JOHANNESBURG — A few pennies' increase in the price of a loaf of bread can mean the difference between getting by and going hungry — and erupting in anger — in the world's poorest countries.
A spike in food prices has triggered deadly riots in Mozambique this week, and experts worry other countries that saw such unrest during the last global food crisis in 2008 could be hit again. Over the past two months alone, food prices worldwide have risen 5 percent.
"I think everyone is wondering if we are going to have a repeat of 2008 when... there were food riots around the world," said Johanna Nesseth Tuttle, director of the Global Food Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Countries from Asia, to the Middle East to Europe are feeling the strain.
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* In Egypt, where half the population depends on subsidized bread, recent protests over rising food prices left at least one person dead. The crisis could affect upcoming parliamentary elections because the regime's increasingly tenuous legitimacy rests on its ability to provide the masses with cheap bread.
* In Pakistan, the prices of many food items have risen by 15 percent or more following devastating floods that destroyed a fifth of the country's crops and agricultural infrastructure. Flooding has also hit distribution networks, leading to shortages.
* In China, officials are threatening to punish price gougers, while in Serbia, a 30 percent hike in the price of cooking oil reported for next week has led to warnings of demonstrations by trade unions.
International food prices have risen to their highest levels in two years, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said Wednesday, reporting a 5 percent increase between July and August alone. The Rome-based agency also forecast this year's wheat crop at 648 million tons, down 5 percent from 2009, reflecting a cut in drought-hit Russia's harvest.
The United States, Canada and other countries have had good harvests and supplies are sufficient, said Maximo Torero, an expert on markets and trade with the International Food Policy Research Institute. He added that what must be avoided are panicky policy decisions, like banning exports.