ROME – Food prices remained virtually steady in April after falling in March following eight months of successive increases, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) announced. Although the FAO Food Price Index averaged 232 points in April, which was not much different from March, it was still 36 percent above April 2010 and only 2 percent below its peak in February 2011.

Although at a record level, the FAO Meat Price Index remained stable as compared to a revised estimate of 172 points in March.

Falling sugar prices and a decline in rice helped stabilize the index, but international prices of nearly all other food commodities remained firm.

"A sliding dollar and increased oil prices are contributing to high food commodity prices, particularly grains," said David Hallam, director of FAO's trade and market division. "With demand continuing strong, prospects for a return to more normal prices hinge largely on how much production will increase in 2011 and how much grain reserves are replenished in the new season."

There was little change in the index because although international grain prices increased sharply in April, the increase was more than offset by declines in dairy, sugar and rice, while oils and meat prices were mostly unchanged.

The FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 265 points, up 5.5 percent from March and 71 percent from April 2010. Maize prices increased 11 percent and wheat increased four percent in April 2011 as a result of unfavorable weather and planting delays. But large export supplies kept rice prices under downward pressure.

Falling nearly 7 percent in March, the FAO Oils/Fats Price Index was nearly unchanged in April. The FAO Sugar Price Index averaged nearly 348 points, down 7 percent from March and 17 percent below its January record.

The FAO Dairy Price Index averaged 229 points, down 2.4 percent from March. A good start of the northern hemisphere season has prevented prices from rising after seven months of steady growth.