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UN probes rising food prices

Russian grain company executives will be among experts attending a UN-hosted meeting prompted by global worries about high food prices, including the effects of Moscow's grain export ban.

Ban on Russian grain exports, speculation blamed

Russian grain company executives will be among experts attending a special meeting prompted by global worries about high food prices, including the effects of Moscow's grain export ban, UN officials said Thursday.

Vladimir Kiselyov of the Niva agriculture company checks barley in a field near the village of Uzunovo, near Moscow. Russia announced a ban on grain exports due to a severe drought that slashed this year's estimated harvest. ((Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press))

The Food and Agriculture Organization is hosting the one-day session Friday at its Rome headquarters.

The meeting was arranged after member countries expressed concern about high prices and volatile cereal markets.

"Delegates will share information on recent market instability and examine the role of market information and transparency for crops such as grains and rice," both essential to global food security, the UN agency said in a release.

Riots recently erupted in Mozambique over high food prices. But UN officials have been stressing that although prices have stayed persistently high over the last few years, the current situation is nowhere near the emergency crisis in 2007-2008.

At that time, high petroleum costs, increased demand for biofuels and speculation combined to drive up food prices, sparking violence and unrest in several countries.

Hot Russian summer blamed

A very hot, dry summer is blamed for Russia's wheat harvest shortfall, which led Moscow to ban grain exports. Russia is one of the world's largest wheat exporters.

Among participants expected at Friday's meeting is the chief executive of a government-owned Russian grain company.

Prices on buckwheat, which Russians eat as a side dish or as porridge, went up by 11.6 per cent this month alone after millions of worried Russians rushed to buy up their staple food, but bread prices in Russia have so far stayed put.

Russian officials have blamed the price hikes on unscrupulous businessmen.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says a ban on Russian grain exports may be lifted. ((Dmitry Astakhov/RIA-Novosti, Presidential Press Service/Associated Press))
President Dmitry Medvedev said this week his country could lift its ban on grain exports later this year when the final harvest figures arrive.

The Russian export ban has been blamed as one factor in higher global wheat prices.

Export bans in some 38 countries during the price crisis in 2007-2008 caused a dramatic drop in cereal stocks. UN officials have been pressing for co-ordinated strategies to avoid a repeat of that scenario, which was blamed for worsening hunger in the developing world.

The FAO says it will make public its quarterly outlook on cereal supply and demand, both globally and regionally, on Friday during the closed-door meeting on price concerns.

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