Higher food prices risk wiping out progress toward reducing poverty and, if allowed to escalate, could hurt global growth and security, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday.
Opening a United Nations trade and development conference here, Ban pledged to use the full force of the world body he heads to tackle the price increases, which have already sparked riots in Asia, Africa and Haiti.
“I will immediately establish a high-powered task force comprised of eminent experts and leading authorities to address this issue,” Ban said Sunday, a day after a group of the world’s 49 least-developed countries called for such a team.
He warned the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development meeting that huge increases in prices of staples such as cereals since last year could erase progress made toward goals set by the U.N. of halving global poverty by 2015.
“The problem of global food prices could mean seven lost years . . . for the Millennium Development Goals,” he said. “We risk being set back to square one.”
Steps by several countries to ban exports of rice and wheat or introduce incentives for food imports also threatened to distort international trade and aggravate shortages, Ban said.
“If not handled properly, this crisis could result in a cascade of others . . . and become a multidimensional problem affecting economic growth, social progress and even political security around the world,” he said.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick has warned that rising food prices could push at least 100 million people in low-income countries into poverty.
West African countries such as Ghana have been among the worst affected by rising food prices caused by factors such as poor harvests, record fuel prices, growing demand and tight international supplies. Countries throughout the region, from Mauritania to Cameroon, have witnessed food riots.
Ghanaian President John Kufuor expressed hope that the conference would allow developing countries to strengthen economic cooperation and trade, and increase pressure on rich countries to end agricultural subsidies, which worsened poverty in Africa.