Representatives from U.N. member nations are holding an emergency meeting this week to address a global food crisis that has already sparked protests over rising prices and left many of the world's poor unable to feed their families. The gathering, which formally opens Tuesday, has been overshadowed by the presence of the Zimbabwean and Iranian presidents. Sabina Castelfranco has more in this VOA report from Rome.

The summit of around 60 heads of state and government was called in response to soaring food prices, amid growing demand and failing crops.

But discussions risk being overshadowed by the presence of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who both have strained relations with the West. The European Union has imposed a travel ban on Mr. Mugabe, but that does not apply to U.N. meetings. This is Mr. Ahmadinejad's first visit to Western Europe as Iran's president.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Shafer, who is leading the U.S. delegation, said there would be no meeting with Mr. Mugabe.

"I will not be meeting with the president," said

Ed Shafer. "We welcome the discussion, the ideas and the ability to come to some conclusions about how to deal with this food price issue. So, I'm just looking forward to the conversations, and as I mentioned, I will not be meeting with the president."

Human rights activists plan to unfurl a 200-meter-long banner early Tuesday in front of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization building with a message saying that 854 million people worldwide already face food insecurity and that that number could rise in the wake of the current crisis.

USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore said this summit is useful to bring all the players, including world leaders and donors, together to find a way to coordinate action.

"We would like to see the world's conversation focusing on both short-term and long-term solutions, because the challenges that face us will be multi-year and multi-dimensional: education, sanitation, water usage, agricultural inputs, financing, ways that we can encourage the world's agriculture research are all part of a combined solution," said Henrietta Fore.

She says the United States believes results will come if it begins by focusing first on West Africa, where there are a number of bread-basket countries which require encouragement, and then focusing on east and southern Africa.

"We are focusing from the United States on doubling production," she said. "President Bush has a very strong initiative of $5 billion over two years. We want to double production, and we're starting in Africa. We think that will help a great deal."

Fore says the more people in need receive food, the more the markets will work, transportation system will work and farmers with incentives will grow more food.