MADRID, SPAIN - Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Haruhiko Kuroda announced $500 million in immediate budgetary support to tackle rising food costs in Asia-Pacific region and pledged to double lending to $2 billion for agriculture in 2009.

"The situation demands early responses by governments with targeted programs that provide direct assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable, as well as policy measures that support open trade and distribution of basic commodities across the region," Mr. Kuroda said at the closing news conference of the 41st Annual Meeting in the Spanish capital.

In 2008, ADB is already planning to lend $1 billion to the agricultural and natural sector and will double its lending to the sector to over US$2 billion in 2009.

In addition, ADB will provide up to $500 million as immediate budgetary support to the hardest-hit countries in Asia-Pacific for safety nets to protect the poor and vulnerable in the face of rising food prices.

"This will help governments alleviate the fiscal burden so that they can bring food to the table of the vulnerable, poor and needy. These resources could also be used to import food grains and agricultural inputs such as fertilizers," Mr. Kuroda said.

More than 1 billion people in the region are seriously impacted by the food price surge as food expenditure accounts for 60% of total expenditure in the region. Food and energy together account for more than 75% of total spending of the poor in the region.

ADB said that in the long term its assistance to the agricultural and natural resource sector would seek to enhance productivity, improve market access and deepen reforms.

Another outcome of this year's Annual Meeting was the endorsement of ADB's Strategy 2020, a new long-term strategy for the organization. With this in place, ADB will begin consultations with member countries on the organization's future resource availability.

"We thank our donor countries for agreeing on a major increase to replenish our concessional Asian Development Fund by an unprecedented amount totaling $11.3 billion," Mr. Kuroda said.

ADB's next Annual Meeting will be held in Bali, Indonesia in May 2009.