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Poor may riot if food price soars - U.N. food chief

LONDON (Reuters) - Soaring food and energy prices could trigger political upheaval and riots in developing countries, the United Nations world food body chief Jacques Diouf said on Wednesday.

Poor residents wait in line to receive food during the fasting month of Ramadan at the Sunni mosque of Abdul Qadir al-Gailani in Baghdad in this September 16, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Ceerwan Aziz/Files

Food prices are booming: the Food and Agriculture Organization’s food price index in July stood at its highest level since its inception in 1990, and was almost 70 percent higher than in 2000, the Rome-based FAO director-general said.

“There will be very serious strain on the little resources they (developing countries) have and a risk of social and political conflicts,” Diouf said in an interview for Reuters Television.

“If food prices continue to be high, there are risks of riots.”

“If you combine the increase of the oil prices and the increase of food prices, then you have the elements of a very serious crisis in the future,” he added.

Protests over food prices have already taken place in some African countries, including Niger, Guinea and Burkina Faso, and in Yemen and Mexico.

Food costs account for the bulk of people’s incomes in the world’s poorest countries. More than 2 billion people live on $2 a day, according to Diouf.

Many of the poorest countries depend on imported crude oil, which is now trading at near record high prices.

The world’s poorest people are the most vulnerable to the impact of surging cereals, vegetable oils and dairy prices.

Food prices are soaring because of falling stocks, rising production costs due to higher energy prices, adverse weather, faster economic growth and rising biofuels demand.


Diouf, who was on an official visit to London to meet foreign office and aid officials, said African countries needed to boost food output to counter the upward pressure on local food prices and to produce their own biofuels.

“We have to take into consideration the great potential of natural resources, of water, soil and also people that exists in developing countries in general, and in Africa,” the veteran Senegalese food agency chief said.

Diouf said soaring food prices would make it tougher in the short term for the international community to move closer to its millennium development goal to halve extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

But he said that if the right policies were adopted in developing countries -- investments in rural infrastructure and in water control -- prospects should improve.

Diouf estimated that some 854 million people are severely malnourished, the vast majority in Africa and Asia.

He said a major conference to be hosted by FAO was planned for June 2008 in Rome to discuss linkages between food prices, green fuel and climate change. Several heads of state are expected to attend.