Even with bigger crops, soaring food prices that have sparked unrest across the globe are likely to persist, threatening millions of people worldwide, a U.N. agency said Friday.
Prices of bread, rice, milk, cooking oil and other basic foodstuffs have sharply increased in the past months in many developing countries, according to a report by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization. Prices of wheat and rice have doubled compared to last year, while those of corn are more than a third higher.
Grain prices have risen as a result of steady demand, especially from China and India, supply shortages and new export restrictions, FAO said.
Even though world grain production is expected to increase this year by 2.6 percent to a record 2.16 billion tons, experts say this is going to have little impact on the prices.
“All indications we have is that this is not a short-term effect ... where the first year you have price increases and the following year there is an increase of supply that brings the prices down,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said at a news conference.
Experts say price speculation and market failures will likely reduce the effect of boosted production.
However, the “Crop Prospects and Food Situation” report says that expected growth in production, especially in wheat and rice, could at least ease the tight supply situation worldwide.
FAO said that farmers in developing countries should be granted better access to fertilizers, seeds and animal feed to increase local food production.
Surging food prices, further stoked by rising fuel costs, have triggered protests around the world in recent days. The increases hit poor people hardest, as food represents as much as 60-80 percent of consumer spending in developing nations, compared to about 10-20 percent in industrialized countries, the U.N. agency said.
One person was killed in two days of rioting in Egypt earlier this week, while violence wracked Haiti, where demonstrations over rising food prices led to looting and clashes with police.
In Pakistan and Thailand, troops have been deployed to avoid seizing of food from fields and warehouses, the agency said.
“People are dying because of their reaction to the situation. People will not be sitting dying of starvation, they will react,” Diouf said.