Sunday, July 12, 2009

G8 pledges $20 billion for agriculture in the developing world

Reuters: G8 pledges $20 billion in farm aid to poor nations, African leaders to ask G8 to honour pledges, G8 summit pledges $20 bln to boost food output
Financial Times: G8 to commit $20 billion for food security

According to United Nations reports, the number of malnourished people worldwide will exceed 1.02 billion this year. This represents a dramatic reversal, as the current global recession erodes decades of progress in reducing malnutrition. 103 million more are predicted to suffer before the end of the economic downturn. In response to these predictions, and near the end of a summit frustrated by discord, the G8 announced a pledge of $20 billion to fight hunger in the developing world.

On July 10th, the G8 promised to deliver $20 billion over the next three years, investing in agriculture to promote food security. The pledge is smaller than past aid commitments but has the potential to effect real change, according to development experts, because of its clear focus. Jacques Diouf, director general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, responded optimistically to the pledge, calling it “the biggest shift in strategy [he’s] seen over the past two decades.” The new strategy highlights the need to help hungry and poor people produce their own food. Emergency food aid, though necessary to help impoverished countries withstand food crises, is only part of the equation, according to Ajay Vashee, president of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers. The new G8 pledge aims to improve food security through investment in infrastructure- reaching small farmers with new seeds, irrigation technologies and farming methods to improve agricultural productivity within developing countries.

Leaders from Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa joined G8 members later in the summit for a half-day meeting, discussing food security, past aid commitments and a proposal for climate change compensation. Led by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the African leaders were initially positive in their response to the $20 billion pledge but asked the G8 to live up to their commitments. Some remain wary, hesitant to rely on new promises from the G8 while member countries fail to follow through on 2005 aid commitments. Nigerian Agricultural Minister Abba Ruma called the pledge “very commendable,” especially in view of the current global recession, but called for the funds to be disbursed expeditiously.

NGOs have responded to the pledge with a mixture of hope and skepticism. Many view the pledge as a potentially significant policy shift, but are wary given the G8’s track record. According to ActionAid, a British aid organization, total food aid must reach $23 billion per year by 2020 to reach the millennium development goal for world hunger reduction. The G8 pledge does not reach that goal independently, but for many it is a welcome step in the right direction.

1. U.S. president Barack Obama, discussing the G8 pledge, said "there is no reason Africa should not be self-sufficient when it comes to food.” What are the reasons that Africa has not been self-sufficient in food production in the past?
2. Can G8 leaders responsibly pledge additional aid when some are failing to meet existing aid commitments? Does the current recession affect the likelihood that G8 countries will follow through on the pledge?

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