World food supply must rise 50%, says UN chief

The FAO has called for $1.7bn in new funding to provide low-income countries with seeds (AFP)

World food output needs to rise 50 per cent by 2030 to meet rising demand, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a speech to a food summit of world leaders at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

"The world needs to produce more food... we have a historic opportunity to revitalise agriculture – especially in countries where productivity gains have been low in recent years," said Ban.

The FAO is holding an extraordinary conference to find an international strategy that can help stop a global surge in food prices that has caused hunger in developing countries and major headaches for central banks in developed countries trying to put a lid on inflation. To ensure higher food output and lower prices, Ban said the global price tag for national governments and international donors could exceed $15 billion (Dh55bn) to $20bn annually "over a number of years".

The FAO has called for $1.7bn in new funding to provide low-income countries with seeds and other agricultural support, with other UN organisations raising an additional $1bn.

Last week, the World Bank announced a $1.2bn financing facility to help poor countries cope more quickly with the consequences of escalating prices.

The UN Secretary-General also said nations must minimise export restrictions and import tariffs to alleviate the food price crisis that has caused hunger and riots across the globe. "Nothing is more degrading than hunger, especially when man-made. It breeds anger, social disintegration, ill-health and economic decline," Ban said, urging quick resolution of world trade talks.

Meanwhile, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) chief Angel Gurria said average world food prices will retreat from current peaks, but will still be up to 50 per cent higher in the coming decade than in the previous 10 years. "We have the view that food prices are not going to remain at their present level – although they are going to remain anywhere from 10-50 per cent higher than they were in the last decade on average in the next 10 years," he said. "In the case of oil prices, which are part and parcel of food prices, we are not envisaging a very dramatic reduction," he added. "We may see some easing."

After a long period of low food prices in much of the world, the prices for many major staples such as rice, corn and wheat have soared in recent months, with some prices reaching their highest levels in 30 years in real terms.

Gurria said that uncertainties over energy supplies as well as basic supply constraints had helped push crude oil prices to record levels and the situation was unlikely to change.

"This is not a speculative spike, which is part of the problem in the case of food. This is a basic problem of supply and demand and security," he said.