Higher food prices are again a concern as the World Bank and IMF head into their Annual Meetings. In the last several months, volatility in the price of wheat has been reminiscent of the kinds of market movements that occurred during the food price crisis of 2008. While that volatility has decreased somewhat, the World Bank Group is asking the World Bank Board of Directors to reinstate its food crisis emergency fund – the Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP)-- so the Bank can be ready to respond quickly again if needed. The $2 billion program provided support for policy change, social safety nets and agricultural inputs to boost food production in hard-hit countries.
The longer term worry, of course, is food security, especially in light of a continued higher food prices, underinvestment in agriculture in the last decade, and changing weather patterns related to climate change. The Bank Group increased agricultural assistance last year to $6 billion, and will likely keep lending in the $6 billion to $8 billion range for the next several years, as recommended by our Agriculture Action Plan  (pdf) for fiscal years 2010 to 2012. The plan calls for increased investments in agricultural productivity, especially in areas of Africa where the land is suitable and farmers currently struggle to make a living.
Improving agricultural productivity sustainably is also the goal of the G20’s 6-month-old Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP). So far, $900 million has been pledged by the United States, South Korea, Canada, Spain, Ireland and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the first grants will help millions of people in Bangladesh, Haiti, Sierra Leone, Togo and Rwanda.
These kinds of efforts are essential if we hope to end poverty and hunger. We’ve seen the devastating impact of volatile food prices. We’re ready to work with others to prevent a repeat.