Page last updated at 19:08 GMT, Tuesday, 15 April 2008 20:08 UK

UN calls for farming revolution

People queuing for rice in the Philippines, 15 April 2008
Food price rises threaten millions more people with poverty

A UN-sponsored report has called for urgent changes to the way food is produced, as soaring food prices risk driving millions of people to poverty.

The Unesco study recommends better safeguards to protect resources and more sustainable farming practices, such as producing food locally.

More natural and ecological farming techniques should be used, it says.

Haiti, Egypt, the Philippines and parts of West Africa have seen riots recently over the costs of rice, wheat and soya.

Unesco, a UN educational body, says increased demand for food in India and China, the growing market for biofuel crops, and rising oil prices are some of the factors behind the rising prices.

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A group of 400 experts spent three years researching the report, which was unveiled on Tuesday at Unesco in Paris.

The authors found:

  • Progress in agriculture has reaped very unequal benefits and has come at a high social and environmental cost
  • Food producers should try using "natural processes" like crop rotation and use of organic fertilisers
  • The distance between the produce and consumer should also be reduced

The BBC's Nick Miles says that with food prices at the top of the international political agenda, this is effectively a blueprint for the future of global agriculture.

Unesco says wheat prices have risen 130% percent since March 2007 while soy prices have jumped 87%.

"The status quo is no longer an option," Guilhem Calvo, a Unesco expert, told a news conference in Paris.

"We must develop agriculture less dependent on fossil fuels, that favours the use of locally available resources."

'Alleviate hunger'

The report said rising oil prices had made transport and farm production more expensive and had led to more crops being grown to make biofuels for vehicles.

It said biofuel production had mixed effects, adding: "The diversion of agricultural crops to fuel can raise food prices and reduce our ability to alleviate hunger throughout the world."

It also warned large swaths of central and western Asia and Africa were running out of water.

Farming was responsible for more than a third of the world's most degraded land, it said.

Unesco noted the ''considerable influence'' of big transnational corporations in North America and Europe.

By contrast, Latin America and the Caribbean are largely dependent on imported food, it said.

Over the weekend the World Bank outlined a plan of aid and loans to developing nations to help deal with the problem.

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