Soaring global food prices threaten to push tens of millions of Asians into extreme poverty and cut the region's economic growth this year, the Asian Development Bank warned in a report.
Coupled with skyrocketing oil prices, the spike poses a serious setback for developing Asia after having rebounded rapidly and strongly from the 2008 global economic crisis, chief ADB economist Rhee Changyong said on Tuesday.
"Left unchecked, the food crisis will badly undermine recent gains in poverty reduction made in Asia," Rhee said in a statement.
Domestic food inflation in developing Asian nations hit 10 percent at the start of this year, the report said, a rate the Manila-based institution said could push 64 million people into extreme poverty.
The report cited double-digit rises in the price of wheat, corn, sugar, edible oils, dairy products and meat at the start of the year.
If the 10-percent inflation persists for the rest of the year, as is likely in the next few months, economic growth in the region could be reduced by up to 1.5 percentage points, it added.
The report warned factors at play during the 2007 to 2008 food crisis were also present now, as grain stocks fell.
These include rising demand for food from big, wealthier developing countries, competing uses for food grains, shrinking available agricultural land, and stagnant or declining crop yields, it said.
The report warned the price of rice, the staple cereal for 3.3 billion people in Asia, would likely keep rising as bad weather cut yields, prompting consumers to seek cheaper but less nutritious substitutes.
"To avert this looming crisis it is important for countries to refrain from imposing export bans on food items, while strengthening social safety nets," Rhee said.
"Efforts to stabilise food production should take centre stage, with greater investments in agricultural infrastructure to increase crop production and expand storage facilities, to better ensure grain produce is not wasted."