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  • Research 'must be expanded' to address food prices


[BEIJING] International agricultural research must be accelerated to find solutions for the world's poor amid rising food prices, say food research experts.

Joachim von Braun, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), made the call today (4 December) at the launch of IFPRI's biannual report in Beijing, China.

According to von Braun, the world's average food price has risen by 53 per cent since 2000, due to increased income for farmers and changes in the types of crops planted.

Developing biofuels worldwide to address climate change has been a dominant factor in driving up food prices, as less agricultural land is devoted to food, von Braun said.

The IFPRI report, 'The World Food Situation: New Driving Forces and Required Actions', also says that world agricultural output is projected to decrease significantly due to climate change, and that the impact on developing countries will be severe.

Von Braun recommended that rich nations invest more in research into the impact of biofuels and the threat posed by climate change.

He said he hopes that next-generation technologies can be created to produce biofuels with waste biomass — such as straw stalks — but warned that the first priority was to slow down biofuel development.

Von Braun also said that some of the political lobby groups that have been created to campaign for more subsidies for farmers who plant biofuel are "anti-poor".

In a scenario where countries follow through with their biofuels plans, the price of maize could increase by 26 per cent, according to the report. This could increase to 72 per cent if biofuels usage is expanded greatly.

Cereal prices could further increase by 10 to 20 percent by 2015 due to supply and demand issues, according to the IFPRI report, impacting the majority of the world's poor people, who live in households that are net buyers of food — they spend more money buying than selling food.

According to von Braun, poor people in Bangladesh, for example, may have to double their expenditure on food, leaving no money for other necessities.

Metha Wanapat, a professor from Khon Kaen University, Thailand, agrees. "While planting crops for biofuels increases short-term income for farmers, it is important to balance economic need and food demands," he says.

"More research is needed to determine the right proportion of agricultural resources to be used for biofuels," he told SciDev.Net.

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