World Bank steps up to offset price surges

May 16, 2011

Food affordability worsens for many millions of poor subsisting on the food edge globally – while 1.3 billion tons are wasted each year.

While much of America gorges its way into obesity, it is sobering to note that life on a food precipice is reality for many millions worldwide. High and volatile food prices  – up 36% in the past year  –  threaten their viability.

Since last June, food price hikes drove 44 million more people into extreme poverty (below $1.25 U.S. per day). A 10% further rise would put another 10 million people below this line, and a 30% climb could lead to 34 million more poor.

So states the latest Food Price Watch report from the World Bank Group.

Current prices approach the 2008 peak, due to a 74% price jump in maize, 69% in wheat, 36% in soybeans and 21% in sugar, for example. 

The report blames severe weather events in key grain-exporting nations, along with export restrictions, biofuel allocations, low global stocks, and higher oil prices.

The World Bank Group has committed to give $1.5 billion in support to 40 million people in more than 40 low-income countries  – in the form of new and improved seeds, irrigation and other farm support and food assistance.

It will also up its annual spend on agriculture to $7 billion vs. $4.1 billion in 2008.

Concurrently, the multi-donor Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), which World Bank established in April 2010 at the request of the G20, continues to support country-led agriculture and food security plans and help promote small farmers. It has authorized grants so far worth $321 million for eight countries.  As of now, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and six countries have pledged about $925 million U.S. to the program.

Meanwhile, about one-third of the food produced for human consumption each year is lost or wasted, states the Global Food Losses and Food Waste report, commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations from the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology. That’s approximately 1.3 billion tons.

This is the big picture that reminds us all to reduce food waste, protect the environment, and give when we can so programs like the ones above can keep hunger from ravaging people’s lives  – even when sufferers aren’t visible to us every day, we feel at The Lempert Report.