Bad weather, violent conflict and volatile market prices could force a drop in the global production of cereal crops this year, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has said.
Drought and high food prices in much of the developing world coupled with a diversion to bio-fuels and high planting costs in the West might reduce grain production in most of the world's major producers.
The latest issue of FAO's Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, relesed on Thursday, warns that acute food shortages persist in 32 countries worldwide and points to the situation in the Gaza Strip as cause for concern.
In Eastern Africa, more than 18 million people face serious food insecurity either due to conflict, unrest, adverse weather or a combination of factors, while in Southern Africa the total number of people fighting food scarcity is estimated at 8.7 million.
The report stresses that in Kenya, Somalia and Zimbabwe, the situation is very serious due to various factors such as drought, civil unrest and economic crises.
The outlook for cereal crop production in low-income countries with food shortages is gloomy, with a likely reduction in maize crops in Southern Africa, and prolonged dry spells affecting wheat farmers in Asia. Almost half of China's winter wheat harvest is already suffering from severe drought and India is experiencing a lack of rainfall.