updated 4/18/2008 5:52:39 PM ET 2008-04-18T21:52:39

Rising world food prices will force the United Nation's World Food Program to cut aid to hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren if new donations don't materialize soon, the head of the agency said.

The organization "faces some heartbreaking choices on where to cut," said Josette Sheeran, the agency's executive director.

At least 400,000 children from school feeding programs will be cut off in the next few weeks, she said.

In February, the agency announced it needed extra donations to help cover a $500 million shortfall, driven by soaring food and fuel costs.

Since then, costs have spiked even more as tight crop supplies and high food prices have intensified hunger, bringing the total shortfall for this year to $755 million, Sheeran said.

The program received some responses to its emergency appeal; the U.S. earlier this week announced it would draw about $200 million in wheat and transport costs from a crop trust, much of which will go to the food program. But it is seeking more support.

"We've been borrowing from our future pipeline in the hopes of increased contributions coming in," Sheeran said.

"We're literally sitting down thinking, 'What goes now?' These are very, very challenging choices," she said.

The agency also remained troubled by what appeared to be a reduction in new crop plantings by farmers in Africa.

"One would expect that the natural reaction from farmers throughout the world to high prices would be to plant more. In the developing world, there are indications the reverse is happening," she said.

One reason may be higher prices for inputs like fertilizer, which jumped 135 percent in three months in Kenya, Sheeran said.

"These farmers are in subsistence mode, withdrawing from markets until things stabilize. This could indicate serious shortage in upcoming harvests," she said.

Global leaders such as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank President Robert Zoellick and others called for urgent, coordinated steps to address the food crisis. Soaring food prices have set off riots in Haiti, Egypt and elsewhere.

"Access to basic resources could be the peace and security issue of our time," Sheeran added.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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