Three billion Asians face food crisis: experts

October 29th, 2008 - 3:28 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Oct 29 (IANS) Spiralling food prices across Asia could cause social unrest and hit more than three billion people, according to new research by a group of international scholars.A team of experts from the universities of Manchester and Delhi and the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) says the rising costs of staples rice and wheat are a root cause of lower economic growth and higher income inequality.

The researchers also reaffirmed a recent findings of a joint report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which argue that the surge in food and fuel prices is likely to persist into the next decade.

“Food price inflation is the most regressive of all taxes and is causing devastation across the whole continent of Asia,” said Katsushi Imai of the University of Manchester’s Brooks World Poverty Institute.

“Rising food prices have played an important role in the acceleration of inflation across Asia and the Pacific region during 2007, and especially during the early months of 2008.

“This has important effects on people’s lives in terms of basic subsistence and it’s the poorest, the landless and women, who suffer the most.”

He said that the most extreme effect is on malnutrition: according to new World Bank figures, the malnourished will increase by 44 million to 967 million people by the end of 2008 - and that is largely down to food price inflation.

The team says rising global per capita incomes, increasing demand for meat and dairy products and developing food markets have resulted in global demand outpacing domestic production capacity.

“Increasing protectionism has also contributed to this increasingly worrying food inflation,” he adds.

“In response to spiralling prices, many Asian countries resort to protective measures without realising that such measures would force more drastic adjustments and higher prices in global markets.

“A vicious circle of spiraling food prices has been sustained by policies designed to protect domestic consumers but likely to deepen the food crisis.”

The team recommended a review of World Trade Organization rules on trade barriers; a re-examination of subsidies and tariff protection of biofuel production in light of their effects on food security; and regional procurement of food aid by government agencies to reduce transportation costs and boost local agricultural markets.

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