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World leaders must act to stave off food crisis: UN agencies

ROME -- The United Nations warned Tuesday of a possible repeat of the 2007-2008 food crisis and called on world leaders to act quickly to prevent a catastrophe which would affect tens of millions of people.

“The current situation in world food markets, characterized by sharp increases in maize, wheat and soybean prices, has raised fears of a repeat of the 2007-2008 world food crisis,” the U.N.'s food agencies said in a statement.

“But swift, coordinated international action can stop that from happening. We need to act urgently to make sure that these price shocks do not turn into a catastrophe hurting tens of millions over the coming months,” they said.

There are fears that the drought in the United States, which has pushed grain prices to record highs, could spark another crisis like the one seen in 2007-2008, which pushed the total number of hungry people to over a billion.

In the statement, released by the Rome-based Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the agencies said leaders must tackle both the issue of high food prices as well as the question of how food is produced and consumed.

The latter is particularly important “in an age of increasing population, demand and climate change,” the report said.

“Countries must avoid panic buying and refrain from imposing export restrictions which, while temporarily helping some consumers at home, are generally inefficient and make life difficult for everyone else,” it warned.

Along with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and World Food Program (WFP), the FAO stressed that the risks were sizeable.

“In a good year, global grain production is barely sufficient to meet growing demands for food, feed and fuel. This, in a world where there are 80 million extra mouths to be fed every year,” the agencies said.

They said the challenge governments face is to reduce and spread the risk.

“The most obvious way is to promote sustainable food production in poor, food-importing countries, where there is often huge potential to improve production ... especially in rural areas where 70 percent of the world's poor live.”

Governments should address the fact that, globally, one third of food produced is wasted or lost to spoilage, damage and other causes, as well as develop resources such as safety nets to safeguard against price shocks.

These include assistance for smallholder farmers, nutritional support to mothers and children, and school meals, the report said.

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