World Bank warns against complacency amid high food prices and hunger

World Bank warns against complacency amid high food prices and hunger

Otaviano Canuto, World Bank Group’s Vice President for Poverty Reduction and Economic Management

The World Bank has said the world could not accept the high and volatile food prices to be the norm while millions of people continued to suffer from hunger and die from malnutrition.

This was contained in a statement by the World Bank made available to the Ghana News Agency on Saturday.

The statement quoted Otaviano Canuto, World Bank Group’s Vice President for Poverty Reduction and Economic Management as saying: “A new norm of high prices seems to be consolidating, and the world cannot afford to be complacent to this trend while 870 million people still live in hunger and millions of children die every year from preventable diseases caused by malnutrition.”

It said the latest edition of the World Bank Group’s Food Price Watch report, published quarterly, recorded global food prices as stabilizing following last July’s record peak.

It said in October prices were five percent below that peak, which were driven down by fats and oils, with more modest declines in grains.

The World Band emphasized that seasonal increase in supplies, the absence of panic policies such as food export restrictions and better expectations for the future are behind such trends, although markets remain tight in general.

It said nonetheless, prices remain at high levels – seven percent higher than a year ago – with grains been expensive.

According to the Bank’s statement, maize for instance was 17 percent higher than in October 2011 and 10 percent above the record-high prices of February 2011, despite their decrease of three percent between August and October.

“Although we haven’t seen a food crisis as the one of 2008, food security should remain a priority. We need additional efforts to strengthen nutrition programs, safety nets, and sustainable agriculture, especially when the right actions can bring about exceptional benefits,” it said.

According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and others, 870 million people live with chronic undernourishment, an unchanged figure since 2007-2009, and behind the necessary improvement to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of hungry people by 2015, it said.

The statement said child malnutrition also accounted for more than a third of the mortality burden of children under the age of five, and malnutrition during pregnancy for more than 20 percent of maternal mortality.

It, therefore, called for programmes to improve nutrition which would help improve on cognitive development and learning, contributing to the empowerment of women and maternal health, reduce the negative interaction of malnutrition and infectious diseases and increase economic growth.

According to the Food Price Watch, the weather would determine food prices in the near future, along with other factors, such as oil prices and the extent of emerging export competition, the statement said.

It said by June 30, 2012, the new World Bank Group (WBG) commitments to agriculture and related sectors reached over nine billion dollars, that exceeded projected lending in the bank’s Agriculture Action Plan.

It said in response to drought in the Horn of Africa, the International Development Association is providing .8 billion to save lives, improve social protection, and foster economic recovery and drought resilience.

The statement said the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has invested one billion dollars in the Critical Commodities Finance Program, aimed to support trade in key agricultural and energy-related goods, to help reduce the risk of food and energy shortages, as well as improve food security for the world’s poorest.

It said, additionally, IFC’s Agricultural Price Risk Mechanism (APRM) ensures protection from volatile food prices for farmers, food producers, and consumers in developing countries.

It held that the IFC’s Global Warehouse Finance Program allows famers to get needed financing quickly by borrowing against receipts they obtained for crop deliveries to warehouses.

It said the Bank was supporting the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, set up in April 2010 at G20’s request.

The statement said the Global Food Price Crisis Response Program has reached 66 million people in 49 countries and that the World Bank is coordinating with UN agencies to improve food market transparency and help governments make informed responses to global food price spikes.

It said the World Bank was creating advocacy for more investment in agriculture research–through the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) – and monitoring agricultural trade to identify potential food shortages.

It said the World Bank was supporting improved nutrition among vulnerable groups through community nutrition programs by providing some 2.3 million school meals every day to children in low income countries.