Calls for a concerted effort to help the world’s poor feed themselves

GENEVA: U.N. officials on Monday blamed market speculation for the recent jump in global food prices and called for a concerted effort to ensure the world’s poor can afford to feed themselves.

“We have enough food on this planet today to feed everyone,” said Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Programme. But, he added: “The way that markets and supplies are currently being influenced by perceptions of future markets is distorting access to that food.”

WFP’s appeal

“Real people and real lives are being affected by a dimension that is essentially speculative,” said Mr. Steiner, noting that millions have found themselves unable to pay for food since prices began to rise steeply at the start of the year.

Last week, the World Food Program asked for an additional $755 million to bridge its budget shortfall caused by rising prices and growing reliance on food aid among the poor.

Mr. Steiner’s comments were echoed by the U.N.’s right-to-food advocate, who said that high food prices were destabilising the world. Jean Ziegler said on Monday that the “daily massacre of hunger” was being worsened by private equity companies seeking to profit from price swings on the international commodities markets.

Shrunken harvest

A U.S. government regulator last week rejected the idea that speculative trading is the primary culprit behind surging prices of corn, wheat and other crops.

Bart Chilton, a commissioner with the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said commodities markets were functioning properly, and that shrunken harvests, smaller grain inventories and the declining value of the dollar were the reason for the all-time price highs.

But over the weekend, Vietnam moved to curtail speculative buying of rice after consumers were panicked into buying up stocks. State media quoted Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on Sunday as insisting that supplies in Vietnam — the world’s second-largest rice exporter after Thailand — were “completely adequate” for domestic consumption. But he warned that any organisations and individuals speculating in the commodity would be “severely punished.” — AP