ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - World food prices have hit a four-year low, a UN agency reported on Thursday, with record harvests breathing new hope into the fight against hunger, though some “hunger hotspots” remain.
Global wheat production is forecast to reach a record high in 2014, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in its monthly food price index released in Rome.
Other coarse grains, including maize, are seeing a “comfortable” balance between supply and demand, leading to the lowest world prices since August 2010, it said.
“Lower prices are good news from two points of view,” Jane Howard, a spokeswoman for the World Food Programme, said in an email interview.
“Fewer people go to bed hungry every night and it also means our organization’s food bill – buying food for our operations – is lower.”
Global cereal stocks are expected to rise above 2.5 billion tonnes, their highest level in 15 years.
Prices of sugar and dairy products fell most sharply in the latest monthly report, followed by cereals and oils, while meat prices remained high.
But not everyone is happy. Low prices mean large trading houses and integrated supermarkets are paying less to small farmers.
“The people at the bottom are being squeezed,” Graciela Romero, international programmes director at the British anti-poverty charity War on Want, said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It is just a few hands controlling the market and prices will likely spike up again because there is no regulation.”
The current period of lower prices is a marked change from 2007-2008 when rising food prices triggered riots across several developing countries.
Across the world, countries are set to spend more than $1 trillion on food imports in 2014.
While harvests in much of the world hit high or even record levels, some regions continue to struggle. Countries affected by Ebola in West Africa - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - are facing serious market disruption.
“In the Ebola-hit countries [we are] concerned about rising food prices,” Howard said. “While [the latest report is] good news overall, we are very worried about hunger hotspots.”
Drought conditions in Central America are likely to reduce harvests there in 2014, while political violence in Iraq and Syria has severely degraded food security in those countries.
Food prices in Somalia and Sudan remain at record levels, despite the generally better food security situation in much of East Africa.
Reporting By Chris Arsenault, editing by Tim Pearce