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World food stocks dwindling rapidly, UN warns


In an "unforeseen and UNPRECEDENTED" shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels, the top food and agriculture official of the United Nations warned Monday. The changes created "a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food," particularly in the developing world. The agency's food price index rose by more than 40 percent this year, compared with 9 percent the year before - a rate that was already unacceptable. At the same time, reserves of cereals are severely depleted. World wheat stores declined 11 percent this year, to the LOWEST LEVELS SINCE 1980. That corresponds to 12 weeks of the world's total consumption - much less than the average of 18 weeks consumption in storage during the period 2000-2005. There are only 8 weeks of corn left, down from 11 weeks in the earlier period. Prices of wheat and oilseeds are at RECORD HIGHS. U.S. wheat futures broke $10 a bushel FOR THE FIRST TIME Monday, the agricultural equivalent of $100 a barrel oil. "We're concerned that we are facing the perfect storm for the world's hungry...You can debate why this is all happening, but what's most important to us is that it's a long-term trend, reversing decades of decreasing food prices." Climate specialists say that the vulnerability will only increase as further effects of climate change are felt. "If there's a significant change in climate in one of our high production areas, if there is a disease that effects a major crop, we are in a very risky situation." Already "UNUSUAL WEATHER EVENTS," linked to climate change - such as droughts, floods and storms - have decreased production in important exporting countries like Australia and Ukraine. In Southern Australia, a significant reduction in rainfall in the past few years led some farmers to sell their land and move to Tasmania, where water is more reliable. "In the U.S., Australia, and Europe, there's a very substantial capacity to adapt to the effects on food - with money, technology, research and development. In the developing world, there isn't." With food and oil prices approaching records, it may not make sense to send food aid to poorer countries, but instead focus on helping farmers grow food locally. Farmers can adjust to 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) to 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees) of warming by switching to more resilient species, changing planting times, or storing water for irrigation, for example. But after that, "all bets are off...Many people assume that we will never have a problem with food production on a global scale, but there is a strong potential for negative surprises." There has been "tension and political unrest related to food markets" in a number of poor countries this year, including Morocco, Senegal and Mauritania. "We need to play a catalytic role to quickly boost crop production in the most affected countries."

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