British Prime Minister Urges G8 to Help the Hungry

LONDON, UK, April 10, 2008 (ENS) – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called upon the Group of Eight, G8, to press international institutions such as the World Bank to take action on a growing crisis in global food prices, which have increased by an estimated 55 percent since June.

In a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who is hosting the G8 summit this year, Brown asked his counterpart to push for a “fully coordinated response” from the international community to rising food prices and their effects, particularly on the world’s poorest people.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda
(Photo courtesy Government of Japan)

Japan currently holds the G8 presidency and will host the annual G8 summit in Hokkaido in July. This annual meeting is attended by the leaders of the world’s eight largest industrialized democracies – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and the president of the European Commission.

Brown suggested that the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund work together on short-term action and a medium-term response around the areas of trade, production, technology, financial initiatives and food aid.

The letter was sent to the Japanese prime minister on Wednesday and copied to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Dominique Strauss-Kahn of the IMF and Robert Zoellick of the World Bank.

Brown, a former chancellor of the exchequer, suggested short-term World Bank and IMF support. “Net food importing countries suffering from balance of payments difficulties as a result of higher global food prices should be given rapid access to IMF support under established mechanisms.”

“We may need to increase, at least in the short-term, the scale of our support for humanitarian programs, as food aid becomes more expensive,” wrote Brown. “This must be accompanied by continuing emphasis to ensure we avoid creating dependency on food aid.”

Brown said more should be done to link food issues with climate change and “extreme weather conditions.”

“Rising food prices threaten to roll back progress we have made in recent years on development,” Brown warned. “For the first time in decades, the number of people facing hunger is growing.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown
(Photo courtesy Office of
the Prime Minister)

“Food prices have risen sharply leading to food riots in several countries. Increased wealth and growing populations in developing countries contribute to steadily increasing global demand for grains, for food and animal feed, aggravated by rapidly increasing biofuel production,” Brown wrote.

“Meanwhile, recent crop failures in major producing countries are reminders of the expected consequences of climate change, as the frequency and severity of extreme weather events increase in years to come,” he wrote. “And the World Food Programme has highlighted that the increase in food prices will accentuate the food needs for the world’s poorest people.”

“The international community needs a fully co-ordinated response,” Brown wrote to his Japanese counterpart. “We need both short-term action to deal with immediate hardship, and a medium term response, which will provide a framework for tackling the opportunities and challenges.”

World Bank President Robert Zoellick of the United States indicated today that he is thinking along the same lines as Prime Minister Brown.

Speaking at the opening press briefing at the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings 2008 in Washington, DC this morning, Zoellick emphasized the need to counteract soaring food prices.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick holds
up a bag of rice at the opening press
conference of the World Bank-IMF
spring meeting. (Photo
courtesy World Bank)

“In just two months, rice prices have skyrocketed to near historical levels, rising by around 75 percent globally and more in some markets, with more likely to come,” Zoellick said. “In Bangladesh, a two kilogram bag of rice, like this, now consumes about half of the daily income of a poor family. With little margin for survival, rising prices too often means fewer meals.”

“Or, take wheat, where over the past year, the price has risen by 120 percent. That means that the price of a loaf of bread, like this, has more than doubled. Poor people in Yemen are now spending more than a quarter of their incomes just on bread before they pay for other essential foods for their children, let alone basic health care or shelter,” he said.

Zoellick too said that both short-term and medium-term responses are needed.

“This is not just about meals foregone today or about increasing social unrest,” he said. “This is about lost learning potential for children and adults in the future, stunted intellectual and physical growth. Even more, we estimate that the effect of this food crisis on poverty reduction worldwide is on the order of seven lost years.”

“So we need to address this not just as an immediate emergency but also in the medium term for development,” the World Bank leader said.

Zoellick said that for the immediate crisis, the international community must fill the at least $500 million food gap identified by the UN’s World Food Programme to meet emergency needs.

“Governments should be able to come up with this assistance and come up with it now,” he demanded.

“And we need to expand and improve access to safety net programs such as cash transfers and risk management instruments to protect the poor,” Zoellick said. “We need to increase financial support for short-term needs, restructuring existing projects and fast-tracking grants and loans where needed.”

Saying that agriculture must become a priority, Zoellick repeated the Bank’s announcement that it will double agricultural lending for Sub-Saharan Africa over the next year, from $450 million to $800 million.

“And,” Zoellick said, “we need to complete the Doha Round,” of global trade talks at the World Trade Organization, WTO.

Brown agrees that more can be done in terms of trade. “We should surely redouble our efforts for a WTO trade deal that provides greater poor country access to developed country markets and cuts distortionary subsidies in rich countries,” he wrote to his Japanese counterpart.

“A large aid for trade package will be crucial” and continuing international support for agricultural research also will be “crucial,” wrote Brown, “along with reform of the international research system to achieve even greater impact on poverty and hunger.”

On the conflict between the need for food and the need for biofuels from food crops, Brown wrote, “There is growing consensus that we need urgently to examine the impact on food prices of different kinds and production methods of biofuels, and ensure that their use is responsible and sustainable.”

Finally, Brown returned to the issue of linking food and climate action, saying, “We must urgently and fully explore the impact of climate change on the livelihoods and vulnerability of the poor, who are likely to be most greatly affected by climatic changes. We should give priority to helping affected countries understand and adapt to the challenges they are going to face.”

Environment and climate change is at the top of the list of main themes for the 2008 meeting of the Group of Eight. The G8 leaders will consider at least a halving of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 that was set as a target at last year’s G8 summit in Germany.

Development and Africa is another main G8 theme again this year, a theme under which the initiatives proposed by Brown could be considered. The final main theme is the world economy.

The G8 summit will be held from July 7 to 9 at the Windsor Hotel Toya in the Lake Toya area of Japan’s northernmost large island, Hokkaido.

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