World News: World food prices go high, says FAO

By Nangayi Guyson – World food prices rose to a record high in January, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) becoming a factor in recent political unrest in both Algeria and Tunisia in the form of anti-government demonstrations, protests which have spread to neighbouring Egypt and Jordan.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick has asked global leaders to “put food first” and tackle the problem of price volatility.

“We are going to be facing a broader trend of increasing commodity prices, including food commodity prices,” he said.

Commodities prices have been on the rise generally with copper hitting a record high of $10,000 a tonne. Oil was also up on Thursday with Brent crude rising to $103.37 a barrel.

Recently, white sugar futures hit a record high because of concerns about the damage Cyclone Yasi could cause to the Australian cane crop.

The FAO reported Food Price Index, which measured the wholesale price of basic foods within a basket, averaged 231 points last month, up by 3.4% from December.

It is the seventh monthly rise for the index. FAO economist Abdolreza Abbassian said “these high prices are likely to persist in the months to come.”

The index is now at its highest level since the FAO started the measure in 1990 and higher than June 2008 when the cost of food sparked violent protests in countries including Cameroon, Haiti and Egypt.

The individual group components of the index, apart from meat, all registered rises in January.

The Cereal Price Index averaged 245 points in January reflecting rises in the price of wheat and grain. This was driven higher by flooding in Australia, which is a major wheat exporter.

Rice prices fell slightly as the data coincided with harvests in many countries.

Dairy products

Rises were particularly high for dairy products, up 6.2% from December. Prices were driven higher by a combination of lower supply and increasing demand in emerging economies such as China and India.

The Meat Price Index held steady at 166 points despite falling prices in Europe where a large amount of animal feed was found to have been contaminated with dioxin.

This was offset by a small increase in meat prices in Brazil and the United States. Sugar prices also remained high due to tight supplies.