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November-December 2010

Vol. 35, No. 6

Food security: Global agriculture pledge drive

The 2008 food crisis inspired action from world leaders on hunger and food security. In 2009 the G20 gathered in L'Aquila, Italy and in typical fashion, generously pledged to eradicate hunger by improving agriculture around the globe. Just over a year later, their $20 billion in pledges have not yet materialized, but the demand for funding has.

Soon after the L'Aquila meeting, the United States, Canada, Spain and the Gates Foundation requested that the World Bank set up a Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) as a fund to channel the pledged resources. Within months South Korea joined the effort. But as the November 3, 2010 steering committee approaches, these four countries are on a massive fund raising drive, asking other nations to make good on their pledges in light of the fact that 1) the GAFSP steering committee will consider grant proposals from 22 countries totaling almost $1 billion and 2) there is only $130 million in the fund.

Canada, the U.S., South Korea and Spain sent letters to the G20 countries, expressing deep concern at the "lack of new pledges and faltering momentum." The four countries stressed that "we need new donors to come forward to ensure that these developing countries are not turned away."

The GAFSP was established to provide financing to help complete agriculture development projects that countries themselves were implementing. It was launched in April 2010 with commitments of $880 million: $475 million from the U.S.; Canada, $230 million; Spain, $95 million; South Korea, $50 million; and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $30 million. In June, the fund awarded its first grants for a total of $224 million to five countries: Rwanda, Haiti, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and Togo.

The original thinking was that the first donations would attract other supporters, and that by October 2010, there would be $1 billion in the fund to finance all the new applications. But no other donors have come forward. And the U.S. commitment is not on solid ground: the U.S. contributed $67 million from its 2010 budget, but the $408 million for fiscal year 2011 requested by the administration was cut back both in the House ($150 million) and Senate ($250 million) appropriations committees and prospects for the final appropriations reconciliation are dim.

During the debt crisis many of the same countries now applying for grants were encouraged by the World Bank to cut back on public spending (including extension services and subsidies for farmers). And like past programs, there are a few hoops a country has to jump through to be eligible for GAFSP grants. An African country must be a part of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) - an economic development program of the African Union designed to accelerate economic cooperation and integration among African countries by providing an overarching vision and policy framework. Under NEPAD, the country must have completed the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP).

The CAADP framework process requires broad civil society consultation, but, after the GAFSP was announced as open for business in April, several African countries have rushed through their CAADP processes to make their nations eligible for grants, leaving out the important input and experience of farmers who will be most impacted when programs are implemented.

In spite of the fact that the food crisis was really caused by people's inability to pay high prices for food available in the markets the primary goal of the GAFSP is to increase farmers' productivity. Other goals that follow this goal -- like connecting farmers to markets and enhancing sustainability -- seem to be on the right track. Still, many in civil society are watching the roll out of the GAFSP quite carefully to ensure that it does not become a lightning rod for attracting investments from huge industrial agricultural operations. Since the Gates Foundations is involved in the GAFSP and in the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) many fear that it is just a matter of time before smaller producers -- especially in Africa -- are locked into buying expensive inputs (like seeds, pesticides and fertilizers) and ultimately forced off their land when they cannot keep up with payments.

After much interaction with the four donor countries involved and with the World Bank GAFSP Steering Committee, civil society has been given three seats on the board (two from southern countries and one from northern countries). At the Nov. 3 meeting of the steering committee civil society representatives will take the concerns of expanding civil society participation, and careful oversight of the private sector window for donations. They will also have input (no vote) on approving country grant requests and allocating the limited funds; and identifying independent experts to examine and assess the quality of the projects submitted. Two key UN agencies (the International Fund for Agricultural Development [IFAD] and the Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO]) also have voice, no vote representation on the steering committee.

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