Rising food prices have been among the triggers for protests in Egypt, Algeria, and elsewhere.
"What is happening in northern Africa seems to be more political in nature,' said Abdolreza Abbassian, an economist and grain specialist with the Food and Agriculture Organization. "Of course, we cannot ignore the food inflation as one of the elements of discontent.'
The group said its food price index was up 3.4 percent in December from a month earlier — the seventh straight month of world food price increases.
"What will probably be identified as a major difference is the duration of the rise,' Abbassian said. "It has been a long one, accompanied by strong volatility.'
But he said the situation is "moderately more comfortable' than in 2008, because of strong harvests, which potentially "can help countries carry on until, hopefully, world markets settle down to normal levels.'
Still, Oxfam said the food price index "should ring alarm bells in capitals around the world.'
"If prices remain high, it will be just a matter of months before the world's poor are hit by another major food price crisis,' Chris Leather, policy adviser for Oxfam, said in a statement.