The United Nations warned Tuesday of a possible repeat of the 2007-2008 food crisis and called on world leaders to act quickly to prevent a catastrophe which would affect tens of millions of people.

"The current situation in world food markets, characterized by sharp increases in maize, wheat and soybean prices, has raised fears of a repeat of the 2007-2008 world food crisis," the UN'sfood agencies said in a statement.

"But swift, coordinated international action can stop that from happening. We need to act urgently to make sure that these price shocks do not turn into a catastrophe hurting tens of millions over the coming months," they said.

There are fears that the drought in the United States, which has pushed grain prices to record highs, could spark another crisis like the one seen in 2007-2008, which pushed the total number of hungry people to over a billion.

In the statement, released by the Rome-based Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the agencies said leaders must tackle both the issue of high food prices as well as the question of how food is produced and consumed.

The latter is particularly important "in an age of increasing population, demand and climate change," the report said.

"Countries must avoid panic buying and refrain from imposing export restrictions which, while temporarily helping some consumers at home, are generally inefficient and make life difficult for everyone else," it warned.

Along with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and World Food Programme (WFP), the FAO recommended governments develop existing resources, such as safety nets to safeguard against price shocks and crises.

These include assistance for smallholder farmers, nutritional support to mothers and children, and school meals, it said.