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Food Security Fears Rise Along with Prices

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Bank's Global Food Crisis Response Program has helped 44 countries counter crisis by investing in agriculture, feeding programs.

Eight countries receiving help from G20-requested Global Agriculture and Food Security Program; 17 additional countries seeking assistance.

About 3.5 million children under 5 in developing countries die from undernutrition-related causes each year.

April 1, 2011— The 2008 food crisis hit poor people in Togo hard.

Floods drowned crops and the price of maize shot up 42% in a year. People ate seeds and sold their livestock to survive. Fifty thousand children under 5 were malnourished in the small West African country's hardest hit areas, many dangerously.

As part of the international response, the World Bank fast-tracked $5.2 million from the newly created Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP) to fund locally prepared school lunches for 21,000 children in the poor, flood-prone areas. School enrollment increased 13% over two years. The program was so successful it expanded to 40,000 children for the 2010-2012 school years.

Today, Togo is enjoying better harvests. But the country's food problems are far from over. Like many countries in Africa, much of Togo is food insecure – the result of low investment in agriculture over several decades, degraded soil, variable weather, and natural hazards.

Countries Seek Food Security Help

Togo is one of three African countries -- among eight countries around the world – now getting help from the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), a fund created in 2010 at the request of the G20 to boost food security.

Another 17 countries are seeking assistance from GAFSP, so far supported by seven donors pledging $925 million to the fund (Canada, Spain, United States, Korea, Australia, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Ireland).

GAFSP's origins stem from the G8-plus meeting in L'Aquila, Italy, in July 2009, where leaders pledged more than $20 billion to boost food security and agriculture. The G20 requested GAFSP be set up at its meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in September 2009. The fund's goals include boosting crop yields and incomes in developing countries where 75% of poor people live, and reducing risk from income and weather shocks.

Now, with world commodity prices again rising rapidly, it's more urgent to scale up efforts further.

In February, World Bank President Robert Zoellick urged the G20 to "put food first" as food prices hovered just shy of their 2008 peak and an estimated 44 million people fell into poverty.

"Food security is now a global security issue," he said. "We need global action to ensure we do a better job of feeding the hungry before we face the future challenges of feeding the expected 9 billion people in the world in 2050."