UNITED NATIONS - Urgent action is needed to ensure rising world food prices don’t turn into a catastrophe, the U.N. said Tuesday, but it cautioned that panic buying and export restrictions aren’t the solution.

Summer droughts have scorched crops across the globe, causing sharp increases in the price of corn, wheat and soybeans and raising fears of a repeat of the 2007-08 world food crisis. But such problems could be prevented by swift, coordinated international action, the heads of three UN agenies — Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)  said.

Last week the World Bank said world food prices jumped 10% in July, as U.S. corn and soybean production has suffered in the grip of a record-breaking drought. Similar conditions in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have taken a toll on wheat production.

“The current situation in world food markets, characterized by sharp increases in maize, wheat and soybean prices, has raised fears of a repeat of the 2007-2008 world food crisis. But swift, coordinated international action can stop that from happening,” FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousins, and IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze, said in the statement.

The UN officials stressed that to prevent a food crisis it is necessary to address both immediate and long-term issues. In the short-term, they stated that there must be a coordinated response by food producers to deal with spikes in food prices, and an improvement in the transparency of global markets.

“Countries must avoid panic buying and refrain from imposing export restrictions which, while temporarily helping some consumers at home, are generally inefficient and make life difficult for everyone else,” the officials stated.

“Above all, however, we must understand that high food prices are a symptom, and not the disease. So while the international community must take early action to prevent excessive price increases, it should also move to act on the root causes behind such surges.”

In the long-term, the trio noted that policies should focus on issues such as the increasing global population and climate change, which has led to droughts and floods in many countries, affecting food production.

In the statement, they also highlighted the role that smallholder farmers play in ensuring food security, and called on countries to support smallholder agriculture and provide citizens with social protection systems to ensure vulnerable populations have enough to eat.

“Smallholder farmers, many of whom are also poor and food insecure, can be enabled to benefit from higher food prices and become part of the solution by reducing price spikes and improving overall food security,” said  Graziano da Silva, Ms. Cousins and Nwanze.

They added, “We have thus adopted a twin-track approach which supports long-term investments in agriculture, notably smallholder agriculture, while ensuring that safety-nets are in place to help poor food consumers and producers avoid hunger, asset losses and poverty traps in the short run.”

Nutritional support for mothers and children as well as school meals and assistance to smallholder farmers are some of the policies that the three UN officials considered essential to safeguard against recurring price shock and crises.

In addition, the officials urged countries to implement sustainable food policies in poor, food-importing countries, where there is great potential to improve production. This, they said, would make “more food available in local markets and provide jobs and income, especially in rural areas where 70 per cent of the world’s poor live.”