Music star Bono, representatives from big agribusiness, and the leaders of developing countries gathered in Washington Friday for the announcement of a new agreement, under which private companies will contribute $3 billion toward food security in Africa. The aid has the potential to ease some of the suffering of continent's poorest people. But the agreement is a small fix for a sizable problem that is increasingly difficult for G8 countries to solve.
"A lot of governments are looking at their domestic fiscal challenges and are reluctant to renew their commitments" to food security aid, says Gregory Adams, spokesperson for international aid organization Oxfam. While G8 countries work to solve their budgetary problems, private companies including Monsanto, Dupont, Cargill, and Vodafone have agreed to contribute $3 billion toward the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, in an effort to lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years. The initiative is largely aimed at helping African farmers produce and sell their crops.
The agreement comes in advance of the G8 summit at Camp David, where President Obama and other global leaders will meet to discuss both food security and the Eurozone crisis. The economic turmoil in Europe could hinder some countries from further contributing toward food security. Some European nations contributed toward the three-year, $22 billion commitment made after the 2009 G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy.
President Obama alluded to this difficulty Friday in his remarks announcing the agreement.
"I know some have asked, in a time of austerity, whether this New Alliance is just a way for governments to shift the burden onto somebody else. I want to be clear: The answer is no," Obama said. "As President, I can assure you that the United States will continue to meet our responsibilities, so that even in these tough fiscal times, we will continue to make historic investments in development."
"We give President Obama credit for indicating this morning that the U.S. is going to sustain its commitment," says Adams. "The U.S. has a leadership role to play in that regard, and we're very supportive of the U.S. for doing that, but we need to hear the rest of the G8 stand up."
Three billion dollars over 10 years may help, but the scale of that giving is "completely different" from what G8 countries contributed in the past, says John Ruthrauff, director of international advocacy at InterAction, an alliance of organizations that works in international development.
To make that $3 billion investment worthwhile, he says, it will take plenty of work and expertise to back it up.
"It's not just money. It's help with infrastructure. marketing, housing, a whole lot of things that have to be done for small holder farmers to up their productivity and availability of markets." says Ruthrauff. "The question is: Can they be creative enough to actually go do that?"
Ruthrauff is confident that the potential is there if there is enough will to accompany it.
"Certainly the companies can do it, I believe, if they put in the resources of person power to actually get the work done and not just write a check and say 'that's all we have to do this year.' it needs to be both," says Ruthrauff. "If solving hunger was easy we would have done it a long time ago," he adds.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter at @titonka or via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.