Growing number of poor countries plunged into food crises by soaring prices – UN

17 December 2007 –

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is appealing for swift action to help poor nations suffering from food crises resulting from dramatic increases in the price of basic commodities.

The agency’s November issue of “Food Outlook” estimated that the total cost of imported food for Low Income Food Deficit Countries for this year is 25 per cent higher than it was in 2006.

“Urgent and new steps are needed to prevent the negative impacts of rising food prices from further escalating and to quickly boost crop production in the most affected countries,” the agency’s Director-General, Jacques Diouf, told reporters at FAO headquarters in Rome.

Nearly 40 countries are facing food crises triggered by conflict and disasters, and this has been exacerbated by unparalleled hikes in food prices resulting from low food stocks, floods and droughts linked to climate change, high oil prices and rising demand for bio-fuels.

“Without support for poor farmers and their families in the hardest-hit countries, they will not be able to cope,” Dr. Diouf noted.

FAO said that high global cereal prices have already incited food riots in several nations.

The agency is appealing for measures to help small farmers in countries relying on food imports by bolstering their access to seeds, fertilizer and other inputs to increase local crop production.

“Assisting poor vulnerable households in rural areas in the short term and enabling them to produce more food would be an efficient tool to protect them against hunger and undernourishment,” Dr. Diouf said.

He cited Malawi as an example of how local food production can be stepped up through the provision of vouchers for inputs, noting that the successes of the Southern African nation “could be replicated by other countries facing a very difficult food production environment.”

But the Director-General warned that quick fixes – including governments financing expensive food exports – cannot replace longer-term measures to enhance capacity.

“Short-term investments have to be accompanied immediately with measures to ensure water control, increase rural infrastructure and improve soil fertility and guarantee long-term sustainability of food production,” he said.

In a separate development, the UN rural development arm recently approved over $260 million in loans and grants to fight poverty in 16 countries.

The move came during the session of the 36-member Board of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) held last week in Rome.

Western and Central Africa will receive $76 million in loans and $1.2 million in grants for programmes such as one in Ghana to help the rural poor, especially women, bolster their profit by improving links with the domestic and export markets.

IFAD will give $34 million in loans and $8 million in grants to Eastern and Southern Africa; North and East Africa will receive $17 million in loans and $3 million in grants; Asia and the Pacific will obtain $84 million in loans and $4.5 in grants; and Latin America and the Caribbean gets $24 million in loans and nearly $3 million in grants.

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