(photo credit: Associated Press)
ROME — Prices of wheat and other staples have risen "alarmingly" over
the past year, a UN report said Wednesday, acknowledging fears of a
repeat of the 2008 food crisis when a spike in the price of bread led to
deadly riots in some countries.
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Further increases were likely unless production of major food crops
increases significantly in 2011, the Rome-based Food and Agriculture
Organization said, warning that international food import bills could
pass the $1 trillion dollar mark in 2010.
"With the pressure on world prices of most commodities not abating, the
international community must remain vigilant against further supply
shocks in 2011 and be prepared," the agency said in its Food Outlook.
Still, it said that supplies of staple food crops were more ample now,
lessening the risk of a similar crisis. But it cautioned that "world
prices have risen alarmingly and at a much faster pace than in
The agency revised its forecast for world cereal production downward,
saying it would shrink by 2 percent. The agency, which had previously
forecast a 1.2 percent expansion in production, said supply shortfalls
because of bad weather were to blame.
As a result, most cereal stocks were expected to decline sharply, and
production should be increased to meet consumption and offset this drop,
it said. Only rice reserves are expected to increase.
"Given the expectation of falling global inventories, the size of next
year's crops will be critical in setting the tone for stability in
international markets," the report said. "For major cereals, production
must expand substantially to meet utilization and to reconstitute world
FAO noted that over the past six months, prices have increased for most
agricultural commodities, the result of poor weather, fluctuations in
currency markets and other factors. Sugar prices, which recently
surpassed 30-year highs, were another important reason.
Prices shot up most sharply in August when Russia imposed a wheat export
ban after severe drought hurt harvests across the region. In October,
Ukraine, another major grain exporter, imposed quotas on exports because
of the drought.
The UN report said the production needed to increase especially in wheat, maize and soybean to avert further price increases.
The FAO said markets have rarely shown such volatility and uncertainty
in such a short period as they have in early months of the marketing
season from July to October because of the bad weather.
The agency's latest forecast for 2010 wheat production stands at 648
million tons, 29 million tons less than predicted in its June report,
blamed mostly on the sharp fall in the production in Russia that offset
improved prospects in Argentina, Australia and the US. This led Russia to
extend to extend its export restrictions until next June.
"Against this background, the size of next year's harvest becomes
increasingly critical" if prices are to return to more normal levels,
the report said.
On a positive note, global rice production is expected to reach a record
level despite weather-related setbacks including flood damage to crops
in Asia, especially Pakistan.