U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned on Friday that global shortages of food and spiraling prices threaten widespread destabilization. She spoke at the Rome headquarters of the United Nations food agency.
Clinton urged immediate action to forestall a repeat of the 2007 and 2008 crisis that led to riots in dozens of countries around the developing world.
Speaking at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, she said urgent steps are needed to hold down costs and boost agricultural production as food prices continue to rise.
"The FAO food price index reached an all-time high in February," said Clinton. "Yesterday's update showed little decrease. The World Bank estimates that 44 million people have been pushed into poverty, since just last June, because of rising food prices."
Clinton said the situation is not yet as dire as it was four years ago, but warned that the consequences of inaction would be grave.
"We must act now, effectively and cooperatively, to blunt the negative impact of rising food prices and protect people and communities," she added.
She called for countries to adopt better policies this time around and said the United States is working with developing and industrialized nations to encourage everyone to respond to rising food prices not with failed policies of the past but with a sounder approach.
Clinton said more attention should be paid to improving seed quality to boost agricultural production, as well as educating farmers on the best practices and encouraging governments to prevent food hoarding.
The U.S. secretary of state said countries should share information about food production and stocks, and resist the temptation of imposing export bans no matter how attractive they may appear to be. She added that she is well aware such measures are difficult to sell politically given budget cuts.
But she stressed that everyone must do their utmost and work together to find the best ways for markets to work more efficiently and deliver results.
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf thanked Clinton for raising the issue. He said the FAO, backed by the Group of 20 leading emerging and wealthy countries, is working on a series of studies about how to better manage the risks associated with food price volatility.