WASHINGTON (Reuters) - World Bank President Robert Zoellick on Wednesday called for a new coordinated global response to deal with spiraling food prices exacerbating shortages, hunger and malnutrition around the globe.
Speaking ahead of International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in Washington next week, Zoellick said the global food crisis now required the attention of political leaders in every country, since higher prices and price volatility were likely to stay for some time.
The crisis also highlighted the need to conclude a long-awaited deal in the Doha global trade talks, which would cut distorting agricultural subsidies and open markets for food imports.
"We need a new deal for global food policy," Zoellick said. "This new deal should focus not only on hunger and malnutrition, access to food and its supply, but also the interconnections with energy, yields, climate change, investment, the marginalization of women and others, and economic resiliency and growth."
Zoellick, a former U.S. chief trade negotiator, trade barriers on food hurt the poor and deterred farm production.
A fairer and more open global trading system for agriculture would give farmers in developing countries more opportunities and confidence to expand food output, he added.
"The solution is to break the Doha Development Agenda impasse in 2008," Zoellick said, "There is a good deal on the table. It's now or never".
Agreement on contentious agriculture issues is the key to striking a trade deal in talks that were launched in 2001.
Severe weather in producing countries and a boom in demand from fast-developing countries have pushed up prices of staple foods by 80 percent since 2005. Last month, rice prices hit a 19-year high; wheat prices rose to a 28-year high and almost twice the average price of the last 25 years.
Around the world, protests against higher food costs are increasing and governments are responding with often counterproductive controls on prices and exports, he said.
Zoellick said the World Bank estimated 33 countries could face social unrest because of higher food and energy prices.
With shifting population patterns, higher energy prices and demand for biofuels draining maize stocks, no one country can deal with the problem alone, Zoellick said.
"This new deal requires a stronger delivery system, to overcome fragmentation in food security, health, agriculture, water, sanitation, rural infrastructure, and gender policies," he said.
"A shift from traditional food aid to a broader concept of food and nutrition assistance must be part of this new deal," Zoellick added.
He said the global response should begin with providing help to those most in need and called on rich industrial nations, including the United States, Japan and European Union, to immediately fill a $500 million funding gap at the UN World Food Program to provide food aid to the world's poorest.
Zoellick said the World Bank could help by supporting emergency measures that support the poor and to encourage countries to produce and market food as part of a broader development agenda, he said.
Zoellick said the World Bank would double its lending for agriculture in Africa to $800 million from $450 million a year and already has a draft business plan to support increased private-sector initiatives.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; editing by Neil Stempleman