"In the US and Europe over the last year we have been focusing on the prices of gasoline at the pumps. While many worry about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs. And it's getting more and more difficult every day. In Bangladesh a 2kg bag of rice now consumes almost half of the daily income of a poor family. With little margin for survival, rising prices too often means fewer meals," he said. Poor people in Yemen were now spending more than a quarter of their income on bread. "This is not just about meals forgone today, or about increasing social unrest, it is about lost learning potential for children and adults in the future, stunted intellectual and physical growth. Even more, we estimate that the effect of this food crisis on poverty reduction worldwide is in the order of seven lost years."
The Bank's analysis chimes with research from the International Monetary Fund which shows that Africa will be the hardest hit continent from rising food prices. More than 20 African countries will see their trade balance worsen by more than 1% of GDP through having to pay more for food.
Gordon Brown has written to his Japanese counterpart, Yasuo Fukuda, who is chairman of the G8 industrialised countries, calling for a "fully-co-ordinated response" to the food crisis.Zoellick welcomed Brown's initiative, and said this weekend's meetings of the World Bank and the IMF had to do more than simply identify the scale of the crisis. The Bank also plans to double its loans to agriculture projects in developing countries in 2008, to $800m.
Riots have broken out in several countries, including Mexico and India, as a response to the rapid rise in the cost of basic foodstuffs over the past 12 months. A number of governments have imposed export bans on commodities, to try to bring prices under control. Zoellick warned against such protectionist responses.He was also critical of the dash to grow crops for biofuels. The US and EU have encouraged wider use of such fuels to try to tackle climate change and provide an alternative to oil, but the policy has sometimes diverted agricultural land away from food and exacerbated price rises.
Liz Stuart, spokeswoman for Oxfam, said: "Europe and the US must stop adding fuel to fire by increasing crop production for biofuels. These have dubious environment benefits, and by driving up prices, are crippling the lives of the poor."