Education International
Education International

Rising food prices push 44 million more people into extreme poverty

published 23 February 2011 updated 23 February 2011

The World Bank has expressed its concerns about rising food prices and the subsequent impact on those in the poorest countries.

According to figures published by the World Bank to coincide with G20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors in Paris, approximately 44 million people have been driven into poverty in developing countries since June last year due to on-going food price hikes.

The food price index in January 2011 was 29 per cent above its level one year ago and, crucially for many of the world’s poor, global wheat prices have doubled between June 2010 and January 2011.

The increase reflects 2007-2008 levels which saw a dramatic rise in world food prices, creating a global crisis and causing political and economic instability and social unrest in both poor and developed nations.

The World Bank’s response has been to suggest measures to address the problem include expanding nutritional safe programs, avoiding food export restrictions, and finding better information on food stocks. The World Bank has also proposed more investment in agriculture, the development of less food-intensive bio-fuels, and climate change adaptation.

However, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, these measures “tackle only the symptoms of the global food system’s weaknesses, leaving the root causes of crises untouched. Hunger is a political question, not just a technical problem. We need markets, of course, but we also need a vision for the future that goes beyond short-term fixes.”

De Schutter has called on G20 governments to avoid a repeat of radical hikes in food prices by taking urgent action on eight priority areas,including the provision of support to countries to feed themselves; support for farmers’ organisations; establishment of food reserves; protection of access to land, and limitations on financial speculation.

EI President, Susan Hopgood, said: “The prospect that extreme poverty could be eradicated by 2015, as stipulated in the UN Millennium Development Goals, appears more unlikely than ever. The food crisis affects people's basic and universal right to life. However, the problem is not a lack of resources in itself. People are hungry not because too little food is being produced, but because their rights are being violated with impunity.”

“The convergence of several emergencies – including global warming, the food crisis and HIV/AIDS – with the global economic crisis has made the challenge harder. With a 50 million people likely to lose their jobs and a further 200 million set to fall below the poverty line, the world is going backwards, not forwards, so governments must act.”