Page last updated at 22:47 GMT, Saturday, 3 May 2008 23:47 UK

Asian bank in food crisis warning

Rice production in Indonesia
Lower food production and rising demand are being blamed

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has warned that the crisis of rising food prices could reverse gains made in reducing poverty across the continent.

Bank president Haruhiko Kuroda warned at its annual meeting in Madrid that "the cheap food era may be over".

Donor countries have pledged more than $11bn (5.5bn) to a fund to ease the hardship of Asia's poorest people.

Meanwhile, the African Development Bank has pledged an extra $1bn for its loans portfolio to tackle the food crisis.

UN shortfall

The BBC's Alan Johnston says food prices are the key issue on the minds of the thousands of government officials and business figures who have gathered in Madrid.

ADB president Mr Kuroda said it was critically important to provide financing for development projects in rural Asian areas.

Beggars in India. File pic
Asia is home to about two-thirds of the world's poor

He said that progress made in the great effort to lift millions out of poverty could be reversed.

The rising cost of food is helping to fuel inflation, which the bank predicts will rise to more than 5% across Asia this year - the highest level since the Asian financial crisis a decade ago.

The cost of the benchmark Thai variety of rice is about $1,000 a tonne, three times the cost at the time of the bank's last meeting a year ago.

Poor harvests, global warming, increasing demand and the transfer of food land to biofuel production have all been blamed as factors in the crisis.

Developing countries have implemented a range of policies to try to tackle the problem.

The most recent moves include an immediate 25% pay rise for public sector workers in Syria, in an effort to offset the effects of rising food prices and dearer heating oil.

In Egypt - where there has unrest over food prices - President Hosni Mubarak recently announced an increase of about 30% in public sector wages.

And Bangladesh's garment manufacturers' association has said it will distribute subsidised rice to thousands of low-paid workers.

Curbing exports

Asia has two-thirds of the world's poor, with about 1.7 billion people earning $2 a day or lower.

Major rice producers like Vietnam and India are limiting exports to secure domestic supply.

Last month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced a high-level task force to deal with the global food crisis.

Its first priority, Mr Ban said, was to close a $755m funding gap in the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), caused by the rising cost of food aid.

Mr Ban warned of "widespread hunger, malnutrition and social unrest on an unprecedented scale" because of soaring food prices.

The WFP believes 100 million people are currently going short of food.

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