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World faces soaring food prices
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He said that for the first time in 25 years record prices were providing the fundamental economic and political incentives to stimulate investments in the agricultural sector, adding investment were not only crucial to resolve the current crisis but also to double global food production by 2050 in order to meet the expected increase in the world's population from 6 billion to 9 billion.

In a report prepared for the summit, the FAO said with the current situation of high food prices, providing emergency assistance to the most poor and hungry as well as re-launching agriculture and revitalizing rural communities are key elements to reduce hunger and ensure an improved world food situation.

It called for urgent measures to boost local food production, including the distribution to small-scale farmers of seeds, fertilizers, animal feed and other inputs through vouchers or smart subsidies.

As a twin-track approach, the FAO said in the long term, investment should be made in long neglected areas such as agricultural research, extension and infrastructure.

On the agenda of the summit are ways to deal with the threat to poor nations' food security posed by climate change and biofuels when food crops are used as alternative fuels to more expensive or polluting petroleum products.

Various studies showed climate change, which is hitting developing countries hardest, could threaten future agricultural production, while the FAO report said the growth of biofuel production, especially in the United States, the European Union (EU) and Brazil, is a factor contributing to higher food prices.

World fuel ethanol production tripled between 2000 and 2007 and is expected to double again between now and 2017 to reach 127 billion liters a year.

Biodiesel production is seen to expand from 11 billion liters a year in 2007 to around 24 billion liters by 2017. The growth in biofuel production adds to demand for grains, oil seeds and sugar, also contributing to higher crop prices.

While blaming higher food prices on increasing demand from emerging economies, developed countries were defending their biofuel policy. Controversy was set to appear at the summit.

The United States is planning to channel about a quarter of its corn crop into ethanol production by 2022 as an alternative to crude oil. However, US Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer on Monday played down the impact of biofuels on food pricing, saying they only contributed 2 percent to 3 percent of overall price rise.

"We have to face completely new challenges – climate change. It changes the way we are producing, and there is an increasing demand for bio-energy," said FAO's Assistant Director-General Alexander Muller.

"So if we want to solve the problems of hungry people in the world, we have to bring together world food security, high prices and the challenges of climate change and bio-energy," he added.

(Xinhua News Agency June 3, 2008)

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