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Soaring food prices plunge millions into poverty

Tens of millions of people are being tipped into poverty by the rising cost of food.

The cost of food has reached ‘dangerous levels’ in some countries, the World Bank said yesterday, releasing new data showing that the cost of grain and other basics is nearing an all time high.

Since June, 44 million more people have been pushed into ‘extreme poverty’, it said, meaning that they are living on about 77p a day.

The bank’s Food Price Watch, showed prices rose by 15 per cent in the four months between October 2010 and January this year. And people living in the world’s poorest countries, suffer most because many of them spend more than half their income on food.

The figures showed sharp price hikes in wheat, maize, sugar and edible oils – the staples of poorer people’s diets − almost reaching the peaks of 2008, when there were food riots in a number of countries in the developing world.

"Global food prices are rising to dangerous levels and threaten tens of millions of poor people around the world," said The World Bank’s Robert Zoellick, calling for bankers and financiers at this week's G20 talks in Paris to tackle the problem.

"It's poor people who are now facing incredible pressure to feed themselves and their families," Zoellick said, adding that rising food prices were a significant factor in the spreading wave of protests in the Middle East, but not the cause.

Zoellick wants richer countries to come up with ways to even out see-sawing price swings that can create food shortages in poorer countries and cause others to store up grain or limit exports. He recently called for the G20 to “put food first” and pushed for steps to ensure vulnerable people and countries are not denied access to nutritious food. He also noted that small-scale farmers needed help to become part of the solution to the food crisis and called for better weather monitoring, especially in Africa.

There are nearly one billion hungry people worldwide, according to figures from the World Bank. More than 60 per cent of the world’s hungry are women. And when faced with high food prices, poor households eat cheaper, less nutritious food and/or stop using health and education services. Farmers will grow food instead of higher-earning crops if they think they can’t afford to buy food. Malnutrition causes illness in babies, children and mother, reduces learning capacity and raises the risk of death. One third of all child deaths globally are attributed to under-nutrition.

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