A new report from the World Bank states what has been obvious for months: food prices have spiked so high that the costs represent a threat to the ability of many people to feed themselves. The organization also offered solutions it would like to implement, but none of them comes close to a solution to the mammoth problem. And solutions cannot come from elsewhere either. Food shortages are too great, and the nations that might offer aid have become hog-tied by moves toward austerity.
In the latest edition of its Food Price Watch report, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim commented:
Food prices rose again sharply threatening the health and well-being of millions of people. Africa and the Middle East are particularly vulnerable, but so are people in other countries where the prices of grains have gone up abruptly.
Maize prices were up 25% from June to July, as was the price of wheat. Soybean prices rose 17%. The price of internationally traded commodities moved 1% above the previous high in February 2011. The geographic areas hurt most by increases even sharper than the worldwide average included many extremely poor countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The World Bank also offered evidence that food prices may not stabilize for some time. Adverse weather problems in much of the largest food-producing regions may continue.
Much of the report is self-congratulatory, even though the effects of World Bank activity have been sharply limited. Reporting on its progress:
The World Bank’s support for agriculture in FY12 was over $9 billion—a level not reached in the past two decades. The Bank is also coordinating with UN agencies through the High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis and with non-governmental organizations, as well as supporting the Partnership for Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) to improve food market transparency and to help governments make informed responses to global food price spikes.
The organization pledged to create “safety nets” for the world’s poorest people, although how those might be funded could not be explained. Even if the World Bank can add another $9 billion in support, the amount is hardly great enough to scratch the surface of trouble that has hurt hundreds of millions of people.
There was a time when countries led by the United States contributed billions of dollars of aid for people who could not feed themselves. Those programs have been curtailed by worry over national deficits. Contributions from Europe have been undermined even more as the viability of the European Union continues to be questioned and some of the economies there sink into deep and protracted recessions.
The World Bank report does not admit that its efforts cannot come close to a solution for a growing and brutal problem — too much demand and too little affordable food among the poorest regions of the world.
Douglas A. McIntyre