UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for a huge rise in food production Tuesday as world leaders started a summit on the food price crisis that threatens to plunge millions more people into poverty.
The UN secretary general said food output had to rise 50 percent by 2030 to meet rising demand, increased finance for agriculture and the elimination of "trade and taxation policies that distort markets."
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda urged fellow world leaders to release excess stockpiles of food to ease shortages in poorer countries, offering more than 300,000 tonnes of imported rice held by Japan.
"I believe that this not only constitutes an emergency response measure towards food shortages, but also serves as a short-term measure to return some degree of equilibrium to the food market," he told the summit.
Ban said it was also essential for the Doha round of World Trade Organization talks to be completed as quickly as possible to alleviate the crisis.
"We have a historic opportunity to revitalise agriculture," Ban told some 50 heads of state and government, gathered for the three-day summit.
"I call on you to take bold and urgent steps to address the root causes of this global food crisis," he said at the Food and Agriculture Organization headquarters in Rome.
With food prices at a 30-year high, the UN secretary general warned that while the world must "respond immediately," it must also put the long-term focus on "improving food security."
Food prices have doubled in three years, according to the World Bank, sparking riots in Egypt and Haiti and in many African nations. Brazil, Vietnam, India and Egypt have all imposed food export restrictions.
Rising use of biofuels, trade restrictions, increased demand from Asia to serve changing diets, poor harvests and increasing transport costs have all been blamed for the price rise.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick has said two billion people across the world are struggling with high food prices, and 100 million extra people in poor countries may be pushed into poverty by the crisis.
The summit opened amid controversy over the presence of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Britain's International Development Minister Douglas Alexander said he would snub Mugabe at the summit, telling AFP his attendance was "obscene."
UN agencies have launched appeals for more than one billion dollars to alleviate the food crisis. Saudi Arabia has already given 500 million dollars to a World Food Programme appeal.
But the charity Oxfam has accused the international community of spending a "pittance" on supporting agriculture in developing countries compared to the huge support given to farmers in rich Western countries.
Oxfam stressed that European and North American biofuel policies are only one of several factors causing higher food prices.
Estimates vary on the extent to which demand for biofuels has pushed up food prices, ranging from 30 percent by some experts to less than three percent according to the US Agriculture Department.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva defended biofuels, saying they could be an "important tool" against food insecurity.
"Biofuels are not bandits ... We must remove the smokescreen of powerful lobbies that blame ethanol production for the rise in food prices. It's a mockery, an affront," he said.
FAO Director General Jacques Diouf lamented the failure to reach a goal set by the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome of reducing the number of hungry by half by 2015.
“With current trends, the summit's goal will be attained in 2150 instead of 2015," he said.