UN food task force meets for first time

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UNITED NATIONS: A UN special task force on the world food crisis met for the first time on Monday to create an action plan to combat high prices and food shortages.

Under the authority of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the group’s mission is “to promote a coherent and coordinated response to the current food security crisis, a preparatory statement said.

Among the goals are to develop a “comprehensive framework for action, including a series of short- and long-term plans for combating the food crisis, which has sparked riots, protests and export restrictions worldwide.

Global food prices have nearly doubled in three years according to the World Bank, with experts blaming soaring prices on trade restrictions, poor growing weather, rising use of biofuels, and hikes in fuel prices that make transporting food more expensive.

The UN task force is also to prepare the ground for a high-level meeting of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on food security, to be held in Rome June 3-5, and follow up on the implementation of the action plan.

Ban has urged world leaders to attend the meeting.

The food crisis task force, whose creation was announced by Ban in Bern, Germany on April 29, brings together the leaders of 15 groups and agencies from the United Nations, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. It is under the direct authority of Ban and is being coordinated by UN humanitarian chief John Holmes.

In Bern, the IMF, World Bank and United Nations urged world leaders to take steps to ensure more equitable global trade, with Ban urging a repeal of export restrictions in countries such as Brazil and Egypt.

Argentina, Brazil, Vietnam, India and Egypt have all imposed limitations on the export of certain produce to ensure food security for their populations, but Ban says the move has reduced supplies and raised prices.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick has said two billion people are struggling with high food prices, and 100 million people in poor countries may be pushed deeper into poverty.

The FAO estimates that world production of rice will reach a new record in 2008 but that prices will stay elevated in the short term.

The UN World Food Program is seeking contributions for a $755 million emergency fund while the Food and Agriculture Organization is raising $1.7 billion to provide seeds to the poor and boost output.

The UN’s new top advisor on food, Olivier de Schutter, this month joined the growing chorus accusing biofuels – until recently cast as a miracle alternative to polluting fossil fuels – of usurping arable land and distorting world food prices. -AFP

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