G20 urged to deliver pledges for world hunger

Evidence continues to emerge that the release of international donor funds to support global food security is matching neither the scale of the promises nor the urgency of the situation.

According to its June report, grants have been awarded to a total of 12 developing countries by the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), a key multilateral fund established to support national hunger plans by G20 leaders at the Pittsburgh summit in 2009.

But 20 countries have been turned away, according to Lael Brainard, under-secretary for international affairs at the US Treasury. And GAFSP administrators say that new proposals must remain on hold, “pending availability of funding.”

Only six of the richer countries, together with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have so far made pledges to GAFSP. The total of $925 million includes offers from Spain and Ireland whose economies are facing exceptional difficulties.

Lael Brainard has emerged as a cheerleader for GAFSP fundraising. “Without swift support from the rest of the G8 and the G20, the global fight against hunger could be put at great risk,” she wrote in the UK Guardian last week.

This is a bold position for the under-secretary to adopt because the current gap between funds received by GAFSP and funds promised is almost entirely attributable to the US. Of $475 million pledged, only $167 million has been approved by Congress.

Ms Brainard did acknowledge the embarrassment in a recent speech at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs. “Without greater progress on our pledge, it is difficult for the United States to convince other development partners to contribute. That’s why it will be critical for Congress to fund the Administration’s request of $308 million in FY2012,” she said.

This funding tension comes at a time of rising concern about hunger and malnutrition in developing countries. Escalating global prices of staple grains combined with persistent extreme weather conditions in vulnerable regions have driven an additional 44 million people into poverty, according to the World Bank.

Fearing a possible repeat of the 2008 food crisis, agriculture ministers from the G20 group of countries will assemble for an unprecedented meeting in Paris on Monday.

Recent days have witnessed a deluge of advice from international development agencies on action that ministers should take to protect global food security in general and the poor in particular.

Top favourite is a curb on speculative trading of food commodities. In its role as G20 chair, the French government is known to be sympathetic to this call but may be forced to rule the matter as the business of finance rather than agriculture ministers.

Shenggen Fan, Director General of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, is amongst those who have published advice on food security. But he prefers not to lose sight of the underlying financial imperative.

“Before the international community issues any new recommendations, they first need to make good on previous commitments,” he says, referring to the 2009 pledge by G8 leaders to raise an additional $20 billion for agriculture in poor countries. Less than a quarter of this amount has been disbursed, according to the G8 accountability report published last month.

Ethiopia is a key country to monitor for progress on agriculture. Already seriously affected by the drought in the Horn of Africa, the country has over 10 million people in need of food assistance.

For longer term development of its farming sector, Ethiopia is one of the fortunate few countries to be funded by the GAFSP program. The grant totals $51.5 million.

But this figure may only scratch the surface. Ethiopia’s Policy and Investment Framework, its ten-year plan for agriculture, estimates the funding gap that will have to be sought from international donors. It totals $6.2 billion.

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this article was first published in the OneWorld section of Yahoo World News

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