Food crisis moves up global agenda at IMF, World Bank meets
US: Rising food prices and their threat to political stability
and development gains captured the attention of world economic leaders
meeting here, with a call to arms launched by the World Bank.
The issue steadily gained prominence during the International
Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meetings over the weekend that
mainly were focused on the unfolding global financial turmoil and
deteriorating economic growth prospects.
The Group of Seven industrialised nations made only passing mention
of the issue, disappointing those who felt the problem needs the
political commitment and leadership of the rich countries to be
The IMF meanwhile called for a united front to put the reeling world
economy back on track, saying “policymakers should continue to respond
to the challenge of dealing with the financial crisis.”
For his part, World Bank president Robert Zoellick said millions of
people could be at greater risk because of soaring food costs and urged
governments to act now so that a bigger price would not have to be paid
“We estimate that a doubling of food prices over the last three years
could potentially push 100 million people in low-income countries deeper
into poverty,” Zoellick said at the end of the World Bank spring meeting
“This is not just a question about short-term needs, as important as
those are. This is about ensuring that future generations don’t pay a
IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned: “As we know, learning from
the past, those kind of questions sometimes end in war.”
As the international meetings wrapped, US President George. W. Bush
turned to the growing global food crisis and on Monday authorised the
release of 200 million dollars in emergency food aid.
“This additional food aid will address the impact of rising commodity
prices on US emergency food aid programs, and be used to meet
unanticipated food aid needs in Africa and elsewhere,” White House press
secretary Dana Perino said in a statement.
Even as the IMF and World Bank met over the weekend, there were more
protests in developing countries against the soaring price of food,
especially in Haiti where the prime minister was forced from office as a
result. The G7 — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the
United States — did note rising commodity prices in their meeting
statement but then focused on measures to bolster the financial system
in the face of what Strauss-Kahn called the worst crisis since the 1930s
Prices of basic foodstuffs have risen sharply in recent months,
sparking protests in many countries, including Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory
Coast, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Madagascar, the Philippines and Indonesia.
A World Bank report last week said global wheat prices jumped 181
percent over the 36 months to February, with overall food prices up 83
percent. Asked about rice supply problems in Asia, where some exporters
are holding back shipments to protect their own markets, a senior IMF
official said such action should be avoided while market forces would
resolve the issue in time.
“I think the best sort of response is to allow market forces to
operate, to allow prices to rise so that there can be a supply
response,” David Burton, director of the IMF Asia and Pacific
Department, said Friday.
“I think historical experience suggests that you would expect to see
a significant (production) response to the sort of price increases we
have seen,” he added. AFP