Poor go hungry while rich fill their tanks· IMF meeting World Bank condemns dash to biofuels · Call for extra £250m in aid to grow more food Larry Elliott and Heather Stewart The Guardian, April 11 2008 . Rocketing global food prices are causing acute problems of hunger and malnutrition in poor countries and have put back the fight against poverty by seven years, the World Bank said yesterday. Robert Zoellick, the Bank's president, called on rich countries to commit an extra $500m (£250m) immediately to the World Food Programme, and sign up to what he called a "New Deal for global food policy". Zoellick said: "In the US and Europe over the last year we have been focusing on the prices of gasoline at the pumps. While many worry about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs. And it's getting more and more difficult every day." He said the price of wheat had risen by 120% in the past year, more than doubling the cost of a loaf of bread. Rice prices were up by 75% in just two months. On average, the Bank calculates that food prices have risen by 83% in the past three years. "In Bangladesh a 2kg bag of rice now consumes almost half of the daily income of a poor family. With little margin for survival, rising prices too often means fewer meals," he said. Poor people in Yemen were now spending more than a quarter of their income on bread. "This is not just about meals forgone today, or about increasing social unrest, it is about lost learning potential for children and adults in the future, stunted intellectual and physical growth. Even more, we estimate that the effect of this food crisis on poverty reduction worldwide is in the order of seven lost years." The Bank's analysis chimes with research from the International Monetary Fund which shows that Africa will be the hardest hit continent from rising food prices. More than 20 African countries will see their trade balance worsen by more than 1% of GDP through having to pay more for food. Gordon Brown, the prime minister, has written to his Japanese counterpart, Yasuo Fukuda, who is chairman of the G8 industrialised countries, calling for a "fully-co-ordinated response" to the food crisis. Zoellick welcomed Brown's initiative, and said this weekend's meetings of the World Bank and the IMF had to do more than simply identify the scale of the crisis. "This is about recognising a growing emergency, acting and seizing opportunity too. The world can do this. We can do this," he said. "We cannot be satisfied with studies, and papers, and talk." As well as the $500m contribution to the World Food Programme, there should be an expansion in safety-net programmes for poor communities. Zoellick also called for a boost to long-term financial support to aid production. "We must make agriculture a priority." The Bank plans to double its loans to agriculture projects in developing countries in 2008, to $800m. Riots have broken out in several countries, including Mexico and India, as a response to the rapid rise in the cost of basic foodstuffs over the past 12 months. A number of governments have imposed export bans on commodities, to try to bring prices under control. Zoellick warned against such protectionist responses. He was also critical of the dash to grow crops for biofuels. The US and EU have encouraged wider use of such fuels to try to tackle climate change and provide an alternative to oil, but the policy has sometimes diverted agricultural land away from food and exacerbated price rises. Zoellick criticised the subsidies and import tariffs used to promote wider use of the fuels. Liz Stuart, spokeswoman for Oxfam, said: "Europe and the US must stop adding fuel to fire by increasing crop production for biofuels. These have dubious environment benefits, and by driving up prices, are crippling the lives of the poor."