Cereal production sets new record in 2008: UN agency

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Dec 18 2008 10:39 PM | Updated as of Dec 19 2008 06:39 AM

ROME - Cereal production has set a new record in 2008 at 2.24 billion tonnes, a 5.4 percent increase over last year, the United Nations food agency said on Thursday.

Developed countries account for most of the increase, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a report, adding that output in poor countries had risen only "marginally".

While international grain prices have continued to fall in recent months, food prices remain high in developing countries, the Rome-based agency said.

Prices are still rising in some countries, "affecting the food security of large numbers of vulnerable populations," said the report titled "Crop Prospects and Food Situation."

"In Afghanistan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, prices of food staples are twice or more their levels of a year earlier," it added.

Despite the record production, 33 countries "are estimated to be in need of external assistance as a result of crop failures, conflict or insecurity and high domestic food prices," the report said.

It singled out Zimbabwe, where the FAO estimates some 5.1 million people face food insecurity, and North Korea, where "an estimated 8.7 million people, or around 40 percent of the population, urgently need food assistance."

In Zimbabwe, a devastating cholera outbreak "poses an additional serious threat to health and nutrition of the vulnerable population," the FAO said.