Libya turmoil could hurt regional food security - U.N.

ROME Fri Mar 11, 2011 6:00pm GMT

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ROME (Reuters) - The United Nations expressed serious concern on Friday about the impact of the Libyan uprising on food security across North Africa because of the region's dependency on cereal imports.

"The ongoing crisis will likely have a significant impact on food security in Libya and in nearby crisis-affected areas," the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation said in a statement on Friday.

It added that possible disruptions to the flow of goods and services and population displacements were also of concern.

An uprising against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has led to escalating violence between rebels and security forces, rising casualties, threats of hunger and a refugee crisis as thousands of people flee the country.

"The situation is very dynamic and very volatile and risks changing on a day-by-day basis in the coming weeks and months," Daniele Donati, chief of FAO's Emergency Operations Service said in an interview with Reuters.

He said it could lead to a sudden disruption of imports and the collapse of the internal food distribution system.

Disruption to markets from which farmers secure seeds and fertilisers also threatened agricultural production and food security, the FAO said.

Donati saw no immediate risk to food availability in North Africa but said that could change if the conflict drags on.

He did not expect the situation to impact cereals markets but noted heightened tension due to rising food prices.

Libya, which relies on imports for more than 90 percent of its food, is believed to have about four months of food supplies in the country, the U.N.'s World Food Programme said.

The estimate was based on information from Libyan authorities, WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella said.

"As a net food importer, Libya does need to be able to bring food into the country and given the current security situation those food imports are not able to get in the way they would normally be flowing," Casella told reporters in Geneva.

Other major grain importers in North Africa include Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

In Egypt, FAO said, the sharp rise in international wheat prices would also add substantially to the cost of imports in 2010/11 and to the government's bread subsidy programme, which helps cushion the consumer from rising prices.

The FAO said it would set up a monitoring system with the WFP covering Libya and neighbouring countries to be able to advise on policies to help reduce the risk of food-related problems.

(Reporting by Catherine Hornby and Eleanor Biles in Rome and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; editing by Anthony Barker)

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