Page last updated at 04:27 GMT, Friday, 30 May 2008 05:27 UK

Food crisis talks set to begin

A Haitian woman bakes "biscuits" made out of clay and vegetable oil in the sun in Port-au-Prince on 9 May
Poor Haitians have resorted to eating sun-baked clay "biscuits"

Envoys from 26 Latin American and Caribbean countries meet on Friday to discuss the rising cost of food and draw up a united policy for the region.

The talks in Caracas, Venezuela, mark the beginning of a week of meetings on the issue, leading up to a three-day UN food crisis summit in Rome on Tuesday.

According to the World Bank, global food prices have risen by 83% over the past three years.

The lender has announced a package of food grants totalling $1.2bn (608m).

An influential report on Thursday warned that higher food prices might be here to stay as demand from developing countries and production costs rose.

Prices would fall, but only gradually, the report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said.

Food grants

The BBC's James Ingham, in the Venezuelan capital, says that like much of the rest of the developing world, Latin America's poor have not escaped from the increased food prices.

Tajiks receive UN food aid in the  Khotlan region, March 2008
Tajikistan is one of the countries identified by the UN as a priority

While some countries are working together to tackle the crisis, there has been no united response and the meeting will aim to correct that, he says.

At a recent summit held with European leaders, American heads of state pledged to strengthen trade relations.

However, an alternative "people's summit" held by social movements said liberalisation and deregulation were the principal causes of poverty.

Some of the region's left-wing governments share that view and are focusing on reducing their reliance on imports, creating an agricultural development fund to help achieve this.

In preparation for the UN-sponsored food crisis summit in Rome next week, the World Bank said there was "the need for a clear action plan".

As part of its package it is setting aside grants worth a total of $200m for "high-priority" countries most at risk from acute hunger.

The World Bank says 100 million people could be impoverished by the rising cost and scarcer availability of food.

Fuel protests

Thursday's joint report by the UN and OECD believes the current price spike is higher than previous records, partly due to bad weather ruining crops.

But factors such as rising biofuel demand and speculation will keep future costs high, it adds.

Fuel prices have also been rising dramatically and the European Union braced for fresh strikes by fishermen on Friday.

Trade unions say the cost of diesel oil has become prohibitively high and that many fishermen are being forced to give up a lifelong profession.




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