Developing countries whose economies rely heavily on agriculture are calling for more transparency and support to fight against price volatility and to protect their products in the international market, FAO officials said Monday.
At a meeting organised by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome, some 30 ministers in the sector, especially from Africa, also stressed the need to improve the productivity and competitiveness of their countries' agriculture.
"For 40 years we have seen food prices double or triple, and despite the fact they came down over the last six months they are much higher than they were before 2012," said FAO Director General Jose Graziano da Silva.
But he added that the volatility of food prices tends to mask other structural difficulties, especially how access to markets is hindered for small producers of raw commodities, nearly a billion around the world, who get left by the wayside.
From coffee to cacao to cotton, these markets involve "raw material produced by small holders but marketed by high value chains dominated by large international chains," said David Hallam, director of markets and trade at the FAO.
Maham Zoungrana, agriculture minister of Burkina Faso, cited as an example his own country's key cotton production, which is constantly under threat from competition by northern countries subsiding the production, including the United States.
"This dysfunction threatens prosperity and peace in the world," he said in calling on the FAO for support.
Malawi's minister Allan Chiyembekeza also spoke about the plight of Africa's small farmers.
"Most small farmers face constraints: low productivity, low compliance to market demands," he said.
They lack information and "the international process is not transparent enough," he said, stressing that "the FAO is the relevant body to provide information."
Each country's government also has a direct role to play "in creating market opportunities and link the small producers to markets," he added.
For James Sasy, agriculture minister of Sierra Leone which depends heavily on cacao and coffee, production this year has been greatly disrupted by the deadly Ebola virus outbreak in west Africa.
"Ebola has a serious impact on the agriculture sector and seriously disrupts the production because the people really affected are the farmers," he said.
"The support is not enough, we still need more from countries and from aid organisations," he added.
FAO's Graziano said the UN agency will "promote food production and protection to make sure people have access to the food they need."
The FAO meeting, the third since 2012, takes place as the price of grains and soja have hit their lowest level since 2010 due to an abundance of the crops available on the world market, after rising sharply in three of the past five years.