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Surging food costs hit poorer nations

Associated Press / June 7, 2010

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BEIJING — Families from Pakistan to Argentina to Congo are being battered by surging food prices that are dragging more people into poverty, fueling political tensions, and forcing some to give up eating meat and fruit.

Scraping to afford the next meal is still a grim daily reality in the developing world even though the global food crisis that dominated headlines in 2008 quickly faded in the United States and other rich countries.

With food costing up to 70 percent of the family income in the poorest countries, rising prices are squeezing household budgets and threatening to worsen malnutrition, while inflation stays moderate in the United States and Europe.

Compounding the problem in many countries: Prices hardly fell from their peaks in 2008, when global food costs jumped in part due to a smaller US wheat harvest and demand for crops to use in biofuels.

Majeedan Begum, a Pakistani mother of five, said a bag of flour for bread, the staple of her family’s diet, costs three times what it did two years ago in her hometown of Multan.

She can no longer afford meat or fruit.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s food price index — which includes grains, meat, dairy, and other items in 90 countries — was up 22 percent in March from a year earlier though still below 2008 levels.

In some Asian markets, rice and wheat prices are 20 percent to 70 percent above 2008 levels, the index says.

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