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'Food First’: Bank Spring Meetings address food crisis, conflict, corruption

Julia Ross's picture

Today we begin blog coverage of the 2011 World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings, set for April 15-17. Though we’re two weeks out, activities around the meetings’ key themes—food insecurity and food price volatility, conflict, anti-corruption and open development—are already ramping up.

Among the events and announcements we’ll report on here:

  • World Bank President Robert Zoellick’s April 6 speech, “A New Social Contract for Development,” on recent instability in the Middle East and North Africa and lessons for development;
  • April 11 release of the 2011 World Development Report, which focuses on conflict, security and development;
  • An International Corruption Hunters Alliance meeting on April 13;
  • Announcement of the winners of the Bank’s ‘Apps for Development’ competition on April 14; and
  • An April 15 Open Forum on the food crisis, to include a moderated live chat and webcast panel discussion held at the Bank’s Washington, D.C. headquarters (submit your ideas now to “put food first”).

The Spring Meetings aren’t open only to finance ministers, civil society groups and journalists. Over the next two weeks, you can engage on the issues in a number of ways. Write a blog post, post to Facebook or Tweet on the food crisis. Tune in to webcasts and follow live Tweets (#wblive) from events including panel discussions on conflict and development. Test out the 100+ apps submitted for the Bank’s competition to enlist software developers in addressing the Millennium Development Goals.

Your comments on this blog are welcome as well. Watch this space for commentary and analysis from World Bank experts on the themes listed above. Or catch our updates on Facebook and Twitter.


Submitted by Shiva S. Makki on
Yes, put food first and keep it first. No country can march on an empty stomach. Every time food prices go up, donors, policy makers, and civil society clamor for more action on agriculture. And when prices come down, people go on with their lives as if nothing happened. In recent times, the frequency of food price spikes has gone up and so has the clamor for more action. In a recent DEC Lecture, Professor Brian Wright implored the World Bank not to lose focus on long term agricultural productivity growth. He argued that the recent price spikes are not as unusual as many discussions imply. He emphasized that food stocks are crucial to maintain price stability, but sustained productivity increase is even more important in the longer run. There are three key challenges to maintaining stable food prices. First, maintaining healthy levels of food stocks. The most recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data indicates that world food production is expected to fall slightly this year, but it is still higher than 2007/08 levels. But what is most alarming is stocks-to-utilization ratio, which has declined again to the levels comparable to 2007/08. The ratio used to be around 25% in early 2000, and fell to 14% in 2007/08, the year of previous significant price spike. Currently that ratio is at 15% and declining. Second, increasing and sustaining agricultural productivity. In recent times demand for food and feed grain has out-paced supply not because of population increase, but because of rising income levels in developing countries. For a sustained increase in agricultural productivity, farmers need sustained access to quality seeds, fertilizers, chemicals, and tools as well as technical assistance and training. They would also need to learn new techniques for better management of water and land resources, including efficient irrigation systems where possible. Also important is improving rural infrastructure such as roads, storage, and market facilities, as well as developing a better financial infrastructure. Are these easier said than done? Fortunately, we do have some evidence to show that these reforms may be possible. We only need to look into the growth of agriculture in the state of Gujarat in India, as one example. The state’s agriculture has grown at a whopping 9% per annum over the last 10 years. The state government has adopted a comprehensive agriculture development strategy that includes sustained investments in improving agriculture productivity. There is a lot to be learnt from the experience of this state, which does not have a favorable agro-climatic condition for agriculture production. Third, keep the World Bank focused on increasing agricultural productivity. According the FAO, the double whammy of the global economic slump and high food prices may have pushed an additional 115 million people into poverty and hunger, bringing the total number of undernourished to over a billion. With the success of green revolution, the World Bank “took the eyes off” of agriculture in the 1980s and 1990s. During the last decade, there is evidence of productivity leveling off for major food grains. In recent years, however, the Bank has re-engaged agriculture with increased investments, but regaining momentum is not going to be quick or easy. Putting food first is perhaps the first step toward a sustained focus on agriculture.

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