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Price shock in global food

Riots over grain prices call for a rethink of global stability based on better farming.

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Americans may fret that Wheat Thins cost 15 percent more than a year ago but in poor nations, such price hikes aren't taken lightly. In Ivory Coast last week, women rioted against higher food costs, leaving one person dead.

In Haiti, four people were killed in protests last week over a 50 percent rise in the cost of food staples in the past year. From Egypt to Vietnam, price rises of 40 percent or more for rice, wheat, and corn are stirring unrest and forcing governments to take drastic steps, such as blocking grain exports and arresting farmers who hoard surpluses.

The UN International Fund for Agriculture predicts food riots will become common on the world scene for at least a year. The World Bank says 33 countries face unrest from higher prices in both food and energy.

Even in grain-rich America, wholesale food prices are rising at a rate not seen in 27 years. The most acute "ag-flation," however, is in Asia and Africa, where food costs take up a higher proportion of family income. And the face of hunger is now seen more in cities as a historic shift takes place with more than half of the world's population soon to be living in or near urban areas.

The food price hikes may not be temporary, according to the UN World Food Program, which sees long-lasting causes, such as spreading deserts and more demand for grain-fed meat. The WFP itself, which feeds about 73 million of the most destitute people, warns its rich donor nations that it will require more money for some time to come. Its latest need: $500 million more by May 1.

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