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High food prices a major
global challenge: World Bank chief
15 April, 2011
Rising food prices is a major
challenge across the globe, which needs multilateral efforts
to address it, World Bank President Robert Zoellick said.
"We may be coming out of one crisis - the financial and
economic crisis - but we are facing new risks and wrenching
challenges high and volatile food prices; high fuel prices
with knock-on effects for food and, through food for
stability; political upheaval in the Middle East and North
Africa; turmoil in Cote d'Ivoire; repeated natural disasters;
rising inflation in emerging markets with some risks of
overheating; sovereign debt issues in Europe," Zoellick told
reporters at a news conference in Washington on Thursday.
Noting that the high and volatile food price is the biggest
threat to the poor around the world, he said the numbers tell
a grim story of persistent grinding pressure on the world's
"Food prices were not the cause of the crises in the Middle
East and North Africa, but they are an aggravating factor. Our
latest Food Price Watch shows that there is double-digit food
price inflation in Egypt and Syria. It shows that commodity
price spikes particularly hurt poor countries," he said.
Zoellick said data from 46 countries from 2007 to 2010
suggests that low and low-middle-income countries have
experienced higher levels of food price inflation compared to
upper-middle and high-income countries, particularly when
international prices spike.
"With food prices, we are at a real tipping point. Food prices
are 36 per cent above the levels of a year ago and remain
close to the 2008 peak. Already 44 million people have fallen
into poverty since June of last year," he warned.
"If the Food Price Index rises by just another 10 per cent, we
estimate another 10 million people will fall into extreme
poverty that is where people live on less than USD 1.25 a day.
A 30 per cent increase would add 34 million more people to the
world's poor, who number 1.2 billion," he said.
Zoellick said the G20 can play a leading role in this.
"I believe multilateralism must be focused on doing real
things in the short term while building toward mid and
longer-term actions," he said adding that France has made a
top priority for its Presidency of the G20 the topic of food.
"We are working closely with the G20, and I believe we can
take a number of important steps that will help in two key
areas food price volatility and food security. We are going to
be using these meetings with the G187 to help prepare the
way," he said.
Noting that more can be done on the production side, too,
Zoellick said the World Bank is now investing about USD 7
billion a year in improving agricultural production, from
seeds to irrigation to storage.
And we are investing all across the value chain.
"One area of focus is agricultural research helping to develop
better seeds. We are discussing with France and the G20 about
perhaps intersecting that with some of the anxieties about
climate change and reviewing some of the research priorities
as we boost support for the 15 key research centres in
agricultural research around the globe," he said.
Zoellick said these goals are achievable in coming months and
he is looking for results at the meeting of G20 agriculture
ministers in France in June.
"I look forward to continuing to work with the French and
others to make this happen. One of the key areas related to
the food situation is the turmoil in the Middle East and North
Africa. While there will be varying speed and scope to the
initiatives in each country, the World Bank Group is focused
on listening and helping countries move ahead," he said.