High food prices could last three years: World Bank


The prices of staple foods such as rice could stay high for the next three years, hindering the battle against poverty, a top World Bank official said on Tuesday.

Food prices had risen at a "startling" speed, giving governments and communities little time to respond, the bank's managing director Juan Jose Daboub said.

"This phenomenon is here to stay for a few years. This is not a few weeks, a few months thing. It could be two or three years... It's not a short-term phenomenon," Daboub told reporters at a forum in Singapore.

Escalating global prices of foodstuffs such as corn, rice and wheat have sparked protests in many countries, including in Asia, and raised the fear that many of the world's poor face hunger.

"For those who live in Asia, an international rice price of over $1,000 a ton is unprecedented, and it hurts, because rice makes up one-third of the daily calorie intake of the typical household," Daboub said.

Food prices in dollar terms were more than two-and-a-half times higher than in early 2002, he added.

"In real terms, rice prices are now higher than at any time since the commodity price shocks in the mid-1970s," he said.

About 75 per cent of the food price increases occurred over the past 16 months, and more than half in just over the last four months, he added.

"We need to work on a new deal for food policy in order to address the short-term need while keeping in mind that it is going to take longer to alleviate the situation," Daboub said.

Soaring food and fuel prices have pushed 100 million people back into poverty, he said, adding the timetable for cutting poverty could be set back by seven years if high prices persisted for the next three years.

Daboub said the number of people living on less than $1 a day had already been cut to below one billion.