May 30 (Reuters) - Record high food prices and the danger of hunger in poor countries will dominate the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation summit in Rome on June 3-5.
Here are some facts and figures about the food price crisis and how the international community plans to tackle it.
WHO IS AFFECTED BY RISING FOOD PRICES?
The cost of major food commodities has doubled over the last couple of years, with foodstuff such as rice, corn and wheat reaching record highs. Some prices are at their highest in 30 years in real terms.
FAO says this is bound to worsen the situation of 850 million people already suffering from chronic hunger.
In recent months there have been food riots in several developing countries, including some African nations, Haiti and Bangladesh. In poorer states, people may spend more than half their income on food, compared to 10 percent in Germany.
WHY ARE FOOD PRICES RISING?
There are many factors behind the surge in prices, including drought in big producers like Australia, rising demand from fast-growing economies such as China and India, high oil prices that have pushed up production costs, and dwindling stocks. Experts also blame a big push in biofuels programmes that has diverted land and crops from food production as well as export restrictions imposed by some countries.
FAO and the OECD expect food prices to remain high over the next decade despite a bumper harvest this year.
WHAT IS THE FAO SUMMIT ABOUT?
It was called last year to discuss effects of climate change and biofuel on food supply, but price rises will now top the agenda. Some 40 heads of state or government are due to attend.
Although the meeting is not a donors' conference, world leaders are due to agree a statement on tackling food shortages. Delegates will be briefed on a U.N. task-force.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The head of FAO, Jacques Diouf, says that in the short term the international community must guarantee food aid levels for those going hungry in poorer countries. Export restrictions that some rice producing nations have imposed to protect domestic supplies should also be eased to reduce price pressure.
Medium term, there must be help to ensure small farmers can get seeds and fertilisers for the next planting season.
Longer term, FAO says the world must increase investment in agriculture in developing countries, including irrigation, micro-finance, transport and storage.
Trade policies must also be changed, eliminating subsidies to farmers in richer countries that hurt those in the developing world and allowing poorer countries more access to markets.
Two particularly controversial issues are biofuels -- energy produced from foodstuffs like maize and vegetable oil -- and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Both the United States and the European Union have pro-biofuel policies which many food experts say should be reversed.
Crops genetically modified to produce higher yields or to thrive in difficult conditions are seen as a possible way to help ease food shortages, but many European countries remain sceptical about them. For a PREVIEW of the Rome summit, click on [nL29236687] (Reporting by Silvia Aloisi)
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