World to Dodge El Nino’s Spur to Cost of Food: Chart of the Day

The El Nino weather pattern that led to rising food prices in five of its last six occurrences won’t likely have the same effect this year as nations have stockpiled staples such as rice and sugar, according to the United Nations.

The CHART OF THE DAY shows that the UN Food & Agriculture Organization’s food price index of 55 farm goods gained after El Ninos except in 1997, when cereal stockpiles and output grew to records. Rice inventories now stand at the largest in a decade, palm oil at an all-time high and sugar at the greatest in four years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. The U.S. National Weather Service compiles the El Nino index.

“Inventories are much better, which gives us more room to cope with any crop problems in 2012,” Abdolreza Abbassian, an economist at the FAO, said from Rome. “That’s the cushion, that’s the buffer. The prime target would be rice but rice is the best supplied of all. The impact would be minimal.”

An El Nino may emerge in the second half, said Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. The pattern, caused by warmer surface water in the Pacific Ocean, begins in the Southern Hemisphere’s autumn and usually lasts about a year, according to the bureau.

Food prices that rose on average in 2010 helped spur social disturbances in northern Africa and the Middle East, toppling leaders from Tunisia to Egypt the following year. Inflation in food costs triggered more than 60 riots worldwide from 2007 to 2009, according to the U.S. State Department.

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