GENEVA (Reuters) - Insecurity in Central African Republic threatens a severe food crisis this year, the U.N. World Food Programme said on Friday, citing a doubling of prices for staples such as corn after a month-long insurgency.
Some 800,000 people live in the central third of CAR, an area still held by the Seleka rebel coalition.
Widespread looting had reduced household production as well as stocks of food, seed and animals, and insecurity was preventing farmers from going about their work, it said. Food in CAR comes mainly from subsistence farming and market gardening.
The mineral-rich former French colony signed a ceasefire deal with Seleka on January 11 after an insurgency that swept to within striking distance of the capital.
Humanitarian access to that area must be ensured to avoid a crisis, WFP said. Farmers in the northern part of that area were being deprived of their main income source because they cannot get their already-harvested cotton crop to market, it said.
Citing a food security assessment by the United Nations and non-governmental organisations, WFP said food looked set to become especially short in the May to September rainy season.
WFP had been distributing aid to 200,000 people in the area controlled by Seleka before the insurgency and says at least 80,000 people now faced a severe risk of food shortage.
Seleka, a coalition of five separate rebel groups, launched its insurgency in early December, accusing President Francois Bozize of reneging on a 2007 peace deal supposed to provide jobs and money to insurgents who laid down their weapons.
"The cost of a food basket has increased by 40 percent in the area under the control of the central African armed forces. Some of the zones under the control of the Seleka are experiencing food deficits due to price increases," WFP said.
Central African Republic, with a population of about 4.5 million, remains one of the least developed countries on the planet despite rich deposits of gold, diamonds and uranium.
The country is one of a number in the region where U.S. Special Forces are helping local soldiers hunt down the Lord's Resistance Army, an unrelated rebel group that has killed thousands of civilians across four nations.
Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Louise Ireland