Rising global temperatures as well as growing food consumption in rapidly developing countries such as China and India are pressuring the world food system, meaning that food prices will rise for the foreseeable future, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Joachim von Braun, the director of the Washington-based research group, said food prices have been in a declining trend since scientists began developing high-yield plant varieties decades ago, "but the days of falling food prices may be over."
"The last time the world experienced such food price increases was in 1973 to 1974 ... but today the situation is completely different. For one, the climate risk and climate change situation has increased, the climate vulnerability has increased," von Braun told reporters in Beijing.
The institute said in a report that hunger and malnutrition could rise as poor agricultural communities most sensitive to the environment, such as in Africa, are hurt. Dependency on food imports will also increase as cereal yields decline in those countries.
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The world's agricultural production is projected to decrease by 16 percent by 2020 due to global warming, the report said, with land used for certain crops shrinking. For example, it said land to grow wheat could almost disappear in Africa.
It said growing demand in rapidly developing countries such as China and India for processed food and expensive meat and dairy products is driving up prices for those goods, as well as for staple grains used to feed cattle.
In addition, switching to crops used for biofuels will also reduce the amount of available food and increase prices, it said.
Trade barriers for food should be eliminated, especially in developed nations, the report recommended, so small farmers can earn more money.
"A world facing increased food scarcity needs to trade more, not less," the report said.
The European Union and the United States have been reluctant to cut support for their own farmers and reduce trade barriers in world trade talks.
[Associated Press; By HENRY SANDERSON]
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