UN experts have highlighted the continuing global food price crisis, which has not been abated by the economic downturn and the associated decline in the price of oil.

Economists from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) told a WTO agriculture committee meeting that its global food price index is still 51% higher than in September 2006, albeit at its lowest for nine months.

Many countries face food import bills 125% higher than five years ago, officials said.

Some of these problems are global, such as high cereal prices and freight cost surges, while some more focused on the developing world, especially Africa, such as lower local production and declining food aid.

Compounding the situation, there have been bad harvests in Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho, North Korea and elsewhere, while war and civil conflict has knocked production in Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and others.

International Monetary Fund experts added swinging food prices "weakened macroeconomic fundamentals in many countries, leaving them more susceptible to financial contagion and consequent [economic] slowdown".