Contributions pledged to tackle global hunger

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON – A core group of finance ministers from the United States, Canada, Spain and South Korea, as well as the leadership of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, met April 22 at the U.S. Department of the Treasury to announce an initial contribution of $880 million for a new fund to help alleviate global hunger and poverty and to develop a manner of soliciting additional contributions from the public and private sectors around the world.

The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program will include a U.S. commitment of $475 million, a key element of the Obama Administration's initiative to enhance food security in poor countries. Canada pledged $230 million, Spain $95 million, South Korea $50 million and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $30 million.

The fund was created in response to a call by G-20 leaders in Pittsburgh in 2009 for the World Bank Group to work with interested donors to set up a multi-donor trust fund to help implement some of the $22 billion in pledges made by G-8 leaders at their meeting in L'Aquila. The U.S. has already contributed $67 million to the fund and has requested $408 million in President Obama's FY 2011 budget, which is subject to Congressional appropriation.

Intended to boost agricultural assistance to poor countries, the fund will have both public and private-sector accounts to provide financing to countries that have robust agriculture strategies. The public-sector account will provide aid for better irrigation systems, linking farmers to markets and building post-harvest storage infrastructure. The private-sector account will provide innovative financing to increase the commercial value of small and medium-sized agri-businesses and farmers.

The fund intends to improve the income and food security of poor people in developing countries. It is estimated that the sudden increase in food prices in 2008 drove 100 million people into poverty. Even before the food price spikes, 850 million people in poor countries were chronically malnourished. Agriculture, seen as vital for development, has also been affected by low levels of investment over the past few decades and issues like climate change.

"With one-sixth of the world's people going hungry every day, the crisis in food remains very real, posing a severe economic burden on developing countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa," said World Bank Group President, Robert B. Zoellick. "Co-operation and coordination are vital to boost agricultural productivity and connect farmers to markets, as agriculture is the main lifeline today for about 75% of the world's poor.”

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