Delegates at a special U.N. meeting on Friday prompted by worries over high food prices discussed a grain export ban by Russia and its impact on cereal markets, although experts said good harvests should help prevent a repeat of the price panics of a few years ago.
A U.N. report released during the meeting found that, while grain prices have surged in part because of the ban, the outlook for this year's harvests is good and cereal stocks are adequate.
Russian grain company executives and government officials were among those who participated in the one-day closed-door session at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization to examine the role of market information and transparency for crops such as grains and rice.
Delegates were working well into the night to come up with recommendations on "what issues to spend time and resources on" in dealing with the high food prices, FAO official Majid Chaar said.
Still, the meeting had yielded agreement "that this one (situation) is not a food crisis," Chaar told reporters. He said given the late hour, a news conference for the end of the session was being canceled, so the participants could continue working on a statement to be issued after talks wrap up.
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Riots recently erupted in Mozambique over high food prices, prompting fears that a crisis, like the one of 2007-2008, which sparked riots in several impoverished countries, was in the works.
But U.N. officials have stressed that the current situation is nowhere as dire that that crisis.
"What we have seen over the past few weeks is a period of volatility driven partly by the announcement from Russia of an export ban on grain food until next year, and this has driven prices up," said Gregory Barrow of the U.N. World Food Program. "They have fallen back again, but this has had an impact,"
Russia is one of the world's largest wheat exporters. A very hot, dry summer was blamed for the country's wheat harvest shortfall, which led officials to ban grain exports.
Sergei Sukhov, from Russia's agriculture ministry, said during a break in the meeting that the market for grains "should be stable and predictable for all participants."
The Food and Agriculture Organization's quarterly assessment of grains and rice said that, if optimistic crop forecasts hold, this year's cereal production, bolstered by carry-over stock from last season, should be adequate to cover the world's projected needs for 2010/2011.
International wheat prices kept rising last month even though cereal production for this year is expected to be the third largest ever, and the global harvest was only 1 percent less than last year's, the report said.
"International prices of grain have surged since the beginning of July in response to drought-reduced crops" including wheat and barley in Russia and Ukraine, and the Russian export ban, the report said.
Except for North Africa, Africa in general was expected to have favorable harvest. China and India are anticipating record crops, although much of that harvest will go to feed those countries' large populations. Also helping to boost the wheat supply outlook are good production prospects for Australia.
The Food and Agriculture Organization said the latest forecast for world cereal stocks in 2011 has been revised upward to nearly 184 million tons, 3 million tons more than perviously anticipated, but still down from 9 percent from their 8-year high opening level.
Pakistan's rice crop has been devastated by the vast flooding there, and in Mongolia extreme cold killed 6 million head of livestock out of 44 million, hurting the livelihood of a half-million people, the report said.
In all, crop failure, natural disasters, conflict or high food prices, mean some 30 countries need outside help to feed their people, the organization's assessment found.
Associated Press writer Francesca Prosperi contributed to this report.