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Rome summit to hammer out roadmap on food security
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World leaders, policymakers and people from private sectors would use their three-day summit in Rome to hammer out a roadmap on global food security, a UN expert said on Monday.

"This year, the food summit is held at a time when food prices have registered a significant increase and it has caused a global concern, making it different from previous ones," Abdolreza Abbassian, an expert at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said in an interview with Xinhua.

The high-level meeting on food security, which was scheduled to kick off Tuesday, was organized by the Rome-based FAO and to be attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and some 40 heads of state or government. It was the first global response to the recent cycle of food prices hike,

Abbassian said the FAO hoped the summit could mark the beginning of concerted efforts by international community to tackle soaring food prices and salvage millions of people from hunger.

"The summit will provide a platform for world leaders and international organizations to discuss ways of how to get out of a global food crisis. They will seek answers to global food security for the next several years," Abbassian said.

Agricultural commodity prices rose sharply in the past two years and continued to rise even more sharply in the first three months of 2008, with foodstuff such as rice, corn and wheat all reaching record highs, sparking riots in a number of countries and worsening the situation of the 850 million people already affected by chronic hunger.

A joint report by FAO and the OECD warned last week food prices were expected to remain high over the next decade even if they should ease from their recent record peaks.

Countries would pay 169 billion US dollars to import food this year, a 40 percent increase over 2007, according to the FAO. The increased costs are particularly felt in poor countries.

Abbassian said global food prices were pushed up by complex factors. He noted the current price fluctuation was not a threat to global food security, if there is enough supply.

The international community should look at the root causes of higher food prices, especially those having implications for the future, namely climate change and increasing use of biofuels, he said.

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.

The FAO said the summit was intended for a better understanding of the nexus between food security, climate change and bio-energy. It hoped agreements could be made on steps to be taken towards climate-responsive food security programs and sustainable bio-energy policies.

(Xinhua News Agency June 3, 2008)

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