Governments would achieve much better results in the fight against poverty and hunger if they spent less on short-term relief measures like subsidies and more on longer-term items such agricultural research, a United Nations agency said Thursday.

Many developing countries help farmers buy seeds and fertilizer at discounted prices. In Zambia, 37 per cent of the agriculture budget was spent in this way in 2005, while in India the share was as high as 75 per cent, according to 2002 data.

“Such subsidies may be politically popular, but they are not usually the best use of public funds,” the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in its annual The State of Food and Agriculture report.

Shifting just 10 per cent of agricultural spending away from subsidies, in favour of “public goods” such as research on more efficient farming, better roads and education, “would increase per capita agricultural incomes by 5 per cent,” FAO said.

Separately, the Rome-based agency said its international food price index dropped by 3 points to 211 from October to November - a five-month low.

“Except for dairy, international prices of all the commodity groups ... fell in November, with sugar undergoing the sharpest dip, followed by oils and cereals,” FAO said in a statement.

Boosting agricultural output and keeping food prices low is key to reduce hunger and poverty. In October, FAO estimated that 868

million people -12.5 per cent of the global population - had not enough to eat over the 2010-2012 period. -Sapa-dpa