(dpa) - As rising prices for staple foods have sparked rioting in several countries around the world, a report released Tuesday by a United Nations body called for changing the way agriculture is practiced globally.
"Business as usual is no longer an option," the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) said in the report, which was issued in Paris and several other cities around the world.
The report's conclusion is that the sharing of benefits from increased productivity has not been equitable, and that progress has been achieved at great social and environmental costs.
The report therefore recommends that a greater emphasis be placed on safeguarding natural resources and implementing "agroecological" practices, such as using natural fertilizers and traditional seeds, intensifying natural processes and reducing the distance between agricultural production and the consumer.
The report is the result of three years of cooperation between nearly 400 scientists, authorities from both developing and developed nations and representatives from non-governmental agencies and the private sector.
Its release could not have been more timely, as it comes in the wake of violent demonstrations in several countries, including Haiti, Egypt and Senegal, provoked by record high food prices, particularly of basic foodstuffs such as corn, wheat and rice.
On Monday, the United Nations called for a long-term policy on food grain production in order to avert famine amidst steeply-rising prices that threaten to undermine anti-poverty programmes.
Also on Monday, World Bank President Robert Zoellick called for a "New Deal on global food policy" - a reference to US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal that pulled the United States out of the Depression.
According to the IAASTD report, soybean and wheat prices have risen by 87 and 130 per cent, respectively, since March 2007, while global grain stores are at their lowest-ever levels.
Prices of these and other staple foods are expected to continue to rise because of increased demand, especially in China and India, and because of the use of maize and soybeans for bio-fuels.
In addition, the report warned, "35 per cent of the Earth's severely degraded land has been damaged by agricultural activities."
The report was accepted by 64 countries, including France, Poland, China and India. The United States, Australia and Canada basically agreed with the report, but expressed certain reservations.
The IAASTD was launched in 2002 by the World Bank and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization and is sponsored by five UN agencies, including UNESCO.