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Rising price of rice keeps U.N. scrambling to feed world's hungry

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An American from Queens, N.Y., Menage started her work with the UN in Burundi in the 1980s as a volunteer and has, over the years, served the WFP in senior positions in Malawi, Togo, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. She is not someone who loses her cool under fire. But this food crisis has tested even her mettle.

"You can't get into a frenzy," she explains. "You just deal with one issue at a time.... You analyze the markets from a food security angle. You stay calm. You coordinate properly and band together."

The first challenge, she says, is to figure out where there is affordable food in the world, what sort of food it is, and whether it is acceptable to those who are – or will be – hungry.

This is not as straightforward as it might seem. In some parts of the world, like West Africa, it's possible to exchange one grain for another, which allows WFP to distribute whatever commodity is most affordable. In Asia, however, where the words for "rice" and "food" in many languages are often interchangeable, there is no readily acceptable substitute for rice in the diet. That limits the UN organization's options.

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