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UN: World stares at grave hunger crisis

World grain reserves are so dangerously low that severe weather in the US or other food-exporting countries could trigger a major hunger crisis next year, the United Nations has warned. Missing links of the food chain

world Updated: Oct 15, 2012 01:36 IST

World grain reserves are so dangerously low that severe weather in the US or other food-exporting countries could trigger a major hunger crisis next year, the United Nations has warned.

Failing harvests in the US, Ukraine and other countries this year have eroded reserves to their lowest level since 1974. The US, which has experienced record heatwaves and droughts in 2012, now holds in reserve a historically low 6.5% of the maize that it expects to consume in the next year, says the UN.

"We've not been producing as much as we are consuming. Supplies are now very tight across the world and reserves are at a very low level, leaving no room for unexpected events next year," said Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). With food consumption exceeding the amount grown for six of the past 11 years, countries have run down reserves from an average of 107 days of consumption 10 years ago to under 74 days recently.

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Prices of main food crops such as wheat and maize are now close to those that sparked riots in 25 countries in 2008. FAO figures released this week suggest that 870 million people are malnourished and the food crisis is growing in the Middle East and Africa.

The figures come as one of the world's leading environmentalists issued a warning that the global food supply system could collapse at any point.

This year, for the sixth time in 11 years, the world will consume more food than it produces, largely because of extreme weather in the US and other major food-exporting countries. Oxfam last week said that the price of key staples, including wheat and rice, may double in the next 20 years.

In 2012, according to the FAO, food prices are already at close to record levels, having risen 1.4% in September following an increase of 6% in July.