Leaders from the world's largest industrial nations are promising more food aid and agricultural assistance for Africa to help ease the impact of rising food costs. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the Group of Eight summit in Japan where some non-governmental organizations say increasing demand for biofuels is partly to blame for higher food prices.

G8 leaders say they are concerned that the steep rise in global food prices could push millions of people back into poverty.

So they have pledged more than $10 billion in food aid since the first of the year and are calling on other donors to join them in providing seeds and fertilizers for the upcoming planting season.

G8 leaders say they will support improvements in agricultural infrastructure including irrigation, transportation, storage, distribution, and quality control while assisting in the development of food security early warning systems.

At their summit on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, G8 leaders promised to work with the International Monetary Fund to help food-importing countries and vowed to boost investments in African agriculture to double the production of key food staples within ten years.

Global food prices were a big part of talks between G8 leaders and heads of state from South Africa, Algeria, Ethiopia, Senegal, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Ghana.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says 37 countries are most affected by rising food prices. Twenty one of them are in Africa.

Charles Abani is with the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, a coalition of groups campaigning to raise living standards in the developing world.

"Families are forced to make choices between food and education, food and health, and this crisis really exacerbates the situation on the ground," he said.
Rising world food prices are the result of a number of factors including higher transportation costs, drought, and increased demand from a growing middle class in China and India. There is also more land under cultivation for biofuels, including ethanol.

The non-governmental organization ActionAid says biofuels are responsible for as much as one-third of the recent increase in food prices. ActionAid's Carol Kayira says that is bad for Africa.

"Africa is being earmarked as the source of biofuels in the future, that Africa would develop if they implement the biofuels or if they grow biofuels," she said. "And for us in Africa, we are saying no. First of all, we need more research on biofuels. Secondly, we are saying we are already having difficulties to produce our own food to feed ourselves, so if you come in Africa and then you are taking out the basic resources that we require for food for biofuels, you are making the problem worse."

G8 leaders say they will ensure that the sustainable production of biofuels is compatible with food security, in part, by accelerating the development of biofuels from non-food plant materials and waste.

Joseph Suuna is the general secretary of the advocacy group PELUM, which promotes ecological land use management. He says growing demands for biofuels in the developing world are disrupting African agriculture.

"As a global community, irrespective of whether the immediate people who are dying may be in Africa, this is your problem as much as it is an African problem," said Sunna. "Just as a tsunami in Asia is an African problem is an American problem, so is anything to do with food in Africa."

In their statement on food security, G8 leaders vowed to form a global partnership on agriculture and food involving developing country governments, donors, the private sector, and civil society.

The World Bank says increases in the price of wheat, rice, and maize cost developing countries more than $320 billion last year. Oxfam International says food inflation has wiped out five percent of the Gross Domestic Product of Mozambique and Eritrea, and ten percent of GDP in Senegal, Haiti, and Sierra Leone.