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Food prices still too high for world's poor, FAO

afrol News, 23 April - The United Nations agricultural agency has warned in a report released today that high food prices persist in developing countries despite an improved global cereal supply and a sharp decline in international food prices.

“This is creating further hardship for millions of poor people already suffering from hunger and undernourishment,” says the latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report produced by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

FAO said the food crisis of last year has not ended in developing countries as cereal prices in most remain generally very high and in some cases at record levels. The report said the worst affected are the urban poor and food-deficit farmers who are dependent on the market to access food.

The report's analysis of domestic food prices for 58 developing countries shows that in around 80 percent of the cases food prices are higher than 12 months ago, and in around 40 percent higher than three months ago. In 17 percent of the cases, the latest price quotations are the highest on record, said the report.

FAO said the situation is most dramatic in sub-Saharan Africa, saying domestic prices of rice are much higher than 12 months earlier in all countries analysed, while prices of maize, millet and sorghum are higher in 89 percent of the countries compared to a year earlier.

The report continued that food prices remain at high levels in other regions as well, particularly in Asia for rice and in Central and South America for maize and wheat.

"Moreover, the global economic recession is drying up remittances from family members working abroad that often sustain the food consumption levels of vulnerable households," said FAO.

This year's world cereal production is forecast to decline by 3 percent from the 2008 record, but it would still be the second largest crop ever, according to FAO's first 2009 forecast.

According to the agency, most of the decrease is expected to be in wheat, mainly due to a significant reduction in plantings in developed countries in response to lower international prices.

In developing countries, cereal output could remain close to last year's good level, the agency said.

Meanwhile, the heads of the two UN food agencies announced today that they would bolster efforts to reduce the impact of the global financial crisis on the millions of hungry and poor in Ghana.

Although Ghana has experienced success in bucking the trend of increasing numbers of people going hungry worldwide, the population of 23 million faces threats from the global financial crisis, rising inflation, hikes in food prices and climate related setbacks, such as floods and droughts, warned the heads of the FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to FAO figures, the estimated number of undernourished people in the West African country dropped steadily from 5.4 million people between 1990 and 1992 to 3 million between 1995 and 97.

Ghana witnessed a further decrease to 1.9 million hungry people in the general population during the 2003-2005 period although the situation for undernourished children did not improve, according to the agency.

“The global financial crisis is a major threat to the progress that Ghana has made in the fight against hunger and poverty,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran during a joint four-day visit to the country with FAO.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said that the country has shown that real progress against hunger, malnutrition and poverty “can be achieved through growth and diversity in agriculture and better access to food, but Ghana will need greater support in identifying and helping the millions of people who remain food insecure and vulnerable.”

At the peak of the lean agricultural season in June and July, WFP and FAO will join forces to strengthen food security and nutritional well-being in the three northern regions of the country through the UN Trust Fund for Human Security, via a joint programme targeting approximately half a million people.

The initiative includes land reforestation and the construction of irrigation systems and small dams. FAO and WFP will also collaborate on the Purchase for Progress scheme, designed to shift local procurement to smallholder farmers.

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