Global food crisis: Turmoil in Middle East will keep prices high

Unrest in the Middle East has led a spike in crude oil prices as anxiety over the rising cost of food spans the globe.

Worldwide, food prices are soaring past record highs -- the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has recorded consecutive gains for eight months.

But the epicenter of the crisis is in Asia, where U.N. data show the highest cost of food ever ever recorded; an annual 10 percent inflation rate increase has led to warnings from FAO officials that “chronic hunger” could be a reality for some of Asia’s poorest residents. If the trend continues, another 64 million people could fall under the poverty line.

Bad weather, smaller crops and crude oil prices are creating a perfect storm for farmers, distributors and consumers across the globe. In North Korea and Afghanistan, residents face the risk of food shortages and rising prices. (Conditions are so dire in North Korea that the U.S. is examining resuming food aid to the country.) In the U.S., it’s the simple issue of supply not meeting demand: wheat prices have risen 74 percent and corn has surged 87 percent.

Prices are expected to stay high, but FAO reports that solution to food shortages could come by providing equal farming access to women in developing countries.

“If women in rural areas had the same access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets as men, agricultural production could be increased and the number of hungry people reduced by 100-150 million,” the FAO said in the 2010-11 edition of The State of Food and Agriculture report.

Another way to promote sustainability? Rethinking what we know about farming. FAO points to small-scale, eco-friendly farming, which could include employing simple tools to rid growers of common ills. Solutions in developing countries could range from insect-trapping plants in Kenya to weed-eating ducks in Bangladesh’s rice paddies.

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