Agriculture ministers from the major industrialized nations called on Monday for increased agriculture production as a way to combat world hunger.  At the end of a 3-day meeting in northern Italy, G-8 ministers also took a first step toward fighting speculators who have helped push up the price of basic foods, sparking riots in several poor countries.  

After three days of talks in northeastern Italy, the Group of Eight agriculture ministers, joined by representatives from key emerging and developing countries, called for a study into setting up a global system to stockpile essential foodstuffs.

In their final declaration, the ministers called on the relevant international institutions to examine whether a system of stockholding would be effective in dealing with humanitarian emergencies or as a means to limit food price volatility.

The head of the U.N. food agency, Jacques Diouf, said he was pleased by the fact that so many top agriculture officials had met to draw attention to the fact that the international community had not resolved the food crisis.  Officials acknowledge that the U.N.'s goal of reducing the number of hungry people by half by 2015 is still far from being achieved.

The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization says high food prices plunged an additional 40 million people into hunger last year, pushing the overall number of needy to almost 1 billion people.

While recession has cooled soaring prices, officials say it offers only a temporary respite.  Skyrocketing prices for basic foodstuffs last year triggered riots in some poorer nations around the world.

Conference host Italy led calls for action to tackle commercial price-fixing, and both Italy and France advocated the global stockpiling of essential foodstuffs.

Italy's agriculture Minister, Luca Zaia, said the final document recognizes that speculation on the markets raises the price of food and leads to hunger.  The document also recognizes the need to maintain free markets.

Agriculture ministers from G 5 countries Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa joined G 8 agriculture ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, the United States and Russia at the summit near Treviso.

Ministers from Argentina, Australia and Egypt also attended the talks, as well as officials from the African Union, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called food security a "moral obligation" that affects global economic development and international stability.

And in a statement, he said that the agriculture summit took "an important step toward building a consensus around issues affecting access, availability and utilization of food among vulnerable populations."