World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick today said a Rome summit should commit to helping the twenty most vulnerable countries in the coming weeks before soaring food prices push millions more into poverty or malnutrition.
Outlining three priority actions for the Rome meeting on the food crisis, Mr. Zoellick said the agencies and governments at the meeting should also commit to getting seeds and fertilizer out to smallholder farmers in the coming planting months and agree on an international call to scrap food export bans and restrictions.
"Globally, we have estimated that this crisis could push 100 million people into poverty - 30 million in Africa alone," Mr. Zoellick told the summit. "This is not a natural catastrophe. It is man-made and can be fixed by us. It does not take complex research. We know what has to be done. We just need action and resources in real-time."
Mr. Zoellick said the World Bank had worked with the U.N.'s World Food Program and Food and Agriculture Organization to assess the needs of 28 countries with another 15 such exercises still ongoing. This work had identified 20 countries which required immediate assistance by the time of the Group of Eight meeting in July.
"This means safety net support, school feeding, food for work, maternal and child programs, conditional cash transfers and budget support," said Mr. Zoellick. "This can be done through the WFP, UNICEF, the FAO and Development Banks. After the direct food assistance of the WFP, this is where funding should go."
Another priority in the coming months was getting seeds and fertilizers to those developing countries where smallholder farmers could expand production this season. Fifteen priority countries had been identified by Africans for fast-track distribution.
As a third priority Mr. Zoellick said 28 countries had imposed food export bans. These and other restrictions encouraged hoarding and drove up prices, thereby hurting the poorest people. He urged countries to immediately lift restrictions and taxes for humanitarian food purchases and transportation, and for food shipments to less developed and fragile countries.
"If we take just these three actions, those of us gathered here in Rome can make the difference between millions having food on the table, or going without. The choice is clear", he said.
Looking ahead to the G8 Summit in July, Zoellick said leaders should address the longer-term challenge of doubling global food production over the next 30 years. Mr. Zoellick has outlined measures to tackle the food crisis in a column published last week in the Financial Times newspaper. His 10 point plan calls for boosting developing country agricultural products and productivity so developing countries could benefit from the growing demand for food. As part of this longer-term strategy, agricultural research could triple yields and new risk management tools would be deployed to protect poor farmers. Easing bio-fuel subsidies, mandates and tariffs, and closing the Doha trade round should also be part of these longer-term measures.
To support this agenda, the World Bank last week created a new Global Food Crisis Response Facility to fast-track $1.2 billion to address immediate needs arising from the food crisis, including $200 million of grants for especially vulnerable countries. Grant operations have been approved for Haiti, Djibouti and Liberia; operations are being processed for Togo, Tajikistan and Yemen. The Bank announced that overall, the World Bank Group will expand assistance for agriculture and food-related activities from $4 billion to $6 billion over the coming year.