WASHINGTON - The World Bank will start a trust fund to boost agriculture in poor countries with an initial $1.5 billion, its president Robert Zoellick said on Tuesday, warning of the risk of another food price crisis.
Crop shortages in India and the Philippines combined with increased speculation in commodity markets by investment funds have increased the risk that food prices could spike, as happened in 2008, Zoellick said.
I'm not forecasting this. I'm just staying we have to anticipate this as a possible risk, he told reporters on the sidelines of a food security event at Brookings Institution.
More than 1 billion people are now chronically hungry as food prices have been slow to fall from last year's record highs, and as nations grapple with the global economic downturn, United Nations agencies have said.
The world's richest nations pledged to give $20 billion over three years to help small farmers in developing countries grow more food, but diplomats and aid groups have estimated only $3 billion appears to be new spending.
Asked whether he thought the $20 billion would be new spending or money diverted from existing aid programs, Zoellick said: From what I can see so far, it's going to be a mixture, as these things usually are.
The World Bank was asked by the Group of 20 nations in September to create a fund to help quickly disburse the pledges.
I'd like (the World Bank) to get more (of the $20 billion promised) but the key thing is that people keep their pledges, Zoellick told reporters, noting that some aid may be delivered bilaterally or through other multilateral agencies.
My key point is, let's get these things up and running, he said.
The World Bank fund will pool money from the United States, Canada and Spain, Zoellick said, and the European Commission will also add funds.
WORLD FALLING SHORT ON EMERGENCY AID
Climate change and the other factors that caused the run-up in food prices last year remain risks, said Josette Sheeran, head of the UN's World Food Program.
I don't think it was a one-off phenomenon, Sheeran said. I think what it was more of a wake up call that exposed fault lines in access to food from the village level up through the national, regional and global level.
The UN's World Food Program, which feeds about 100 million people in 72 countries with government donations, has fallen far short of its emergency needs this year, raising only $3.7 billion against requirements of $6.4 billion, Sheeran said.
The WFP appealed last week for $1 billion to feed 20 million people in east Africa over the next six months, and secured pledges of half that amount, including donations from the United States and Spain, she said.
It's a challenging time. Even in the richer countries, the countries are going through a period of financial challenge, she told Reuters.
(Editing by Alan Elsner)