Josette Sheeran, head of the UN World Food Program, warned that the global rise in basic food costs could continue until 2010, blaming soaring energy and grain prices—the effects of climate change and demand for biofuels. Some food prices rose 40% last year, and the WFP fears the world’s poorest will buy less food, or be forced to rely on aid. Speaking after briefing the European Parliament, Sheeran said the agency needed an extra $375 million for food projects this year plus $125 million to transport the food aid. She said she saw no quick solution to high food and fuel costs. “The assessment is that we are facing high food prices at least for the next couple of years,” she said. Sheeran said global food reserves are at their lowest level in 30 years—with enough to cover the need for emergency deliveries for 53 days, compared with 169 days in 2007. Sheeran has already warned that the WFP is considering plans to ration food aid due to a shortage of funds.
Sheeran said governments needed “to look more carefully at the link between the acceleration in biofuels and food supply and give more thought to it.” Among countries most at risk, she named Zimbabwe, Haiti, Tajikistan, Chad, Burma, Cameroon, Niger, Senegal and Cuba.
Already in Afghanistan, 2.5 million people cannot afford the price of wheat, which rose more than 60% in 2007. In Bangladesh, the price of rice has risen 30% over the last three months; it rose 70% in all of 2007. In El Salvador, rural communities are buying 50% less food than they did 18 months ago with the same amount of money. This means their nutritional intake, on an already poor diet, is cut by half. Anger over rising food prices have already led to riots in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Senegal and Morocco. (BBC, March 6)