WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- World Bank President Robert Zoellick said food prices are reaching unprecedented levels around the globe and contributing to unrest in the Middle East.
"It's poor people who are now facing incredible pressure to feed themselves and their families," Zoellick said in a statement Tuesday, calling for nations to coordinate efforts to bring food prices down.
"The price hike is already pushing millions of people into poverty and putting stress on the most vulnerable, who spend more than half their income on food."
In the Middle East, food prices were "an aggravating factor," he said, contributing to recent unrest in Tunisia and Egypt.
Between June and January, global wheat prices have doubled, the World Bank said. Corn prices have surged 73 percent in the same period. Prices for sugar and edible oils also have risen "sharply," the bank said.
On the positive side, price increases for rice "have been moderate and the outlook for the rice market appears stable," the bank said.
In addition, "Good harvests in many African countries have kept prices stable especially for maize, a key staple," the bank said.
The World Bank said its Global Agriculture and Food Security Program had distributed $321 million in grants to eight countries -- Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Haiti, Mongolia, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Togo. Six countries and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had pledged $925 million to the program.
The bank said it also was increasing its spending on agriculture from $4.1 billion in 2008 to $6 billion to $8 billion.
Forty impoverished nations are receiving agricultural assistance to help with funding for improved seeds, equipment and irrigation projects, the bank said.