STOCKHOLM The world's top farm producers in the Group of 20 countries must agree coordinated action to ease worries about food prices, the head of the United Nations food agency said on Monday, as he and other experts bemoaned a huge global waste of food and water.
The third price surge in four years has come after drought in the United states and poor crops from Russia and the Black Sea bread basket region.
Senior figures from the G20 will discuss the food price rises this week, but any decisions on action are unlikely before a mid-September report on grain supply, officials have said.
U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation Director-General Jose Graziano Da Silva said he would not characterise the current food price rise as a crisis, but it could reach that level next year if harvests in the southern hemisphere were disappointing.
"We need coordinated action and I believe that the G20 is responsible enough for this action," da Silva told a news conference during a conference on water in the Swedish capital.
The annual World Water Week conference looks at how resources are used and the link between water and food security.
Speaking to Reuters, da Silva said any coordination should involve avoiding unilateral export bans and encouraging substitution of foods, for instance the eating of beans in Latin American and of cassava in Africa.
He noted that between 85 and 95 percent of the crops most affected by the price rises, wheat and corn, came from the G20.
He said that even if wheat prices rose 10 to 20 percent that did not mean bread prices would rise by the same amount.
Da Silva noted that the food price rally was not as serious as in 2007/08, when there were violent protests in countries including Egypt, Cameroon and Haiti.
"There is no crisis," he told Reuters. "This kind of panic buying is what we need to avoid at the moment."
Da Silva and other experts at the conference said that there was also a massive waste of food in the world, an issue that needed to be resolved in order better to harness resources.
"Up to half of the food we produce never gets eaten," said Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute.
A quarter of the water used worldwide was used to produce more than one billion tonnes of food that nobody eats, he said.
Da Silva told the conference that one third of all food production was lost and that this was due to poor storage in developing countries, or being thrown away in rich countries.
He also said water security was a vital factor for food security and that food needed to be produced in a way that conserved water, used it more sustainably and intelligently, and helped agriculture adapt to climate change.
"We need to produce more with less," he added.
(Reporting by Patrick Lannin; Editing by William Hardy and Veronica Brown)