July 7, 2008

High Food Prices Add 50 Million People to Hunger: FAO

High food prices add 50 million people to hunger: FAO

BRUSSELS, July 3 (Xinhua) -- The number of hungry people increased by about 50 million in 2007 as a result of high food prices, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) head Jacques Diouf said here Thursday.

"Poor countries are feeling the serious impact of soaring food and energy prices," Diouf told a conference on food prices in Brussels.

Diouf attributed the food crisis to rising demand for agricultural products due to population growth and economic development in emerging countries; the rapid expansion of biofuels; and insufficient supply as production is negatively affected by climate change, in particular drought and floods, at a time when cereal stocks are at their lowest levels in 30 years. These trends are exacerbated by restrictive measures taken by some exporting countries to protect their consumers and the speculation of hedge, index and other funds on the futures markets.

High prices of agricultural inputs are a major obstacle for developing countries to increase agricultural production, said Diouf. From January 2007 to April 2008, fertilizer prices in particular shot up at a much faster rate than food prices.

He asked the international community to work together to find solutions.

"We urgently need new and stronger partnerships to address the growing food security problems in poor countries. No single institution or country will be able to resolve this crisis. Donor countries, international institutions, governments of developing countries, civil society and the private sector have an important role to play in the global fight against hunger."

Diouf stressed the importance of prioritizing agriculture by the world community.

"The present situation is a result of the international community's neglect of agriculture in developing countries for a long time," said Diouf.

"The share of agriculture in official development assistance has declined from 17 percent in 1980 to only 3 percent in 2006. Investment in agricultural research in developing countries is less than 0.6 percent of their gross domestic product, compared to more than 5 percent in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries."

Supporting farmers in developing countries, through the supply of seeds and fertilizers, should be a priority in order to increase agricultural production in the poorest countries, he said. Cereal production by low-income food-deficit countries, excluding China and India, declined by 2.2 percent in 2007, and may fall further in 2008 as poor farmers are unable to pay for adequate inputs at ever increasing prices, he warned.

Providing balance of payments and budgetary support to food deficit countries should also be given priority, said Diouf. Low- income food-deficit countries' food import bill has increased by about 37 percent in 2007 and may increase by another 56 percent in 2008, he said. It is now four times higher than its level in 2000.

"Over the medium and long terms, the focus should be on boosting investment in agriculture, both public and private, to improve rural infrastructures and allow small farmers to benefit from market opportunities. This should be accompanied by institutional capacity building to ensure the sustainability of agricultural development," said Diouf.

In order to reduce the number of undernourished in the world and meet growing demands, global food production needs to double by 2050. Production increase must occur mainly in developing countries where the poor and hungry live, and where more than 95 percent of the projected population increase will occur.

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