World Bank unveils $1.2bn food plan

"Fast track" programme will provide $200m in grants to nations most in need.

    Protests against food prices have hit dozens
    of countries, including Haiti [AFP]

    In video

    The World Bank's Ngozi Okonjo Iweala on Al Jazeera

    Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, said in a statement: "These initiatives will help address the immediate danger of hunger and malnutrition for the two billion people struggling to survive in the face of rising food prices."
    Zoellick also urged governments of developed nations not to impose export restrictions or tariffs on food that could be funnelled to relief agencies or countries facing severe food shortages.
    He said such taxes and bans were "exacerbating the problem".
    Critics say the World Bank's free trade and free market policies have hindered the ability of poor countries to protect their food supplies and prevent higher prices. They have also meant that subsidised US goods can flood markets.
    However Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, managing director of the World Bank, denied that there were strings attached to the money and allegations that its previous policies had caused much of the crisis.
    "It is true that like other agencies we did decrease investment however the World Bank has been very supportive of small farmers and generally of agriculture," she said.

    "It is [also] true that we supported countries to implement policies that we thought would ensure macroeconomic stability ... but we are moving on [and] ... focusing now on trying to make sure that this crisis is resolved and that farmers are assisted."
    "The World Bank is not a monolithic organisation that comes in to make countries do things ... [it] its agenda is to help poor people all over the world, that's the agenda," she said.
    'Safety net'

    The aid will provide "safety net programmes" to
    aid those affected by the crisis [AFP]

    A $5m grant for Djibouti and $10m grants for Haiti and Liberia, three of the countries worst affected by the crisis, will be approved on Thursday, the organisation said.
    Next month the World Bank expects to provide grant support to Togo, Yemen and Tajikistan, three other nations identified as being high priorities, it said. 
    The aid will also support "safety net" programmes such as food for work, conditional cash transfers and school feeding programmes for the most vulnerable.
    It will provide support for food production by supplying seeds and fertiliser, improving irrigation for small-scale farmers, and providing financial support to lower tariffs on food, the organisation says.
    Experts point to several reasons for the recent global food crisis, from high oil prices, urbanisation, growing populations, trade policies and climate change to growth in biofuel production and speculation on financial markets.
    UN warning
    Also on Thursday, the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation said that further price rises and continued volatility in markets for food supplies would be likely for at least the next few years.
    Compared with the previous decade, the report said average prices from 2008 to 2017 for beef and pork will rise 20 per cent while sugar will rise by about 30 per cent and wheat, maize and milk powder 40 to 60 per cent.
    The report recommended that poorer countries be helped to diversify their economies and improve governance and administrative systems.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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