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Jeff Palmer's mission to help alleviate the global food crisis recently took him to Zimbabwe, which is plagued by astronomical inflation and political unrest.

"There are grocery stores with no food on the shelves," said Palmer, director of Baptist Global Response, which administers the Southern Baptist Convention's world hunger programs. "People work all day and they can only afford a half pound of food because of the lack of buying power."

The southern African nation represents just one of many such strained economies. Food riots in places like Bangladesh, Egypt, and Haiti symbolize what the United Nations World Food Program has called a "silent tsunami"— a crisis that has confronted 854 million people with food shortages and spiraling food prices.

Citing an 83 percent rise in commodities over the past three years, in late April the U.N. formed a task force on global food insecurity, bringing together heads of key U.N. agencies, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and others.

A combination of high oil prices, crops diverted to bio-fuels, droughts, natural disasters, increased demand, and other factors--such as crop diseases and the die-off of honey bees in the U.S. — have contributed to the problem, said Baylor University economics professor Earl Grinols. Although he sees markets adjusting to meet the need, Grinols said, "We should expect we'll see tight conditions for two more years."

"Some would say it's the perfect storm," said Sam Dixon, deputy general secretary of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), which works with food projects in 92 countries. "Our ability to provide support is less than it was six months ago."

The situation has spurred former Ohio Congressman Tony Hall to ask legislators ...

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