Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Wednesday proposed the creation of a food reserve among Muslim countries to guard against shortages and improve food security in the Islamic world.
Nazarbayev proposed that Kazakhstan, the world's largest flour exporter, should play host to a grouping of Muslim countries analogous to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Rising bread prices, compounded by crop failures in Russia and other grain-growing countries, helped fuel the protests that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt this year and provoked further unrest across parts of the Arab world.
Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia where 70 per cent of the 16.4 million population is Muslim, this year holds the rotating chairmanship of the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan for more than 20 years, told an Islamic economic forum: "In order to reinforce food security, I propose we work out a system of food aid within the framework of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference."
"I propose that we accommodate such an organisation in Kazakhstan, as a country that is actively developing its food export potential," 70-year-old Nazarbayev told the forum.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, addressing the forum, said food security was among a number of issues "of special interest and concern to the Muslim world."
Ismail Omar Guelleh, president of Djibouti, said that 22 of the OIC's 57 member states ranked among the least developed in the world and suffered from a deficit of food products.
Kazakhstan, by contrast, is a net exporter of grain. With annual domestic grain consumption in the region of 2.5 million tonnes, the vast steppe nation has averaged a crop of 17 million tonnes over the last five years.
It ranked the world's seventh-largest wheat exporter in the last marketing year and plans next season to match or exceed the 6 million tonnes planned for export in the current season.
Though its 2010 crop also fell victim to the drought that prompted Russia to halt exports -- a ban that is due to expire on July 1 -- Kazakhstan managed to fill part of this shortfall, increasing exports to Azerbaijan and Turkey in particular.
The country is also seeking investment to develop a meat industry that would allow it to raise annual beef exports to 60,000 tonnes by 2016 from virtually nil today.
Nazarbayev also proposed the creation of an "Islamic G10" to improve investment opportunities for the world's leading Muslim economies. He said more cooperation was needed in the field of scientific and technological innovation.
"With the aim of creating a new direction for economic cooperation, we propose the creation of a platform for dialogue among the group of 10 leading economies of the Muslim community," he told the forum in Kazakhstan's capital Astana