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Food Inflation Hits World's Poor Hardest

The rising cost of food has triggered riots in a number of countries in recent weeks. Economic policy makers warn that the inflationary effect could push millions back into poverty. And aid organizations are concerned that they will not be able to feed the poorest of the poor. VOA's Brian Padden reports on the global food crisis.

A street protest against rising food costs recently turned violent in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, as well as in cities in other developing countries. Peter Smerdon of the World Food Program explains what the higher costs mean for aid agencies in Somalia.

"We may have to cut rations or cut the number of people that we feed in Somalia because of these increased costs, so what we very much hope for is that donors will be able to step forward to cover these increased costs so that we can continue to help these people who are in such desperate need,” he said.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick says food inflation disproportionately affects the world's poor.

"In Bangladesh a two-kilogram bag of rice like this now consumes about half of the daily income of a poor family," Zoellick said.

A drought in Australia and crop diseases in other parts of the world have contributed to the diminishing food supply. There also is increased demand in other countries. Christopher Flavin is president of Worldwatch Institute.

Flavin says, "As China and other developing countries increase their consumption of meat and of dairy products and a whole variety of other things that require lots of grain and soybeans to produce them, it means that supply is now having a hard time keeping up with demand."

Higher fuel prices are partly to blame for the rising cost of food. Researcher Nicolas Minot of the International Food Policy Research Institute says fuel prices not only affect production costs, but they also entice farmers to convert land to bio-fuel production.

"As oil prices go up, ethanol becomes more profitable pulling more maize into bio-fuel production and out of food production," Minot said.

Minot says removing trade barriers could help mitigate the food crisis. But he says more research and technology is needed to produce ample energy and food for the world.