Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Challenging the planet's capacity to produce enough food for everyone

It really is amazing when you think about the extent to which most of us in the industrialized world take food for granted. We are engaged in some very heated debates comparing the virtues of industrialized agribusiness to those of sustainable agriculture. As important as these discussions may be, you can nonetheless imagine how absurdly abstract they must seem to the billions of people who go to sleep hungry each night.

The G8 leaders have pledged €14 billion that will be invested in activities designed to enhance food security. It is unclear to me if the policies they have adopted and plan to support with these funds will lead to the creation of sustainable agricultural systems.

G8 leaders pledge €14 billion for food security

10 July 2009

Leaders from the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations agreed today (10 July) to commit around €14 billion over the next three years to helping the world's poorest countries develop their agricultural sectors.


As the world's population approaches ten billion, issues like climate change, growing scarcity of oil and the availability of quality land and water are challenging the planet's capacity to produce enough food for everyone.

World cereal prices hit record highs in 2007 and the first half of 2008, fuelling spikes in food prices which in turn triggered riots in some developed countries, along with a series of commodity export bans. Since then, prices have fallen again due to a good harvest in 2008.

In June 2008, finance ministers from the Group of Eight industrialised countries (G8 - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain and the United States) expressed "strong concerns" about soaring crude oil and agricultural commodity prices (EurActiv 16/06/08). The July 2008 G8 summit called on G8 agriculture ministers "to convene a summit to contribute to the development of concrete and sound proposals on world food security".

The first ever meeting of G8 agriculture ministers took place in April 2009. It called for more public and private investment in sustainable farming to boost food supplies and ensure global food security (EurActiv 21/04/09).

"We welcome the commitments made by countries represented at L'Aquila [the summit host town in Italy] toward a goal of mobilising at least $20 billion [€14.3 billion] over three years," reads the declaration.

"We are committed to increasing investments in short, medium and long-term agriculture development that directly benefits the poorest and makes best use of international institutions," it adds.

The declaration does not make clear whether it is all new funds, nor does it give details of individual countries' contributions. It also makes no mention of a trust fund for the contributions to be managed by the World Bank, a proposal put forward by Washington in previous drafts but opposed by the EU.

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission said "the EU will be contributing with around €3 billion within this Initiative." The EU contribution comes on top of the bloc's €1 billion food facility announced last year (EurActiv 05/12/08).

Funds to tackle chronic under investments in agriculture

The declaration underlines that the combined effect of long-standing underinvestment in agriculture, price volatility and the economic crisis had led to increased poverty and hunger in developing countries.

According to the United Nations, the number of malnourished people has risen over the past two years and is expected to top 1.02 billion this year, reversing a four-decade trend of declines.

The G8 summit kept a strong commitment to ensure adequate emergency food assistance, but its focus on agricultural investments reflects a US-led shift toward longer-term strategies to fight hunger.

The United States is the world's largest aid donor of food - mostly grown domestically and bought from US farmers.

G8 leaders said their approach would target increased agricultural productivity, stimuli for harvest interventions, emphasise private-sector growth, women and smallholders, preserve natural resources, and prioritise job expansion, training and increased trade flows.

The announced funding over three years compares with $13.4 billion [€9.6 billion] which the G8 says it disbursed between January 2008 and July 2009 for global food security.

"The tendency of decreasing ODA [official development assistance] and national financing to agriculture must be reversed," the statement says.

History of unkept promises

G8 summits have a history of making unkept aid promises. In a report last month, anti-poverty group ONE said the world's richest nations collectively were off course in delivering on promises to more than double aid to Africa made at a G8 summit in 2005.

ONE has calculated that sub-Saharan Africa alone needs $25 billion over three years.

"Investment in seeds, fertiliser, roads and other infrastructure is desperately needed," it said.

(EurActiv with Reuters.)


The European farmers' lobby Copa-Cogeca welcomed the G8's initiative to commit more resources to investments in farming to help fight world hunger.

"This new policy initiative is highly welcome. Ensuring food security has to be a key objective in the 21st century and there must be optimal use of the contribution from local farmers and agri-cooperatives everywhere. Volatility on agricultural markets and low producer prices have led to many years of underinvestment in farming. If world hunger is to be effectively addressed, this problem must be overcome first," said Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of Copa-Cogeca.

NGO Oxfam argued the G8 promises are "nothing but luke-warm words" and no new money is being committed. "Delivering new money for food means G8 leaders getting their aid back on track – nothing more than emergency plans from all G8 leaders will make this money work for poor people," said Oxfam's Gawain Kripke.


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