U.N. pledges aid for farmers

At a meeting Tuesday in Berne, Switzerland, international agencies pledge to create a task force to cope with the global food crisis.

Crops are fetching far higher prices in markets worldwide, but farmers in poor countries have not seen their incomes rise as a result, international officials said Tuesday.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick said that increases in fertilizer and fuel costs had kept many poorer producers from meeting the huge demand for food staples that has driven up prices and caused shortages, hoarding, and riots.

In Berne, Switzerland, where UN leaders met this week to chart a way out of the current food crisis, Mr. Zoellick said that even in areas where crop prices are higher, farmers "are not planting more because they are fearful that they face very high input costs."

Many farmers committed to selling their harvests at rates fixed before the recent dramatic increase in wheat, corn, rice, dairy, and oils prices, which economists have linked to myriad factors including drought, the use of crops for biofuels, and speculation by commodity traders.

And in the poorest corners of the world, where people spend up to 75 percent of their incomes on staple foods, only a tiny proportion of the crops are sold on the market, according to the World Bank.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the world price for foods such as cereals, dairy, produce, meat, sugar, and oils was 57 percent higher last month than in March 2007.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called the price climb "an unprecedented challenge of global proportions." He and 27 international agency heads pledged to create a task force to cope with the commodity shifts that have severely hindered efforts to buy and distribute food aid.

"The first and immediate priority that we all agree is that we must feed the hungry," Mr. Ban said, noting the $755 million shortfall in funding for the World Food Program. But he added that new measures had to go beyond emergency relief. The UN's FAO has developed a $1.7 billion plan to provide seeds for the world's poorest countries, he said.

"We must make every effort to support those farmers," Ban said.

The Associated Press was used in this report.

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