Conditions in place for new food crisis, FAO warns

ROME Mon Nov 9, 2009 6:34pm EST

ROME (Reuters) - Poor nations battered by record food prices last year need international help to raise agricultural output given conditions are still ripe for another food crisis, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation's chief said.

In an interview ahead of a global summit on food security in Rome next week, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said more aid was needed to curb the rising number of hungry people in the world, which topped 1 billion for the first time this year.

"There is a lack of priority in fighting hunger and poverty at the highest political level, not only in developed countries but in developing countries," Diouf told Reuters on Monday.

"The fundamentals that led to the crisis in 2007-2008 are almost all still there, except for oil prices," he added, citing climate change shocks like droughts in Africa, strong population growth in developing countries and use of bio-fuels.

Prices of food staples like cereals doubled in many parts of the world in 2007-2008, sparking protests and rioting.

Rich nations responded by raising output by 13 percent, but developing countries were only able to manage a 2.7 percent increase, Diouf said. Excluding China, India and Brazil, the rise in output was an anaemic 0.7 percent.

"No wonder that in those countries prices have remained very high," said Diouf, noting that food prices had barely eased from their peaks of last year in many developing nations.

Rich nations needed to raise the share of aid earmarked for agriculture to 17 percent, from 5 percent at present, to provide farmers in poor nations with irrigation, fertilizers, disease-resistant seeds, storage for their crops and roads to take them to market, Diouf said.

"We are now in the paradoxical situation where in developed countries 2 to 4 percent of the population feed the whole population, while in developing countries 60 to 80 percent of the population is not able to do so," Diouf said.

The November 16-18 summit in Rome will discuss ways to curb rising global hunger not only by boosting funding but by improving coordination between government, multilateral agencies and non-governmental organizations.

Central to the plan is reform of the U.N. Committee on Food Security, which groups 124 nations, to give it a monitoring role to ensure aid money is channeled to agriculture, Diouf said.

The Senegalese politician hailed "encouraging" progress at a July summit in Italy, when the Group of Eight industrial nations backed a proposal from U.S. President Barack Obama to earmark $20 billion in farm aid for poor nations over three years.

He declined to comment on reports from diplomatic sources who told Reuters only $3 billion of this would be fresh money.

Obama, who starts a 10-day Asian tour on Thursday, is not expected at the Rome summit. Other G8 leaders, such as France's Nicolas Sarkozy, have also signaled they will not attend.

"We've invited them and we hope they will come," said Diouf. "I'm realistic enough to know that heads of state have their own calendar and other responsibilities at international level."

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall.)

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