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World Bank President Calls for Plan to Fight Hunger in Pre-Spring Meetings Address

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April 2, 2008—In a speech today, World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick called for a "new deal" to combat world hunger and malnutrition through a combination of emergency aid and long-term efforts to boost agricultural productivity in developing countries.

The "New Deal for a Global Food Policy" is part of a suite of initiatives Zoellick outlined to advance development in the face of skyrocketing food and oil prices. He also called for a global trade deal to be agreed as soon as possible, detailed an initiative to help countries manage their wealth earned from high energy and mineral prices in a more inclusive way, and encouraged sovereign wealth funds to create a "One Percent Solution" for equity investment in Africa.

Agricultural Assistance

The World Bank will nearly double agricultural assistance to US$800 million in Africa. Zoellick also urged wealthy nations to help the UN’s World Food Program meet some $500 million in emergency food needs.

"The United States, the European Union, Japan and other OECD countries must act now to fill this gap – or many more people will suffer and starve," Zoellick said in an address sponsored by the Center for Global Development in Washington.

Zoellick said the "New Deal for a Global Food Policy" is needed to combat the "forgotten" Millennium Development Goal of overcoming malnutrition. Only about a tenth of the resources directed at HIV/AIDS goes to fight malnutrition, which causes 3.5 million deaths a year in children under 5 and has long-lasting impacts on health and achievement.

"Hunger and malnutrition are a cause, not just a result, of poverty," said Zoellick.

The World Bank estimates 33 countries face social unrest because of soaring food and energy prices.

The New Deal requires a shift from traditional food aid to a broader concept of food and nutrition assistance, such as cash or vouchers that can help build local food markets and farm production,.and create a "Green Revolution" for Sub-Saharan Africa, said Zoellick.

"This New Deal should focus not only on hunger and nutrition, access to food and its supply, but also the interconnections with energy, yields, climate change, investment, the marginalization of women and others, and economic resiliency and growth," said Zoellick.

"Food policy needs to gain the attention of the highest political levels, because no one country or group can meet these interconnected challenges."

Zoellick said the World Bank Group can help by:

  • Backing emergency measures that support the poor while encouraging incentives to produce and harvest food
  • Offering access to technology and science to boost yields
  • Helping countries counter weather-related risks, such as drought
  • Facilitating land-titling, local currency financing, working capital, distribution and logistics, and support for services on which farmers rely

"Income gains in agriculture have three times the power in overcoming poverty than increases in other sectors, and 75 percent of the world’s poor are rural, with most involved in farming," said Zoellick.

Trade Also Key to Lower Food Prices

Zoellick said the time was "now or never" to break the impasse in global trade talks. A "fairer and more open trading system" would encourage developing country farmers to expand production, he said.

"The poor need lower food prices now. But the world’s agricultural trading system is stuck in the past. If ever there was a time to cut distorting agricultural subsidies and open markets for food imports, it must be now."

An accord would give developing countries, big and small, more opportunities to become more productive and lower prices through trade. It would also infuse confidence in an economic system stressed by financial anxiety, he said.

However, "powerful voices across the political spectrum, including in my own country, are calling for, rationalizing, protectionism," Zoellick said. "This economic isolationism signals a defeatism that will reap the losses, not the gains, of globalization."

The trade talks are also a "critical test" for striking a global deal on climate change. "If negotiators of 150 economies cannot manage the political tradeoffs of the Doha Round to reap the clear benefits, it does not auger well for bringing developed and developing countries together on a new accord for climate change."

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Zoellick also outlined a plan to encourage emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil to invest about US$30 billion in African nations through government-sponsored wealth funds.

Such sovereign wealth funds currently hold about US$3 trillion in assets. They have come under scrutiny recently because of investments outside their own countries. Zoellick noted they need transparency and should be guided by best practices to avoid politicization, but "where some see sovereign funds as a source of concern, we see opportunity," said Zoellick.

The World Bank’s "One Percent Solution" involves creating the equity investment platforms and benchmarks to attract these investors, and allocating 1 percent of the assets to African growth, development and opportunity.

"This one percent could be the start of something much bigger, across more types of funds and countries, because the investment of wealth into equity for development offers opportunity, not something to fear."

Extractive Industries Initiative

Zoellick announced a new approach to help ensure that high energy and commodity prices translate into improvements in the lives of the poor.

The EITI++ builds on the transparency and good governance concepts of the existing multi-stakeholder Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). EITI publicizes and verifies company payments and government revenues from oil, gas and mining. But many governments are emphasizing that transparent revenue reporting, while important, is not enough. The World Bank is therefore working with developing countries and other partners to frame a "comprehensive approach to supplement the original project."

EITI++ will include providing technical assistance to countries on the awarding of contracts, monitoring operations, collecting taxes, improving resource extraction and economic decisions, better managing price volatility, and investing revenues effectively in sustainable development.

An EITI++ approach will be launched in Guinea. "The successful development of Guinea’s rich resources can strengthen sustainable development for the entire region," Zoellick said.

"The EITI++ can advance inclusive and sustainable globalization by broadening the beneficiaries of resource development."

 

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