U.N. warns of possible food crisis

A combine harvester pours cropped soybeans in a truck, in Campo Novo do Parecis, about 400km northwest from the capital city of Cuiaba, in Mato Grosso, Brazil, on March 27, 2012.

Jeremy Hobson: The world could face the worst food crisis in five years if countries like the U.S. start restricting exports of agricultural products. That's according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, which says bad weather is causing a spike in global food prices that could be made worse if countries stockpile.

Abdol Reza Abbassian is senior economist with the U.N. FAO and he's with us now from Rome. Good morning.

Abdol Reza Abbassian: Good morning to you.

Hobson: Well, how much of this is bad weather in the Midwest and how much of it is a rise in global demand for the food?

Abbassian: No, certainly not the demand. This price surge is characterized by the supply issue. The corn situation was already tight in the previous season and the U.S. is the biggest producer user of corn, the biggest user and the biggest exporter. So obviously having a drought as severe as we know we have in the U.S. will have an impact on that market. Soybeans doesn’t fare any better, the soybean crop in South America were not very good and there were hopes that the U.S. will make up for some of the deficit. But again the drought is still continuing and this has raised fears that even soybeans will be short for still some time.

Hobson: Now you’re asking countries, including the U.S., not to limit their exports of these things, why is that?

Abbassian: U.S. traditionally had never put any restrictions on exports. Our real concern is with some of the other exporting countries. We hope that this time around countries will not be putting those types of ad hoc restrictions without prior consultations, upon which we hope that any actions taken will be a coordinated one among the G-20 members.  

Hobson: But assume that’s a tough sell for some countries, which might want to take of their own people first before they start exporting food to the rest of the world.

Abbassian: Well, for as long as the G-20 is concerned that basically means nearly, over 90 percent of producers and consumers in the world, those countries have signed into agreeing in the event that there are major problems in the market -- and I’m not saying we are there yet and hopefully we won’t -- they are not going to take action without consulting with one another so that there would be a coordinated policy response. So I’m guessing it would be very difficult for them to take a unilateral action when only a few months ago they decided to establish such a system.

Hobson: Abdul Reza Abbassian, senior economist with the U.N. food and agriculture organization, thanks for speaking with us.

Abbassian: Thank you so much.

 

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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