Food Prices Near 2008 Levels Threaten the Poor, World Bank Says

Global food prices remain close to the peak of 2008 and are fueling inflation in low-income nations, threatening to throw more people more into poverty, according to the World Bank.

The bank’s food-price index was 36 percent higher than a year ago in the first quarter, with corn, wheat and soybeans “significantly higher” while rice remained stable, the agency said today.

“More poor people are suffering and more people could become poor because of high and volatile food prices,” World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in a press release today. “We have to put food first and protect the poor and vulnerable, who spend most of their money on food.”

Costlier food contributed to riots across northern Africa and the Middle East that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia and is driving up inflation, spurring central banks to consider higher interest rates. The bank estimates that 44 million people have been driven into poverty since June as a result of food price spikes.

The surge in food prices is linked to higher oil costs, the World Bank said. It estimates that a 10 percent increase in crude oil prices is associated with a 2.7 percent rise in its food-price index. Crude oil has risen 35 percent over the past three months.

Factors behind the surge also include “severe weather events in key grain exporters,” including Russia and Australia, and “food demand growth outstripping output growth over the past decade.”

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