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October 08, 2010

Global food funds necessary, but not enough

The Obama administration continues to push for new investments to end global hunger. As part of that effort, Bloomberg news reports that the U.S. will urge other nations attending the upcoming G-20 Finance Ministers meeting and the World Bank/IMF meeting this week to contribute to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP). GASFP was set up last year to channel funding requests for agricultural development. So far, the U.S., Canada, South Korea and Spain (along with the Gates Foundation) have contributed $880 million.

On the plus side, the fund is driven by host-country requests through partner agencies. Rather than setting up a cumbersome new set of rules and procedures, developing country governments can work with multilateral agencies like the International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Program and others, using their existing procedures. Some of those agencies, especially IFAD, have a long history of working with small-scale farmers and including women farmers. GAFSP’s steering committee includes donor and recipient governments, as well as representatives from Southern and Northern civil society organizations.

On the other hand, there is reason to be skeptical of a food security fund housed at the World Bank. Over the last 20 or so years, the bank’s structural adjustment programs required trade liberalization, privatization and cuts in public credit, technical assistance and other support to agriculture. In 2007, the World Bank’s own Internal Evaluation Group recognized that its under-investment in African agriculture, and its over-reliance on the private sector, had been a dismal failure. Since then, the bank has committed to mend its ways, but whether new programs housed at the bank can really contribute to food sovereignty—each country’s right to democratically determine its own path to achieve food security and the right to food—remains to be seen.

Obama is right that substantial new investment in agriculture is needed. But, as always, the devil is in the details. Over the last few years the FAO’s Committee on Food Security (CFS)—which meets next week in Rome (IATP's Sophia Murphy is attending and will report back)—has undergone a thorough reform process. It now includes active involvement by family farmers, urban poor, women, indigenous peoples and development organizations from the Nouth and Sorth. Can GASFP coordinate with the CFS to learn from experiences and priorities around the world? Will it support agro-ecological methods built on local knowledge and priorities or will it advance GMOs and other technological fixes? More money for sustainable agricultural development is necessary, but definitely not sufficient to end hunger.

Karen Hansen-Kuhn


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Paul Hagerman

your article says "the U.S., Canada, South Korea and Spain (along with the Gates Foundation) have contributed $880 million." Has all that money been confirmed? I understood that the US portion ($475 million) has been pledged, but needed approval from Congress, and that they were trying to scale back substantially, and delay sending the money. The latest total I have heard for the GAFSP is about $375 million ($224 M allocated in June and $150 M for the October funding window). If this is still the case, it emphasizes your point that more money is needed. It wouild appear that the US is urging other G20 countries to add money to GAFSP to make up for its own shortfall.

On the point about the GAFSP being housed at the World Bank, those working with the fund take pains to point out that the fund is housed there, but not governed by World Bank rules.

Karen Hansen-Kuhn

My mistake, I should have said committed rather than contributed. The budget process hasn’t played out yet in Congress, but it’s true that there is pressure for cuts. But the administration has been pushing hard for more donors to the GAFSP from the beginning. Support for a multilateral process for food security, even one housed at the Bank (which will also have access to the funds) is terrific. It’s just too bad that it isn’t more closely coordinated with the FAO Committee on Food Security, which is becoming a leader on representative, well-grounded and innovative approaches.

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