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ROME - Governments are not doing enough to combat global hunger and "the momentum has been lost", the UN's special rapporteur on the right to food told AFP in an interview on Monday on the eve of World Food Day.
"We do not move forward except when there is a crisis," Olivier De Schutter said on the sidelines of a meeting of the Committee on World Food Security at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome.
The latest figures show 870 million people in the world -- or around one in eight -- are suffering from hunger, an improvement from more than one billion in the early 1990s but still "unacceptably high" according to the FAO.
"Every time there is a crisis, we relaunch efforts but do not implement them. It is is difficult to mobilize people when there is no crisis," he said.
The G20 group of leading world economies last year vowed action to keep global food prices in check but there has been little progress.
"I think the momentum has been lost," said De Schutter, a professor of international law in Belgium who was appointed in 2008.
"Inside the G20 we have great farming powers who believe market reactions will be enough to counter the impact of any crisis and do not see the point in fighting against price volatility," he said.
"I admit I am less hopeful," he said.
Major agricultural exporters in the G20 include Argentina, Australia, Brazil and the United States, as well as the European Union.
World powers will hold a special ministerial meeting on Tuesday to discuss food market volatility hosted by French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll at which a French government source said at least 36 ministers are expected.
Global food prices rose by 1.4 percent in September after holding steady for two months as cereals, meat and dairy prices climbed, according to FAO's Food Price Index, which is still far off the record it reached in February 2011.
While there is currently no crisis like the food price spikes seen in 2007 and 2008, droughts in the United States and Australia are having an impact.
Harvests in Europe and the Black Sea region are also sharply down.
These factors have added to tensions in world commodity markets and pushed up food import costs for some of the world's poorest nations.
"The prices of wheat, soya and corn are affected by climate shocks which will become the norm in the years to come," De Schutter said.
The G20 last year established a new mechanism -- the Rapid Reaction Forum -- aimed at preventing future price crisis by ensuring greater communication between countries and transparency over available reserves.
But the body has never met despite a push by the French government in September to convene a meeting. De Schutter said the problem was that calling a meeting of the forum is seen as effectively announcing a crisis.
"It was a way of reacting against an irrational market but that is what ultimately worked against the mechanism. Any call to meet would be interpreted as panic and risks sending the wrong signals to the markets," he said.
The forum "has to become routine to play a role," he said, adding: "We are in an impossible situation in which we dare not take the initiative to speak."
"Calling a meeting today would be like admitting that we are in a crisis and that is what governments do not want."