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Opening Remarks Press Conference at the G20 Agricultural Ministers Meeting Paris, World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick

 Opening Remarks

Press Conference at the G20 Agricultural Ministers Meeting Paris 

Robert B. Zoellick

President, World Bank Group

June 23, 2011


I very much appreciate the opportunity to be here with Minister Le Maire and I want to thank all of you for joining us.


Food is the essence of human life. For those in the rich world, it's often about grocery stores, or even about menus.


But for the billions of people who go hungry every day, it's about survival.  It's about empty plates and bowls. Families whose children will see a life's opportunities limited because of the lack of nutritious food that has harmed their ability to grow and learn.


At the beginning of this year I called on the G20 to Put Food First. In an op-ed in the Financial Times in January I suggested a series of specific actions to protect the poor and the vulnerable from food price volatility. We are not going to be able to stop prices from going up and down, but we can smooth the swings and we can protect the poor - whether they are small farmers or consumers. Working together we can make food more affordable, available and predictable. And I'm very pleased that the G20 has taken up this call for action.


Great credit goes to President Sarkozy and Minister Le Maire for their leadership in making the critical issue of food a central part of the French presidency of the G20.  I know that Bruno and his team have worked tirelessly to build consensus among the G20 members.


And G20 members today have agreed on a package that I believe will make a difference.  We can't solve all the problems of food and agriculture here, but this is a very important down payment, and Ministers have taken some significant steps. 


In particular, I'd like to highlight:


·         The launch of AMIS, which will increase public access to timely information on how much food there in the world - on grain production, consumption and the quality and quantity of stocks. This will throw a light on the darkness and secrecy of reserves as you already begin to bring some order and some predictability to the international food system.


·         Also a rapid response forum designed to provide rapid coordinate action by the major food producing and consuming countries to help prevent global food problems.


·         An agreement on a humanitarian exemption from export bans, which will help the World Food Programme, so we can keep food going to hungry people to save lives. now, when they need it, not tomorrow or in Never Never land. I heard Minister Le Maire speak about this, and he is exactly right. This is something we've been pushing for for years and this is a critical step we'll take with the G20 and then move onto all the membership of the WTO.


·         And also, an important agreement to ask the World Food Programme to develop a proposal for a pilot for small regional emergency humanitarian food reserves that could be used to replenish national safety nets. 


And on risk management, the World Bank Group has just announced a new risk management tool to provide up to 4 billion dollars in protection from volatile food prices for farmers, food producers, and consumers in developing countries.  Financial engineering has been associated with the "dark side." This initiative helps bring it into light. Intelligent financial engineering can help people to manage risk.  These are tools that are already widely available in developed countries, and now we can make them available to farmers and consumers in developing countries.


The World Bank's own agricultural portfolio has seen a 50 percent scale up since 2008 to about 6 billion dollars a year.  We host the Global Agricultural and Food Security Program , which is a multi-donor, multi-agency effort set up in 2010 at the request of the G20, and it's  already committed more than half a billion dollars in grant funds to 12 poor countries to support their agriculture plans.


We should also make more progress over time in weather forecasting and monitoring crop production.  And we need more research.  With agriculture production needing to rise some 70 percent, and with a 5 - 10 year window to develop new seeds and get them to farmers, we need to support global research, such as at the Consultative Group for International Agriculture Research or CGIAR.


So, today is about solid progress.  The first high level summit of G20 Agriculture Ministers; the first effort to put food on the international agenda; an agreement on more transparency; more co-ordination; free passage of humanitarian food aid; a pilot for emergency reserves; stronger risk management instruments; more investment in production.


Are we there yet? No. It's too early to take a victory lap and I urge the G20 Heads in November to follow through on the important steps made today.


But we also shouldn't forget that agriculture has been the sticking point for international agreement after international agreement. Food may be the essence of life but for years it's also been the essence of national security and national sovereignty. 


The world is hungry for food but it is also hungry for action. We have made a good start today and I would like to again thank Minister Le Maire and his team for helping reach these agreements 


Thank you and I'll be pleased to take your questions.



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