The World Bank Group and Global Food Security Governance

The World Bank Group is an international financial institution tasked with providing loans to developing countries to support various programmes. Since the onset of the food price spikes, they have played an active role in reshaping food security governance, returning to the role it played in the 1980s as a donor and coordinator for agriculture and rural development.
In 2008, the World Bank’s World Development Report focused on agriculture: Agriculture for Development. This was the first time in a quarter century that the World Bank had focused its annual research report on agriculture, highlighting an important shift in the Bank’s international focus. In May of that year, the World Bank established the Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP) in to provide immediate support to countries significantly impacted by rising food prices. The GFRP used the World Development Report as a framework and implemented processes to expediate the funding of projects up to an initial $1.2 billion, so as to ensure timely a response. In April 2009, the World Bank increased the Fund to $2 billion. When food prices continued to rise through the summer of 2011, the Board of the Fund expended the processing of accelerated processing to June 2012. The focus of the funds are targeted towards:  feeding children and other vulnerable groups,  nutritional supplements to pregnant women, lactating mothers, infants and small children, meeting additional expenses of food imports, and buying seeds for the new season (WB 2011).
Beyond the GFRP, the WB has made funding available through external-funded trust funds. Specifically, a “Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF) has received contributions of AUD 50 million from the Australian government, €80 million from the government of Spain, 7.6 billion Korean Won from the Republic of Korea, CAD 30 million from the government of Canada, and $0.15 million from International Finance Corporation (IFC)” (WB 2011).
In July 2009, the WB released Implementing Agriculture for Development, World Bank Group Agriculture Action Plan: FY2010-12, as follow- up to the World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development.  The Action Plan build on themes outlines in Research the Rural Poor, the 2003 Agriculture and Development Strategy and follows up on proposals advanced in the World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development. The Action Plan is meant to outline the WB’s commitment food security through improved agriculture, raising the incomes of the poor, facilitating economic transformation, and by way of environmental services.
The Agriculture Action Plan (WB 2009) is organized around five thematic areas:

  • Increasing agricultural productivity, “which includes supporting increased adoption of improved technology (e.g., seed varieties, livestock breeds), improved agricultural water management, tenure security and land markets, and strengthened agricultural innovation systems” (WB 2009: vii).
  • Linking farmers to markets and strengthening value addition. Here the aim is to support “the Doha round, investments in transport infrastructure, strengthened producer organizations, improved market information, and access to finance” (WB 2009:vii).
  • Reducing risk and vulnerability through support for “social safety nets, for better managing national food imports, innovative insurance products, protection against catastrophic loss, and reduced risk of major livestock disease outbreaks” (WB 2009:viii).
  • Facilitating agricultural entry and exit and rural nonfarm income through “improved rural investment climates, and upgraded skills” (WB 2009:viii).
  • Enhancing environmental services and sustainability through the “better managed livestock intensification, improved rangeland, watershed, forestry and fisheries management, and support to link improved agricultural practices to carbon markets (e.g., through soil carbon sequestration)” (WB 2009:viii).

As of September 2011, the GFRP had approved $1,502.5 million of funding for various projects. According to the World Bank, through the GFRP, nearly forty million vulnerable people in forty-four countries have been helped (WB 2011). Yet, far from progressive, the Bank’s proposals continue to push for a productionist paradigm based on neoliberal principles of increased market access and improved technology, suggesting a lack of critical reflection on not only the causes of the 2007-8 food price crisis, but also integrated solutions for improving food security.
Beyond the GFRP, the World Bank has supported the newly reformed Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and hosts and manages a CGIAR Multi-Donor Trust Fund to harmonize donor investments. Furthermore, and the World Bank has been asked by the G20, under the French Presidency, to support agricultural and food security working groups and plays an active role on the United Nations High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis. The World Bank also participates in the Multilateral Development Banks’ (MDB) Working Group on Food and Water Security.
In 2009, when the G8 committed $20 billion in funding for sustainable agriculture at the l’Aquila Summit, the World Bank created an agriculture trust fund committing $1.5 billion of its own resources. This became the fund managed by the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP). The Fund has secured pledges from donor countries but has also attracted private investment.
To summarise then, in the wake of the 2007-8 food price crisis, the World Bank has undertaken a number of activities which  responded to the crisis in several ways which can be categorized as follows:

  • Policy advice: engagement in policy dialogue and undertaking research.
  • Financial Support: through the Global Food Price Crisis Response Program and later the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program.
  • Increasing investment in agribusiness: through the Action Plan, the WB aimed to increase support for agriculture and related sectors to upwards of $8.3 billion annually between 2010 and 2012. In 2011, the WB group lent $5.8 billion to these sectors.
  • Development and implementation of agricultural sector and supply chain risk management strategies developing countries through the provision of technical assistance, capacity transfer, and training.
  • Analytic programme of research in partnership with other agencies and through ongoing support of the CGIAR.

While the Rome-based food agencies (FAO, IFAD, WFP) employ the majority of specialized staff working on issues of food security, they often lack the agility and financial resources necessary to undertake innovative work at the country level (Ahmad 2011:4). The World Bank, by taking advantage of this disparity, has the capacity to exercise a disproportionate amount of influence on policy making nationally and internationally (Ahmad 2011:4). And thus, while the World Bank’s technical expertise pales in comparison to that of the Rome-based agencies, it has access to the required resources and increasingly, to science, as a founding member and co-sponsor of CGIAR. With ample funding (albeit less than what was pledged), a slim bureaucracy, country-level presence and links to politically powerful ministries (e.g., ministries of finance), the World Bank is positioned to remain the primary source of funding for agriculturally-related assistance (Ahmad 2011:4).
Ahmad, M. 2011. Improving the International Governance of Food Security and Trade. ICTSD #38 (September). Geneva. Available:
World Bank. 2011. Food Crisis: What the World Bank is Doing. Available:
World Bank. 2009. Implementing Agriculture for Development, World Bank Group Agriculture Action Plan: FY 2010-12. Washington: WB and IFC. Available:

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