World Food prices rising
With the worst drought in half a century withering corn across the Midwest, agricultural experts on Tuesday urged international action to prevent the global spike in food pricesfrom causing global hunger.
The directors of three major United Nations food and agriculture programs sounded the alarm both on the immediate problem of high food prices and the “long-term issue of how we produce, trade and consume food in an age of increasing population, demand and climate change.”
Agricultural production has fallen in a number of major crop exporters this summer. Sweltering heat and a severe drought have damaged the corn crop in the United States. Droughts have also hit Russia and Ukraine, hurting the wheat harvest, as well as Brazil, affecting soybean production.
Low yields have translated into high prices. Last week, the World Bank reported that food prices climbed 10 percent from June to July, with the price of both corn and wheat jumping 25 percent to records. Soybean prices climbed 17 percent over the same period, and rice prices declined moderately, the Washington-based institution said.
“We cannot allow these historic price hikes to turn into a lifetime of perils as families take their children out of school and eat less nutritious food,” Dr. Jim Yong Kim, who became president of the World Bank in July, said in a statement. “Countries must strengthen their targeted programs to ease the pressure on the most vulnerable population.”
To that end, the World Bank and the United Nations food agencies — along with other development and aid groups — have urged countries to prepare for what seems likely to become the third food price shock in five years.
Low-income countries that rely on agricultural imports should invest in safety-net programs for the poor, they recommended. They also urged countries to bolster local production.
Groups including the World Bank and the United Nations have also warned against trade protectionist policies in light of climbing food prices.
“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,” said the directors of the United Nations programs, José Graziano da Silva of the Food and Agriculture Organization, Kanayo F. Nwanze of the International Fund for Agricultural Development and Ertharin Cousin of the World Food Program, in a statement.
International groups increasingly see inconsistent yields and drastic swings in food prices as a problem driven by climate change — and a global challenge that is not intermittent, but here to stay. Since the food crisis in 2007 and 2008, they have bolstered international cooperation to help foster more stable food supplies and keep the most vulnerable countries prepared.
Oxfam, the international nonprofit, issued a report on Tuesday estimating how extreme weather events might affect food prices in the coming decades — forecasting that the prices of a number of food staples could surge far beyond the projected increases.
“We will all feel the impact as prices spike but the poorest people will be hit hardest because they often spend up to 75 percent of their income on food,” said Heather Coleman, climate change policy adviser for Oxfam America, in a statement.
The United Nations agencies warned that too few countries were producing too large a proportion of staple crops — leaving the world more vulnerable to droughts and floods.