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Spike in world food prices: It's more than bad weather

A global index for food prices, as measured by the UN, reached a record high last month. This on the heels of a food crisis in 2007-08. The weather isn't the only culprit -- or solution.

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Of all the world headlines that Sen. Richard Lugar could have highlighted this week – the visit of China’s president in Washington, for instance, or the revolt in Arab Tunisia – the most burning issue for him was ... alfalfa.

The plant, used for animal feed, was the surprising topic of the senator’s opening remarks at a Monitor breakfast with reporters Jan. 18. Alfalfa holds a special interest for this active Indiana farmer who is also the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Alfalfa, he notes, is one example of why world food prices have risen so sharply – the second such rise in just over two years.

Last month the global food price index reached a record high, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization, a United Nations body. It surpassed the levels of the last food crisis in 2007-2008, when rising prices caused riots in more than 30 countries.

The human misery from unaffordable – or unavailable – food isn’t as widespread this time, because the price of rice – a staple for more than 3 billion people – is relatively stable. Also, Africa and Asia have seen some good harvests, helping feed local populations.

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