In my last post, I wrote about the launch of a new fund, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP). The GAFSP, a multidonor trust fund to be managed by the World Bank, is the first concrete step the G8/G20 countries have taken towards fulfilling their pledge to “to act with the scale and urgency needed to achieve sustainable global food security,” as expressed at the L’Aquila G8 meeting in July 2009.
The effort is – in itself – commendable. The availability of new funding for food security initiatives in low income countries, and a renewed focus on addressing the long term causes of food insecurity are critical steps towards eradicating chronic hunger. As the GAFSP begins its implementation, here are a few observations regarding the execution of this ambitious initiative:
Avoiding a financing gap
The $880 million of initial funding announced last week fell way short of the $20 billion pledge, and G8/G20 countries still have a long way to go to give the GAFSP fund the monies it will need to fulfill its mission. As Bill Gates – a major donor to the fund, with a contribution of $30 million – noted last week “This falls far short of what would really be a dramatic change for these farmers. Even if this is all that happens this is a super-good thing but our ambition should be to get much closer to the commitment that was made at L’Aquila.” Other donors currently include South Korea ($50 million), Canada ($230 million), Spain ($95 million) and the United States ($475 million). The fund is open to participation from foundations, countries and corporations alike, and the G8/G20 countries will have to work hard to leverage the necessary funding from their budgets and their private sector.
Food security and economic development
Food security and self-sufficiency are critical elements of sovereignty, and countries will have difficulty addressing other social, economic and political development questions if a majority of their population are hungry. However, all of these issues are closely linked to one another, and agricultural development policies and initiatives financed by the GAFSP fund should be squarely focused on creating linkages between food security and poverty alleviation in rural areas. Strengthening agricultural sectors to alleviate rural poverty will require consultation with and the participation of local private and public leadership (including farmer organizations, consumer groups, etc). The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s Deputy Director-General Jim Butler recently noted that “sustainable agriculture has been proven to drive economic growth, and in so doing provides opportunities for smallholder farmers and ensures improved food security and better nutrition,” adding that “Agricultural growth, compared with growth in other sectors, also has the greatest impact on rural poverty.”
Focusing on smallholder farmers
Smallholder farmers, which constitute a vast majority of the rural poor in low income countries (80 million small farms producing an estimated 80% of agricultural goods in Sub-Saharan Africa, by some estimates) can be supported through a combination of guaranteed loans, improving access to seeds and fertilizers, strengthening land and property right laws, as well as ensuring the co-development of associated agro-industries. However, these improvements can only be sustainable if they are introduced at costs that can be locally sustained. In other words, introducing new technologies and better inputs will only benefit the long term food security and economies of low income countries if these do not create new forms of financial and technological dependence.
One tactic as part of a broader strategy
Lastly, it’s important to emphasize the fact that the GAFSP fund should not be seen as the “be all and end all” solutions to chronic hunger. Recipients of GAFSP financing will need to work on ancillary initiatives such as expanding access to credit, improvements to infrastructure, or developing sound agricultural and farm policies. G8/G20 countries will also need to address trade policy, create incentives for long term private sector investments in low income countries, develop mechanisms to protect countries from shocks like droughts, floods, market volatility…
This new, multidonor trust fund is an excellent initiative that will likely yield some positive results in terms of increasing food security in low income countries. That said, much still needs to be done. For instance, the International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that an additional $14 billion in agricultural public investment in developing countries is necessary if the world is to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015.
Image: farmers in Bong County, Liberia, explaining the logistics of a newly installed vegetable nursery.