UN Body Says Russia, Ukraine To Boost Planted Land in 2008

PARIS -- Russia and Ukraine are set to expand significantly their agricultural plantings this year as higher prices for commodities such as wheat, coarse grains and rice spur farmers to expand their plantings, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said Thursday.

Aggregate output of wheat in the European members of the Commonwealth of Independent States is forecast to rise 13 percent this year to 73 million tons, the organization said in a statement.

The United Nations body and World Bank are taking part in meetings in Paris this week on financing farming in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Russia and Ukraine will expand their wheat plantings this year by 2.4 million hectares to 33.8 million hectares. In Russia alone, total plantings of all grains is expected to reach 46 million hectares this year, 2.6 million hectares more than in 2007, the statement said.

Lured by soaring food prices, corporations -- both domestic and foreign -- have been snapping up land in southern Russia's fertile Black Earth region, replacing inefficient Soviet-style collective farming with modern farming techniques and economies of scale.

Russian government officials recently announced plans to transform the country into the world's leading grain exporter within five years.

High oil prices, changing diets, urbanization, expanding populations, flawed trade policies, extreme weather, growth in biofuel production and speculation have sent food prices soaring worldwide, trigging protests from Africa to Asia and raising fears that millions more will suffer malnutrition.

Internationally, overall food prices have risen 83 percent in three years, according to the World Bank. Part of the increase is the result of adverse weather in major grain-producing regions, with spillover effects on crops and livestock competing for the same land.