But the sharp rise in food prices, aggravated by new export curbs by leading rice producers, has put these economic policymakers on high alert.

 

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Costlier food hits world's poorest hard

Robert Zoellick, the World Bank president, told the gathering: "Based on a very rough analysis, we estimate that doubling of food prices over the last three years could potentially push 100 million people in low-income countries deeper into poverty."

 

He said the food crisis could mean "seven lost years" in the fight against worldwide poverty.
 
The World Bank's first response is a $10 million grant for feeding programmes in Haiti, where food riots have just forced the removal of the country's prime minister.

 

'Hungry mouths'
 
"This is about ensuring that future generations don't pay a price too," Zoellick said.

 

"We have to put our money where our mouth is now so that we can put food into hungry mouths. It's as stark as that."
 

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The bankers appealed for $500 million in donations by May 1 to re-stock the UN's depleted World Food Programme.
 
They have also called on on the oil-exporting countries to invest more of their windfall earnings in Africa.
 
Shifting just one per cent of the assets held by those countries' sovereign investment funds could draw $30bn into African development.
 
The World Bank said there are plans to nearly double its lending for agriculture in Africa to $800m.
 
Threat of instability
 
Increases in the price of rice, wheat, corn, cooking oil, milk and other foodstuff have sparked violent protests in many countries including Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Madagascar, the Philippines and Indonesia.
 
Global food crisis



Food riots have erupted in countries including Haiti, Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Madagascar, the Philippines and Haiti in the past month

 

In Pakistan and Thailand, army troops have been deployed to avoid food being seized from fields and warehouses

 

Prices in these countries for foodstuffs such as rice, wheat, sorghum and maize have doubled

 

Causes of crisis range from financial speculation on food commodities, desertification, population increases, China and India's economic growth and use of grains to make biofuels

 

Cost of funding projects enabling governments to tackle food crisis could be up to $1.7bn

 

However world cereal production in 2008 is projected to increase by 2.6 per cent to a record 2,164 million tonnes

 

Source: United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)

The World Bank has reported that global wheat prices jumped 181 per cent over the 36 months to February, with overall food prices up 83 per cent.
 
For his part, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF managing director, spoke of terrible consequences if food prices "go on like they are doing today".
 
He said many countries face the risk of political instability.
 
"[We] are facing a huge problem and it is a problem for the World Bank, the IMF and you shouldn't be surprised that we are going to devote a lot of time to this problem," Strauss-Kahn said.
 
"As we know, learning from the past, those kind of questions sometimes end in war."
 
He said that this will lead to a "huge problem", putting at risk years of development gains.
 
The bankers and policymakers meeting in Washington said it is not just a humanitarian issue.
 
Unless the donor countries act soon, they say, the resulting trade disruptions could take a serious toll on advanced economies too.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies