In the wake of the 2007-08 food price crisis, donors at the 2009 G8 Summit recognized the urgent need to invest in agriculture and other complementary sectors to address these challenges. The L’Aquila Global Food Security Initiative is a promise by donors to provide $22 billion in assistance, in most cases over fiscal years 2010 to 2012, and a commitment to uphold five principles of aid effectiveness known as the Rome Principles. Donors pledged varying amounts, and broke the amounts down by sub-sectors of food security related investments, including agricultural development, nutrition, and infrastructure. The Rome Principles include:
(1) Strategic coordination
(2) Country ownership
(4) Multilateralism where appropriate
(5) Sustained and accountable investments
A key component of adhering to the Rome Principles is the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP). Started in 2010, GAFSP addresses financing gaps in agricultural development assistance in coordination with national agricultural investment plans. Since the program’s inception, donors have made pledges of $913 million to the public sector window but have only delivered $263 million. Made up of representatives from recipient countries, donor countries, and civil society organizations, GAFSP’s board has chosen eight country proposals: Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Togo, Ethiopia, Niger, Mongolia, Bangladesh, and Haiti. However, an additional 20 proposals are seeking funding from the GAFSP. Thus far, Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, Korea, the United States, and the Gates Foundation have made pledges. Without additional pledges and fulfillment of pledges, the fund faces collapse.
Why meet L’Aquila commitments?
If donors fulfill their L’Aquila pledges, investments focused directly on agricultural production – in, for example, extension services, training, roads, and irrigation – will increase the incomes of at least 40 million people, including 28 million people who are currently living on incomes of less than $2 per day and 13 million people living on less than $1.25 per day. For each household, this means an additional 100 kilograms of staple food and fish, poultry, fruit, and vegetables sufficient to add 150 calories per person per day; keeping an additional child in school for a semester each year; and increasing annual spending on non-food essentials by 30%, all of which directly contribute to long-term food security and economic growth.
Two years after L’Aquila, we have yet to see the robust levels of commitment promised at the summit. While the United States launched its global food security initiative, “Feed the Future,” with much fanfare, donors are floundering to meet their commitments under the pressure of strapped budgets. While times may be tough, governments cannot balance budgets on the backs of the poor and hungry. Time is running short for countries to meet their goals and prevent irreversible damage in the form of child deaths, stunting, and poverty traps. Donors must fulfill their pledges and continue to commit resources to meeting the Rome Principles. As some donors step forward to meet their commitments, others will follow, especially when it comes to GAFSP.
Why the agriculture sector?
The Multiplier Effect is why investments in agriculture are estimated to be two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth generated from other sectors. Unlike many other sectors, agriculture employs large numbers of unskilled workers in rural areas. Not only does improving agricultural productivity make more food available in rural communities, where 70% of the world’s poor live, it also provides a sustainable source of income for people with limited opportunity. By generating additional income, farmers and others working in the agriculture sector can send their kids to school, take them to the clinic when sick, and feed them nutritious food on a regular basis, thereby preventing child deaths and stunting. Increasing flows of capital into rural areas for agriculture creates spin-offs into agro-processing, warehousing, shipping businesses, infrastructure construction, and the development of a services sector for rural residents. Thus, the Multiplier Effect makes investing in agriculture is one of the best ways to reduce poverty in the developing world.
Agriculture is also a cost-effective way for donors to improve Africa’s future. Donors are frequently compelled to spend large amounts of their aid budgets on food aid in crisis situations. If current spending patterns continue, by 2020 the world will have spent more than $333 billion fighting emergencies in Africa, while just $266 billion spent differently by 2015 could instead halve hunger by 2015. Growing rural economies and building economic resilience in rural people generates savings for donors by reducing the need for food aid, clinic visits, and other forms of aid. In short, agriculture is a sustainable and long-term approach to poverty reduction and food security.
Donor investments in agriculture produced massive gains in global food security during the second half of the 20th century. Due to a combination of smart policies and aid, increased trade, and investments in agriculture, 87% of people in the world today have enough food to eat and lead healthy lives – up from just 76% in 1970. According to others, 1 billion poor people have more to eat and better incomes because of investments in agriculture made between 1970 and 1990.
While renewed interest in agricultural development has not yet reached the scale that it previously attained, individual programs prove that cost-effective and transformative success is possible. Evergreen agriculture, a combination of agro-forestry and conservation agriculture, has improved the food security and economic situations of 5 million people in Africa. A gardening program in Bangladesh has provided homegrown, sustainable source of nutrition for 5 million families for less than $9 each. Forty countries have benefitted from the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a program of improved farm management for rice.
There are nearly one billion undernourished people in the world, and projections indicate that this number is growing due to rising food prices. The World Bank estimates price rises between June 2010 and February 2011 have pushed 44 million more people into extreme poverty, and it forecasts that a 10% rise in food prices would push 10 million more, while a 30% increase would add 34 million. Poverty and hunger are inextricably linked, and they pose a significant threat to human life and productivity. In addition to providing additional income, jobs, and wealth, increasing national and regional capacity to produce food provides a market-based buffer against volatile world food markets, lessening the risk of humanitarian crisis faced by poor countries.
Agriculture as a share of official development assistance was as much as 17% in the late 1980s, but fell to 6% in recent years. During that time, international financial institutions encouraged developing countries to scale-back their national extension services, marketing boards, and other state-run agricultural support. As a result, the agriculture sector, especially in Africa, suffers from a dearth of research and extension, up-to-date infrastructure, and access to information and inputs.
With world population expected to grow to 9 billion in 2050, experts estimate that food production must increase by 50%. As demand for arable land is rising at a faster rate due to population and economic growth, water scarcity, and demand for biofuels, food production must intensify and agricultural productivity must rise to meet the needs of a larger world. Since African agricultural productivity has remained more or less stagnant since 1960 compared to the rest of the world (see graph), closing the African Agriculture Gap, which is largely an issue of access, poses an opportunity to help meet the needs of a growing world population. Likewise, giving women equal access to inputs alone would increase their yields by over 20%, and ensuring women equal access to land, credit, extension, and inputs could increase world food production by 5-6%. Additionally, investing in women, who produce 60-80% of food in Africa, amplifies benefits and yields more for children.
Just as societies can spiral upward as a result of inclusive economic growth, they can spiral downward as individuals slip into poverty traps and children suffer irreversible mental and physical damage as a result of undernourishment. Given the global economic downturn, the volatile state of world food markets and rising demand for biofuels, investment in agriculture in selected poor countries is more urgent than ever. It poses a unique opportunity for individuals and countries to work their way out of poverty toward a sustainable future.
What is ONE doing?
ONE is building support toward three primary objectives in 2011:
1. Hold donors in key markets accountable to their L’Aquila financial commitments through advocacy and a L’Aquila Accountability Report.
2. Hold donors in key markets accountable to the Rome Principles, especially the principle of multilateralism as represented by the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP).
3. Raise donor awareness about the importance of agriculture and its successes in the fight against hunger and extreme poverty
4. Build a foundation of policymaker support for future campaigns, including a more comprehensive response to a global food crisis, should one arise.
 Malnutrition underlies 35% of child deaths in the developing world, and, each year, more than 3.5 million children die as a result. Hunger also robs the poor of a healthy and productive life and stunts the mental and physical development of the next generation. Around 40% of children in Africa are permanently stunted, both mentally and physically. Experts calculate that undernutrition costs developing countries up to 3%of their annual gross domestic product and places individuals at risk of losing more than 10% of their lifetime earning potential.