The United Nations food agency says 22 countries are particularly threatened by the global food crisis that has seen soaring prices increase hunger and led to protests and riots in some countries.  The FAO says these countries are vulnerable because they suffer from chronic hunger and are forced to import food and fuel.  Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

The 22 countries particularly vulnerable to food security problems are listed in a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) prepared for a meeting next week in Rome.  The U.N. food agency says these countries suffer from chronic hunger and are forced to import much of their food and fuel.

FAO economist Kostas Stamoulis used Eritrea as an example, a country he said imports 100 percent of its petroleum.

"They have to bear the burden of high petroleum import costs," he said.  "They import 80 percent of the major grains produced in the country and they were hit by the fact that prices of major grains have increased substantially," he said.

In addition, Stamoulis says nearly 75 percent of Eritrea's population is undernourished. 

The FAO economist said all the countries on the threatened list had a higher than 30 percent hunger prevalence.  Stamoulis said many of the endangered countries are in Africa.

"African countries from the point of view of undernourishment are the ones that are overall in the worst situation than in other regions," he added.  "The continent has extremely high prevalence of hunger."

The FAO will host a conference that opens next Tuesday where delegates from all over the world will discuss high food prices and the challenges to reduce food insecurity, posed in the long-term by climate change and other factors.  A number of world leaders are expected to attend. 

The U.N. agency says the meeting will be a "historic chance" to re-launch the fight against hunger and poverty and boost agricultural production in developing countries.

"We are trying to attract the attention of the international community and bring people in the same venue to make decisions, outline plans, set up strategies for facing the short and long-term consequences of high food prices for food security," he explained.  "This is a high level conference on challenges.  And we believe that a lot of these challenges must be faced through coordinated action among countries and not in isolation."

The FAO report says the conference should agree on plans to boost local food production and increase investments to stimulate production.  It adds that leaders need to agree on assistance to the poor, including food subsidies and cash transfers.