According to the latest world hunger report from the Rome-based FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), international food prices and volatility will continue to increase over the next decade without increased investment in agriculture and concerted action from world governments.

The report, “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011” (Oct.10), written jointly with the WFP (World Food Program) and IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development),  states unequivocally that “high and volatile food prices are widely expected to continue in the future” as population growth and increased demand for biofuels increases pressure on the market.

In addition to rises in population and demand, it said that climate change is likely to bring about higher price volatility, as extreme weather events disrupt the food production chain and bring about large-scale crises, such as the ongoing situation in the Horn of Africa. Price volatility in turn affects the production and investment capacity of smallholder farmers, the mainstay of agriculture and food security particularly in the most vulnerable regions, like Africa.

The FAO report emphasizes that government action is key to stabilizing international food security and stresses the need for “a transparent and predictable regulatory environment,” Kostas Stamoulis, economist and Director of FAO’s Agricultural Development Economics Division, remarked that  “Governments should avoid unilateral trade measures which aggravate the situation in international markets, which make prices high and more volatile”. He called for greater international coordination and more predictable policies.

 The report also notes that “In the long term, investment in agriculture and improving resilience among farmers remain key to providing sustained access to food for all and reducing vulnerability to price volatility and natural disasters such as drought.”  Particularly true in light of climate change, the report notes that investment in disease-or-stress-resistant crop varieties and the construction of irrigation and drainage system can reduce the risk faced by extreme weather events, and that governments must focus on “more sustainable management of our natural resources, forests and fisheries,” which are critical for domestic and international food security.

The FAO estimates there were 925 million  hungry people worldwide in 2010 and notes  even if the Millenium Development Goal of halving the world’s hungry by 2015 were to be achieved, some 600 million would still be undernourished, a situation which it said is  “never acceptable” and makes concerted action even more urgent.