UN food agencies urge action to avoid food crisis

September 4, 2012 - 9:01 AM

ROME (AP) — The three U.N. food agencies urged governments Tuesday to take quick action to curb rising prices of corn, wheat and soybeans and avoid a repeat of the 2007-2008 food crises.

The sharp rise in food prices in recent months threatens to make life even more difficult for tens of millions of people, particularly in poor countries, the heads of the U.N. World Food Program, Food and Agriculture Organization and International Fund for Agriculture Development warned.

A prolonged drought in the U.S. — the No. 1 exporter of corn, wheat and soybeans — has helped drive up commodity prices. The FAO's next global food price index is due Thursday; its last report found global prices had risen six percent in July after three months of decline, in part because of the U.S. drought and worsened crop prospects for Russia's wheat harvest because of dry weather.

The three agencies urged countries to avoid panic buying and refrain from imposing export restrictions when production falls, saying that while it may temporarily help consumers at home it makes life difficult for others. In the past, Russia has imposed export bans to offset low domestic wheat production.

They also said countries should adjust biofuel production requirements when food supplies become scarce. Livestock farmers in the U.S. have demanded the government relax biofuel production quotas because corn feed is becoming so expensive. Forty percent of the U.S. corn crop goes to ethanol production.

Finally, the three agencies called in a joint statement for poorer countries to expand assistance to small-scale farmers and provide nutrition programs for mothers and small children and meals for school-aged children — and to promote sustainable food production through better investment in farming.