World food stocks better, prices to rise: U.N. food chief

Wed Jan 27, 2010 6:45am EST
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By Gerard Wynn

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - World food stocks have recovered from a crisis in 2008 but a repeat of the soaring prices which sparked riots in many developing nations was a real danger, the head of the U.N.'s food agency said on Wednesday.

"Stocks were at 30-year lows, now we're at the normal trend before the crisis, the situation is normal, essentially thanks to efforts by countries like India and China which have really re-built their stocks," Jacques Diouf, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, told Reuters.

"Without that we would already have had a crisis because India had a drought followed by a flood in the country last year. This stock allowed them to cope," he said on the fringes of a business and policymakers conference in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

Diouf said he expected global food prices to rise this year. Prices hit a 15-month high in December, an FAO index showed earlier this month, driven by sugar, oilseeds and dairy prices.

"I expect prices to go up. Demand should be increasing if there is greater economic growth," he said.

A dangerous backdrop included 1 billion hungry people, a rising world population, demand for use of food crops for transport biofuels and rising oil and farm input prices.

With investment in output in developing nations there was no doubt the world could feed itself, said Diouf. His agency says food production must increase by 70 percent by 2050.

"The simple proof is that in developed countries 2-4 percent of the population produces enough to feed the country and export," he said.

Diouf hoped that the Davos conference would throw a spotlight on farming. "I hope that in Davos they will continue an increase in interest in investment in agriculture," he said.

(Reporting by Gerard Wynn, Editing by Mike Peacock)