United Nations (UN) food agencies are warning of food price shocks and have called on world leaders to take 'swift' and 'coordinated' action to stem the tide.
A joint statement issued in Rome, Italy yesterday and signed by JosÃ© Graziano da Silva of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Kanayo F. Nwanze of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Ertharin Cousin of the World Food Programme (WFP), said that swift international action could prevent a renewed food crisis.
According to the agencies, global alarm over the potential for a food crisis of the kind seen in 2007/08 had escalated as drought in the United States Midwest has sent grain prices to record highs.
'The current situation in world food markets, characterized by sharp increases in maize, wheat and soybean prices, has raised fears of a repeat of the 2007-2008 world food crisis. But swift, coordinated international action can stop that from happening. We need to act urgently to make sure that these price shocks do not turn into a catastrophe hurting tens of millions over the coming months.'
The release said the situation had fuelled a six percent surge in the U.N. FAO's July food price index and added that 'two interconnected problems must be tackled.'
'The immediate issue of some high food prices, which can impact heavily on food import-dependent countries and on the poorest people; and the long-term issue of how we produce, trade and consume food in an age of increasing population, demand and climate change,' they said.
'We are better placed today than five years ago. We have developed new policies and new instruments, like the United Nations High-Level Task Force on Global Food Security and AMIS, the G20′s Agricultural Markets Information System, which improves transparency in global markets.
'We also have the AMIS-related Rapid Response Forum, set up to facilitate coordinated policy responses by major world producers and traders of key cereals and soybeans in the event of market upheavals.
'We have learned that not all are affected in the same way – the urban and rural poor and people in food import-dependent countries are most vulnerable to international commodity price increases when these are transmitted to local markets because they spend the largest proportions of their incomes on food.
'We have also learned that smallholder farmers, many of whom are also poor and food insecure can be enabled to benefit from higher food prices and become part of the solution by reducing price spikes and improving overall food security.'
The release urged countries to avoid panic buying and refrain from imposing export restrictions which, while temporarily helping some consumers at home, are generally inefficient and make life difficult for everyone else.
'We must understand that high food prices are a symptom, and not the disease. So while the international community must take early action to prevent excessive price increases, it should also move to act on the root causes behind such surges.
'In moving to prevent a possible deterioration of the situation, we need to remain vigilant and prepare for the worst in the short run, while working on sustainable solutions for the long haul. Not to do so would inevitably mean that the world's poorest and most vulnerable pay the highest price. Getting this right will help us respond to the 'Zero Hunger' challenge set by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of eradicating hunger from the globe.'
Senior G20 officials held a conference call last week on rising food prices, but leaders will wait for September's crop report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture before deciding whether to take join action on the issue, Reuters quoted France's farm minister as saying recently.
By William Yaw Owusu