A new report from the World Bank has revealed global food prices soared by 10% in July, with staples such as maize and soybean increasing by 25% to an all-time high.
The drought-hit United States — the world’s largest exporter of grains such as maize — is facing the worst production shortfalls since the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s, while a scorching summer in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan hit wheat supplies, according to Food Price Watch.
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Overall, the World Bank’s Food Price Index, which tracks the price of internationally traded food commodities, was 6% higher than in July of last year, and 1% over the previous peak of February 2011.
“Food prices rose again sharply threatening the health and well-being of millions of people,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.
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“Africa and the Middle East are particularly vulnerable, but so are people in other countries where the prices of grains have gone up abruptly.”
The World Bank points to a worrying trend in domestic prices in some of the world’s poorest countries — Mozambique saw the price of maize increase by 113% in the last quarter, while the price of sorghum rose by a staggering 220% in South Sudan.
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And these rises can have consequences.
When the spiraling cost of foodstuffs such as wheat, eggs and milk sparked food riots across the world in 2008, then-World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned of “lost years” in the fight against worldwide poverty.
“While many are worrying about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs, and it is getting more and more difficult every day,” Zoellick told a meeting of foreign ministers at the time.
But another spike in prices last year was viewed by many observers as a catalyst for the revolutions that eventually swept across North Africa and the Middle East.
However the World Bank has called on all countries to strengthen their policies and systems to protect the most vulnerable members of their population — such as safety nets to ensure poor families can afford basic staples, sustained investments in agriculture, the introduction of drought-resistant crop varieties, and keeping international trade open to the export and import of food.
“We cannot allow these historic price hikes to turn into a lifetime of perils, as families take their children out of school and eat less nutritious food to compensate for the high prices,” said Kim.
The bank is also working with the United Nations and non-governmental organizations to improve food market transparency and to help governments make informed responses to global food price spikes.