G8’s $25bn plan to aid poor farmers
Correspondents in L’Aquila, Italy | July 11, 2009
BARACK Obama and other leaders of wealthy nations unveiled a $US20 billion ($25.7bn) fund to help feed the developing world yesterday as they were urged to help the poor survive the global economic downturn.
On the last day of the G8 summit in Italy, the US President and his peers tried to answer criticism that they had turned their backs on those most vulnerable to the global economic crisis and held talks with African leaders.
As Mr Obama prepared to embark on his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa, delegates said he played a key role in persuading about 30 wealthier countries to bankroll a fund aimed at helping smallholder farmers to increase crop yields.
It was initially expected the fund would total $15bn, but Mr Obama said that figure had now reached $20bn.
The US will reportedly stump up about $US3.5bn of the cash, and Japan and the European Union between will put in between $US3bn and $US4bn each.
“We have committed to investing $20bn in food security, and agricultural development programs to help fight world hunger. This is in addition to the aid we provide,” Mr Obama said.
“Going into the meeting, we had agreed to $US15bn. We exceeded that mark, and obtained an additional $US5bn of hard commitments.”
The fund signifies a shift in focus by the rich nations away from food aid to giving practical help for local agriculture.
“We believe the purpose of aid must be to create the conditions where it’s no longer needed to help people become self-sufficient, provide for their families and lift their standards of living,” Mr Obama said.
The head of UN agricultural agency IFAD, Kanayo Nwanze, was among those who welcomed the plan, saying it represented a “shift from food aid — which is like providing medication after the child is ill — to providing assistance to help the countries … produce food by themselves”.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said there was an urgent need for action to combat the hunger “that is now gripping over a billion people” worldwide.
“It’s unacceptable that today people should go hungry in a climate as fertile as ours,” he said as he welcomed the fund.
Aid agency Oxfam had initially criticised the amount of time devoted to Africa at the summit but later changed its tune, saying the G8 and other leaders had “upped their game today”.
“Much of this funding is recycled, but the new money makes a downpayment on eliminating hunger,” said Oxfam spokesman Gawain Kripke.
Irish pop star Bono, a long-time Africa aid campaigner, hailed Mr Obama’s contribution.
“Of all the enemies of civilisation, hunger is the dumbest, the most mocking of all we hold true,” said the U2 frontman.
“We are delighted President Obama has returned to this, the most fundamental of rights, with a stimulus package for the agricultural sector that is smart and innovative,” he said. “But he can’t do it alone.”
At the talks between the African leaders and the G8, veteran Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called for a freeze on the repayments of loans by African countries to help them weather the downturn.
Mr Obama, whose father was Kenyan, and his wife, Michelle, a descendant of African slaves, were to leave for Ghana late last night on the first visit to sub-Saharan Africa by a black US president.
But before he left Italy, he last night had his first audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.
Earlier, hundreds of Italian carabinieri police were deployed along the route of a march by anti-globalisation protesters towards the G8 summit venue.
About 3000 anti-globalisation protesters and local residents set off from Paganica, where one of dozens of tented camps have been set up to house victims of the devastating April 6 earthquake.
The three-day summit, which wrapped up yesterday, was dominated by the global downturn and disagreements over how to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets.
On Thursday, Mr Obama said the world’s biggest economies had reached a “historic consensus” on cutting pollution, saying rich nations had a duty to set an example, as the leaders agreed to shun protectionism.