Driven in part by higher fuel costs connected to events in the Middle East and North Africa, global food prices are 36 percent above their levels a year ago, the World Bank said on Friday.
“More poor people are suffering and more people could become poor because of high and volatile food prices,” said president Robert B Zoellick.
“We have to put food first and protect the poor and vulnerable, who spend most of their money on food.”
According to the latest edition of the World Bank’s Food Price Watch, a further 10 percent increase in global prices could drive an additional 10 million people below the $1.25 extreme poverty line.
A 30 percent price hike could lead to 34 million more poor. This is in addition to the 44 million people who have been driven into poverty since last June as a result of the spikes.
The World Bank estimates there are about 1.2 billion people living below the poverty line of $1.25 a day.
The World Bank’s food price index, which measures global prices, is 36 percent above its level a year earlier and remains close to its 2008 peak, the World Bank in a statement.
Key increases compared to a year ago include maize (74 percent), wheat (69 percent), soybeans (36 percent) and sugar (21 percent), although rice prices have been stable.
In many countries, vegetables, meats, fruits and cooking oil continued to rise with potentially adverse nutritional consequences for the poor.
The UAE said on March 3 that major shops had agreed to cut the prices on essential items by up to 40 percent for the month, in a bid to keep a lid on prices.
Food prices have soared due to severe weather events in key grain exporting countries, export restrictions, the increasing use for biofuel production, and low global stocks.
The food price hike is also linked to surging fuel prices - crude oil increased 21 percent in the first quarter of 2011 as a result of unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.
According to Food Price Watch, poorer countries have experienced greater food inflation than higher income economies.
In the short term, the World Bank’s Global Food Crisis Response Programme (GFRP) is helping some 40 million people in need through $1.5 billion in support.
In the longer-term, the World Bank Group said it would boost its spending on agriculture to some $7 billion a year from $4.1 billion in 2008.