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UN warns it cannot afford to feed the world

FT.com | July 16, 2007
Javier Blas and Jenny Wiggins

Rising prices for food have led the United Nations programme fighting famine in Africa and other regions to warn that it can no longer afford to feed the 90m people it has helped for each of the past five years on its budget.

The World Food Programme feeds people in countries including Chad, Uganda and Ethiopia, but reaches a fraction of the 850m people it estimates suffers from hunger. It spent about $600m buying food in 2006. So far, the WFP has not cut its reach because of high commodities prices, but now says it could be forced to do so unless donor countries provide extra funds.

Josette Sheeran, WFP executive director, said in an interview with the Financial Times: “In a world where our contributions are holding fairly steady, this [cost increase] means we are able to reach far less people.”

She said policymakers were becoming more concerned about the impact of biofuel demand on food prices and how the world would continue to feed its expanding population.

The warning could re-ignite the debate on food versus fuel amid concerns biofuel production will sustain food inflation and hit the world's poorest people.

The WFP said its purchasing costs had risen “almost 50 per cent in the last five years”. The UN organisation said the price it pays for maize had risen up to 120 per cent in the past sixth months in some countries.

Biofuel demand is soaking up grain production as is rising consumption in emerging countries for animal feed.

“We face the tightest agriculture markets in decades and, in same cases, on record,” Ms Sheeran said. Global wheat stocks have fallen to the lowest level in 25 years, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Ms Sheeran added: “We are no longer in a surplus world.”

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