G8 promise a $20 billion chance to beat odds on hunger

Fri Jul 17, 2009 1:51pm EDT
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By Roberta Rampton -Analysis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Last week's promise by the world's wealthiest nations to spend $20 billion on impoverished farmers represents a chance to tackle chronic hunger, but leaders face daunting odds to make the pledge count.

The back-to-basics three-year commitment by G8 governments to aid small farmers in Africa and parts of Asia -- sparked in part by riots and hoarding during last year's food price spike -- represents an about-face in focus, aid experts said.

Instead of counting on shipments of food from donors, particularly the United States, to feed the more than 1 billion chronically hungry people in the world, leaders want to help more smallholder farmers feed themselves and their neighbors.

Development experts say $20 billion won't be enough to fix decades of neglect by governments of poor and rich countries alike. But they believe with enough leadership, it could significantly shift momentum in the right direction.

"This is really a very fundamental rearticulation of what it takes to achieve poverty reduction, hunger reduction, and increase economic stability in poor countries," said Christopher Barrett, a development economist at Cornell University.

There are few details of how the money will be spent [ID:nLA648234], and it's likely that not all the commitments will be "fresh" government spending.

But it could boost initiatives that give farmers seed, fertilizer, irrigation and infrastructure to get crops to market, as well as agricultural research to create seeds better suited to local conditions, and agricultural education.

Foreign farm aid has dwindled since the "Green Revolution" helped increase farm output in southeast Asia which began 40 years ago.   Continued...