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West African Leaders Meet on Soaring Food, Oil Prices

The issue of regional food security dominates the agenda of a one-day summit of West African leaders in Abuja, Nigeria. Gilbert da Costa is attending the meeting, where leaders are worried about the impact of the rising global food and oil prices.

A pre-conference report issued by Economic Community of West African States says persistent high food and oil prices remain a huge challenge to growth and macro-economic stability in west Africa.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf warned the soaring cost of basic food items could have grave security consequences for the impoverished region.

"Mr. Chairman, we are all mindful that our efforts and successes at sustainable growth and development will suffer irreparably if the rise in oil and food prices continues," she said. "A hungry stomach is quick to anger and will disrupt the peace we need to develop."

West Africa has made steady economic progress in the past three years. An ECOWAS report says gross domestic product is expected to reach a record $232 billion in 2008 with a growth rate of more than five percent.

But experts warn all the gains could be wiped out if urgent steps are not taken to ease the impact of the food and energy prices.

Out of the 15 members of ECOWAS, only Nigeria and Ivory Coast produce and export oil.

A representative of the U.N. Secretary General, Sa'id Djinnit, says radical changes are required in agricultural practices in the region.

"There are clearly external factors to the crisis, relating to the international economic environment," he said. "But there are also internal factors to African countries that contributed to the marginalization of agriculture. These combined factors contributed to creating a paradoxical situation where in every African country, people consume what they do not produce and produce what they do not consume."

A report on the status of implementation of regional programs, particularly those on free movement of persons, goods and right of establishment and residence as well as the security situation is also being considered at the summit.