Global Food Prices Dubbed a ‘Silent Tsunami’

An additional 100 million people, previously not requiring food assistance, are now not able to buy food, said WFP executive director Josette Sheeran in a statement before the meeting.

“This is the new face of hunger — the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are,” she said.

The summit in London brought together 25 experts in the field, scientists and representatives from the European Union and Africa. The goal was to find ways to boost food supplies, which have dropped low enough to incite riots and protests in several developing countries.

Unrest tied to food prices has been reported in Cameroon, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Egypt. Widespread riots in Haiti have resulted in several deaths.

The prices of rice, maize and wheat have hit record highs and have doubled in the past year, according to Bloomberg News.

The price escalation has been especially evident in recent weeks. In Asia, the price of rice has more than doubled in less than two months, from $460 a ton at the beginning of March to more than $1,000 currently, Sheeran told the BBC.

A statement released after Tuesday’s summit by Brown’s office said that that delegates planned to work with the G8 and European Union to form a global strategy that would increase support to the world’s poorest countries and attempt to tackle the price problem.

“We need to look closely at the impact on food prices and the environment of different production methods and to ensure we are more selective in our support,” the statement read.

It was also agreed that governmental approaches to biofuels should be assessed.

“If our U.K. review shows that we need to change our approach, we will also push for change in EU biofuels targets,” the statement read. But similar cooperation may be difficult to achieve from other nations involved in biofuel production.

Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in early April that crops used for ethanol are not responsible for driving up food prices, reported the Associated Press.

“There is … no relation with biofuels,” he said.

But experts say the growing market for biofuels, made from crops such as corn, is one of the factors causing the shortage.

The high cost of fuel for transporting food, bad weather in key agricultural areas of the world, the increased food demand from developed nations and market speculations are also contributing to the high prices.

The head of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Jacques Diouf said Wednesday that resources now need to be focused on the 2008 harvest and making sure it is a successful one, reported Reuters.

“This is not Greek tragedy where fate is decided by the gods and humans can do nothing about it. No, we have the ability to influence our futures,” he said.