* New FAO chief says food prices may ease, won't drop in
* Says volatility at high levels to persist
* More people expected to go hungry in 2012
(Adds detail, background)
By Catherine Hornby
ROME, Jan 3 Prices of some foods may ease
slightly in 2012 due to a slowing global economy but are
unlikely to drop drastically from the high levels reached last
year, the new director-general of the U.N.'s Food and
Agriculture Organisation said on Tuesday.
Jose Graziano da Silva, the Brazilian who replaced Senegal's
Jacques Diouf at the helm of the FAO at the start of 2012, said
volatility in food markets was likely to continue and that more
people would be at risk of hunger due to economic instability.
"Prices will not be going up as in the last two to three
years but will also not drop down. There may be some reductions
but not so drastic, in the short term," Graziano da Silva told a
news conference in Rome.
"Volatility will remain, that is clear," he said.
Global food prices measured by the FAO hit a peak last
February but have been falling since June as crops have improved
and concerns about global economic turmoil have reined in demand
High food prices have helped fuel inflation and contributed
to the civil unrest which created the so-called Arab Spring last
Graziano da Silva said he did not expect the economic
slowdown in Europe to impact funding for FAO projects, because
the amount countries donated was such a small proportion of
gross domestic product that they were unlikely to cut it.
But he said the slowdown was likely to increase the number
of people at risk of hunger in the world, which the organisation
estimated at 925 million people in 2010.
"We will have more work to do, with more people hungry, more
people unemployed, and we will need new ways to assist them," he
said, as he began a term of three and a half years.
FOCUS ON AFRICA
The 62-year-old agronomist, who is the first Latin American
at the helm of the U.N. agency, said he would focus efforts on
poor countries that are most in need of outside help and that
his priority would be Africa, particularly northern Africa.
He plans a visit to the Horn of Africa early this year,
where drought and famine are affecting millions of people.
The FAO is the largest U.N. agency with an annual budget of
some $1 billion and 3,600 workers. It is fighting food crises
across the world that have been aggravated by price volatility.
Graziano da Silva, the former head of the FAO in Latin
America and the Caribbean and a former minister for food
security in Brazil, will need to bridge a divide between donor
countries and developing countries to foster consensus and avoid
paralysis in the organisation.
He plans to cut bureaucracy and reduce perks for top
management and he also wants to decentralise operations and give
more authority to local outposts, he said.
The FAO adopted reforms after an assessment funded by its
members in 2007, which said it risked "terminal decline" due to
its weak governance and lack of transparency and accountability.
But last year Britain threatened to pull out of the
organisation unless it improved its performance, and some donors
such as the United States have initiated agricultural
development projects of their own.
(Reporting By Catherine Hornby, editing by Jane Baird and