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Call for Greater Focus to Help the Hungry

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In Madrid: Julia Barrera

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WASHINGTON, January 25, 2009 -On the eve of a high level international food summit, the World Bank Group has called for more resources and greater focus to help the millions of people around the globe who go hungry each day. 

The Bank’s Managing Director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said with the food crisis still affecting millions of people around the globe, the international community needs to boost its effort to help the poor and vulnerable feed themselves.


Food prices are now volatile and that factor, combined with the impact of the financial crisis, only serves to heighten the challenges confronting the developing world, “  Okonjo-Iweala said.


We expect high price volatility to continue and it will hit the poorest the most, as they spend half their income on food. More needs to be done as we must ensure those who are vulnerable get the assistance they need.”


Her comments come as the UN’s High Level Task Force on Global Food Security

Crisis prepares for a two day meeting in Madrid, hosted and organized by the Spanish Government, on January 26 and 27. Okonjo-Iweala is leading the Bank’s delegation to the meeting.


She said while food prices had declined recently, they were still high. And it was disturbing that poor countries, especially in Africa, did not have matching drops in their food prices. For example, in Mombasa, Kenya, maize prices went down by only one percent in the past quarter, while international prices for maize dropped by 32 percent.


As food prices soared last year, the World Bank worked with UN agencies to help those most affected. In the past seven months, the Bank, through its Global Food Crisis Response Program, reached over 13 million people directly through food distribution systems, cash for work initiatives, and seed and fertilizer distribution to small holder farmers. This amount is expected to double in the next six months, with more than $700 million in the pipeline from the $1.2 billion fund.


The Bank’s Global Food Crisis Response Program has disbursed about $500 million since May with about 60 percent of the funding for seeds and fertilizer, including 250,000 tons of fertilizer and 1,500 tons of seed for 2.4 million small farms in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Somalia, Niger, Ethiopia and Togo.


Okonjo-Iweala said a key focus must be on helping smallholder farmers boost production, so empowering poor farmers to help themselves and other. More resources, better spending and policies were also needed to boost the agricultural sector.


For its part, the Bank has pledged to increase its annual lending to agriculture and food from $4 billion to $6 billion a year through to 2010. By July, the Bank expects to approve nearly $4 billion in new agriculture and social safety net projects, and another $1 billion in private sector agribusiness lending through its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation.


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