3 June 2008

Nigeria: Food Prices, Mass Hunger'll Continue for Next Decade - UN

Lagos — The United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has revealed that in the next 10 years food prices will remain well above the levels of the last decade.

According to a new report released by the groups last week in Paris, France, current high prices will hit the poor and hungry the hardest and calls for the urgent mobilisation of humanitarian aid as well as a greater focus on boosting agricultural production in the longer term.

Mr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the FAO, while speaking at the report launching in Paris, said coherent action is urgently needed by the international community to deal with the impact of higher prices on the hungry and poor.

"Today some 862 million people are suffering from hunger and malnourishment and this highlights the need to re-invest in agriculture. It should be clear now that agriculture needs to be put back onto the development agenda".

Using prices corrected for inflation, the report stated that over the next decade rice and sugar prices will increase by less than 10 per cent, wheat by less than 20 per cent, butter coarse grains and oilseeds will rise 30 per cent, and vegetable oils over 50 per cent.

High oil prices, changing diets, urbanisation, economic growth and expanding populations are underlying factors behind the rise in food prices, according to the report.

The FAO and OECD also cited growing demand for biofuel as another factor forcing up prices, saying that world ethanol production has tripled between 2000 and 2007 and is expected to double again in the next decade. Climate change, low stock levels and speculation could also add to price volatility.

In Rome, Italy, starting 3 June, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to chair a three-day summit on the global food crisis, bringing together the heads of key UN agencies, as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, along with Heads of State and Government.

In a related development, Ki-moon has commended the efforts of the World Bank in providing $1.2 billion to help tackle the global food crisis that has emerged in recent months.

The Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the World Bank of a $1.2 billion rapid financing facility as an important step in providing quick support to those most affected by the current food security crisis.

According to the UN, some 860 million people are suffering from hunger and malnourishment, a situation that has been worsened by recent severe price rises for food staples such as rice and wheat.

Ban said that there is a need to provide a closely coordinated and coherent response to the global food crisis in the short, medium and long term.

In Rome, starting on Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected chair a three-day summit on the crisis, bringing together the heads of key UN agencies, as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, along with many Heads of State and Government.

Also the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has revealed that the latest Food Outlook indicates that the food import bill of the Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs) is expected to reach $169 billion in 2008, 40 per cent more than in 2007.

The group, according to reports, has also described the sustained rise in imported food expenditure for vulnerable country groups as a worrying development, disclosing that by the end of 2008 their annual food import basket could cost four times as much as it did in 2000.

"International prices of most agricultural commodities have started to decline, but they are unlikely to return to the low price levels of previous years", Food Outlook reports.

The FAO food price index has remained stable since February 2008, but the average of the first four months of 2008 is still 53 per cent higher when compared to the same period a year ago.

"On average over the coming 10-year period, nominal prices for cereals, rice and oilseeds are expected to be 35 percent to 65 percent higher than on average in the past 10 years," said a summary of the Agricultural Outlook report.

"Prices in real terms are projected to be 10 percent to 35 percent higher than in the past decade. Even a bumper harvest expected this year will do little to ease the plight of the world's poor", FAO said in its twice-yearly Food Outlook which gives short-term estimates.

"Good weather and increased plantings will provide a 3.8 per cent rise in world cereal output, with wheat up 8.7 per cent. That has meant the price surge has started to level off, but prices will not plummet back to pre-crisis levels", FAO said.

According to the report, rice, a staple for more than half the earth's population, will remain in short supply on global markets, and poor countries that rely on food imports could see food bills up 40 percent this year after a similar price hike in 2007.

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