World food prices rise slightly in March

World food prices edged slightly higher in March, their first rise so far this year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Thursday, though prices stayed within the narrow price band where they have stayed since November. With rice prices almost unchanged from February, the cereals index -- the largest single component in the overall index -- was unchanged compared to February. Prices for oils and fats fell 5 percent in March, while meat prices fell slightly.

But those components were not enough to offset a surprising 10.4-percent jump in world dairy prices, sparked by hot weather conditions in southern hemisphere countries, especially New Zealand.

It was one of the largest one-month increases in a single index since FAO started tracking prices more than 20 years ago. Sugar prices also rose, but only slightly.

Overall, the FAO World Food Price Index closed March at 212 points, within the narrow range of 210 to 212 points where it has stayed for the last five months. But FAO officials said there was a risk prices could increase further in April, especially if dairy prices continue to surge.

Despite the increase in March, the index remained nearly 2 percent below its level a year ago, and nearly 11 percent below its all-time peak from February 2011.

FAO's World Food Price Index is calculated monthly based on average monthly prices in the five main food commodity groups in 55 key markets worldwide, weighted for the export shares for each group.

Philippines News agency