Food Prices Push 44 Million Into Poverty: World Bank

WASHINGTON -- Rising global food prices has pushed an estimated 44 million more people into extreme poverty in developing countries over the past eight months, the World Bank said Tuesday.

The poverty-fighting institution said its food price index increased by 15 per cent between October, 2010, and January, 2011, and is just 3 per cent below its 2008 peak during the last food price crisis.

But unlike during the 2007-2008 food crisis, higher prices have not yet affected all regions of the world.

Across Asia and in some parts of Latin America and Eastern Europe countries, costlier food is pushing up inflation pressures, while good harvests of staple foods in Sub-Saharan Africa has so far spared that region from rising prices.

"Higher maize, sugar, and oil prices have contributed to increase the costs of various types of food, though local maize prices have largely been stable in sub-Saharan Africa," the World Bank said in an updated Food Price Watch report.

The report came days before a meeting of the Group of 20 major economies in Paris, where higher food prices is expected to be discussed.

Catastrophic storms and droughts have hurt the world's leading agriculture-producing countries, including flooding and a massive cyclone in Australia, major winter storms in the United States, and fires last year in Russia.

Crunching the numbers from 28 household surveys in poorer countries, the World Bank noted that in one-half of the samples it looked at, poverty increased by more than 0.5 percentage points due to rising food prices. In eight countries, poverty rose by more than 1 percentage point.

In Tajikistan, poverty is expected to rise by more than 3.6 percentage points due to higher food prices, and in Pakistan, a 1.9 percentage point increase in poverty is mostly due to higher wheat prices, the World Bank said.

The bank, speaking days before the G20 finance ministers meeting, said the international community should take steps to calm jittery commodity markets. It also urged poor nations to scale up social programs to ensure that the poor are protected from the rising prices.

The Bank said rich donor countries needed to focus food aid to countries such as Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, which face large food price spikes.

Meanwhile, countries that are large net commodity importers with low international foreign exchange reserves and limited space in their budgets may need funding to help them deal with rising food prices, the World Bank cautioned.

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