptians were directed to stockpile seven years of harvests in preparation for seven years of famine. In North America, early Indians overwintered grain reserves in woven baskets within pits dug into soil. Now, most grain is stored in metal bins or warehouses on or near the farms that produce the grain. Good sanitation is important, since significant grain losses may occur due to spoilage, rodents, and insects. The primary purpose of grain reserves is to help cope with food emergencies, but grain reserves are also used to stabilize grain prices and as a loan commodity.

Food Security

Food security in the fullest sense would mean that all people at all times have access to adequate quantities of safe and nutritious food. To ensure food security, many countries stockpile strategic grain reserves (SGRs). Grains are an easy-to-store and nutritious way to provide the basic needs of a population facing a food emergency until alternative food supplies can be arranged. Countries with abundant supplies of grain will frequently sell or loan their stores of grain to countries without an adequate supply. SGRs are costly to establish and maintain. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Bank recommend a grain reserve sufficient to cover three or four months' consumption, plus a cash reserve to import food. In the United States an SGR of up to 4 million metric tons of wheat, corn, sorghum, and rice is reserved for international humanitarian purposes.

Some countriesfor example, Indiaare able to reserve large quantities of grain but lack the distribution system necessary to supply all areas of the country. In contrast, sometimes too much grain is reserved. In 1999 and 2000, China accumulated large stocks of low-quality grain at a time when consumers were demanding higher-quality grain. In response, China discarded its low-quality, low-value grain reserves.

Food emergencies can result from natural causes, such as pest outbreaks sparked by drought, floods, storms, earthquakes, or crop failures, as well as from war and terrorism. Due to advances in agricultural science, between 1950 and 1980 grainland productivity (yields per unit acre) and world cultivated acreage increased significantly, resulting in an abundance of world food. However, since 1980 the rate of food production increase has slowed, while population growth has continued to rise. Many countries are facing both population increases and shortages of resources that are important to agriculturesuch as oil, topsoil, water, and undeveloped farmland.

Stabilizing Grain Prices

In the United States, grain reserves have been used to protect farmers from wheat and feed grain production shortfalls and to provide a buffer against unusually sharp price movements. For example, under a farm commodity program administered by the USDA Consolidated Farm Service Agency (CFSA) in 2002, farmers place their grain in government-managed storage and receive an extended loan or advance deficiency payment against a target grain price.


Since 1930, atop the Chicago Board of Trade building, a 6-ton cast aluminum statue of Ceres has held a bag of corn in her right hand and a sheaf of wheat in her left. Ceres was created by sculptor John Storrs and is a symbol of the close association between the Chicago Board of Trade and agriculture. According to Roman mythology, Ceres (Demeter in Greek mythology) is the goddess of food grains and patroness of corn trade. She is associated with the ground from which crops spring, the bread produced from grain, and the work necessary to raise crops. Ceres presided over the distribution of grain to the urban poor. The word "cereals" is derived from her name.

See also Agronomy; Cereal Grains and Pseudo-Cereals; Commodity Price Supports; Wheat.


Chicago Board of Trade. Profile Ceres. Available at

Committee for the National Institute for the Environment. Agriculture: A Glossary of Terms, Programs, and Laws. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress.

Gale, Fred, Hsin-Hui Hsu, Bryan Lohmar, and Francis Tuan. "China's Grain Policy at a Crossroads." Economic Research Service/USDA. Agricultural Outlook (September 2001): 1417.

Lynton-Evans, John. Strategic Grain Reserves: Guidelines for Their Establishment, Management, and Operation. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1997

Morford, Mark P., and Robert J. Lenardon. Classical Mythology. 6th ed. New York: Longman, 1985.

Sayagues, Mercedes. "SADC Cereal Goal: More Trade, Smaller Reserves. " Africa Recovery 11, no. 2 (October 1997): 17.

USDA Consolidated Farm Service Agency. Available at

Patricia S. Michalak