UN food official predicts volatile prices in 2012

The new head of the UN food agency says he expects food prices to stay volatile in 2012 — and more people to go hungry.
Internally displaced Somali people stand in a queue waiting to be served with cooked food in Hodan district south of the capital, Mogadishu, on Sept. 5, 2011. The new head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says food prices will stay volatile through 2012. (Feisal Omar/Reuters )

The new head of the UN food agency said Tuesday he expects food prices to stay volatile in 2012 — and more people to go hungry.

Jose Graziano da Silva, Brazil's former food security minister, took over as director-general of the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization on Jan. 1. He told reporters Tuesday his top priority was to make good on the agency's mandate: eradicate world hunger.

Graziano acknowledged that the anticipated recession in much of Europe this year could affect his effort, with countries possibly reneging on their annual FAO dues. But he said the assessments are relatively paltry and that the main effect the global economic crisis will have on FAO is more work.

"There will be many more people getting hungry, unemployed and we will need to find new ways to assist those governments," he said.

Graziano said he expected that food prices wouldn't rise much but that they also wouldn't fall. "But volatility will remain, that is clear," he said.

FAO, which is the UN's biggest specialized agency with a $1 billion budget, has been battling the effects of wild swings in food prices that have particularly affected poor countries.

Jose Graziano da Silva is the new director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN's biggest specialized agency. (Max Ross/Reuters)

The FAO's food price index hit an all-time high in February. It has since decreased slightly, but experts warn that food prices remain far too high for many poor communities. The agency put the number of hungry people in 2010 at 925 million, the overwhelming majority living in developing countries.

Graziano is one of the architects of Brazil's much-lauded Zero Hunger program, which over the past eight years has helped lift 19 million Brazilians out of poverty. He has said one of his main priorities was to decentralize FAO's work to the regional and subregional levels, since that's where hunger is fought.

"You solve food security problems at your village, at your town at your neighbourhood (level) — not at the global level," he said. "Nobody eats at the global level. You eat in the restaurant, in the cantina, at your house. That's where you need to provide those answers."

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