GLOBAL - Pension funds may have unwittingly stoked a global food crisis due to their increasing interest in commodities, a leading UK aid organisation has said.

Examining the rise in food prices over recent months, Christian Aid said the apparent link between food-price increases and investment in food futures should be examined more closely.

In its report, 'Hungry for Justice: Fighting Starvation in An Age of Plenty', the organisation said the blame for these hikes did not lie with "cowboy speculators", such as hedge fund managers.

"Instead, it may be that some of the more prudent financial actors - institutional investors including pension funds - are responsible for helping drive up food prices globally," it said.

"These investors are not part of some grand conspiracy of greed. There is no malice aforethought in their actions."

However, the report called for an improved understanding of the impact of the futures market on food-price increases, which would allow regulators to act.

The charity blamed deregulation and a search for new investment options in the wake of the dot-com bubble for the influx of investors into commodities indices.

Christian Aid chief policy adviser Alex Cobham said: "A wealth of evidence is emerging that, while at one time commodity prices moved independently of other investments, they have now started responding to the massive amounts of money that have flowed into the market."

The charity's report goes on to quote United Nations research by Olivier De Schutter saying there were numerous causes for the food-price spike that occurred in 2008.

"There is a reason to believe a significant role was played by the entry into markets for derivatives based on food commodities of large, powerful institutional investors such as ... pension funds and investment banks, all of which are generally unconcerned with agricultural market fundamentals," it said.