The world cannot afford for high and volatile food prices to be the "new normal," while millions of people continue to suffer from hunger and to die from malnutrition, the World Bank Group has warned.
World Bank's Vice President for Poverty Reduction and Economic Management, Otaviano Canuto, in a report at the weekend said: "A new norm of high prices seems to be consolidating. The world cannot afford to be complacent to this trend while 870 million people still live in hunger and millions of children die every year from preventable diseases caused by malnutrition."
According to the latest edition of the World Bank Group's Food Price Watch report, published quarterly, global food prices stabilised following last July's record peak. In October, prices were 5 per cent below that peak. Prices were driven down by fats and oils, with more modest declines in grains. Seasonal increase in supplies, the absence of panic policies, such as food export restrictions, and better expectations for the future are behind such trends, although markets remain tight in general.
Nonetheless, prices remained at high levels - seven per cent higher than a year ago. Grains, in particular, are expensive. They are 12 per cent above their levels 12 months before and very close to the all-time high of 2008. Maize, for instance, according to the report was 17 per cent higher than in October 2011 and 10 per cent above the record-high prices of February 2011, despite their decrease of three per cent between August and October.
"Although we haven't seen a food crisis as the one of 2008, food security should remain a priority," Canuto said, adding that "We need additional efforts to strengthen nutrition programs, safety nets, and sustainable agriculture, especially when the right actions can bring about exceptional benefits."
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and others, 870 million people live with chronic undernourishment, an unchanged figure since 2007-2009, and behind the necessary improvement to achieve the hunger Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of hungry people by 2015.