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Last Updated: Monday, 17 December 2007, 20:15 GMT
UN warns on soaring food prices
Barley harvesting in Australia
Droughts have affected harvests, pushing prices up
The soaring cost of food is threatening millions of people in poor countries, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned.

Food prices have risen an unprecedented 40% in the last year and many nations may be unable to cope, the agency says.

It is calling for help for farmers in poor countries to buy seeds and fertiliser, and for a review of the impact of bio-fuels on food production.

The FAO says 37 countries face food crises due to conflict and disaster.

"Without support for poor farmers and their families in the hardest-hit countries, they will not be able to cope," said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.

The agency's food price index has jumped almost 40% from last year, hitting its highest level since its inception in 1990.

Urgent action

The increases are partly due to droughts and floods linked to climate change, as well as rising oil prices boosting demand for bio-fuels, the FAO said.

Jacques Diouf
The FAO director general has warned millions could be at risk
Changing diet in fast-developing nations such as China is also considered a factor, with more land needed to raise livestock to meet increasing demand for meat.

International cereal prices have already sparked food riots in several countries, the FAO points out.

The organisation is calling for urgent action to provide small farmers in these countries with improved access to seeds, fertiliser and other inputs to increase crop production.

Mr Diouf pointed to what he described as "spectacular results" in Malawi, where a scheme of vouchers for farmers, combined with sufficient rains, had produced a surplus of maize nationally.

The impact of the growth of bio-fuels would be assessed in depth at a high-level conference in June, Mr Diouf said.

The use of land to grow plants which can be used to make alternative fuels - and the use of food crops themselves for fuel - has reduced food supplies and helped push up prices.

IMF's chief economist on biofuels' market impact

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