A food security strategy we can’t afford not to fund

Jun 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Agriculture, Financing, Food, Population, Poverty

Guardian: Supporting small farmers really works, especially for women. But to continue work, we need G20 partners to step up to the plate.

Less than 10 years ago, a generation of children was born to subsistence farmers in Liberia, a country torn by civil war and conflict. Some of their mothers became a political force against the oppression and violence of the government. They won their freedom. Today, thanks in part to these courageous women, Liberia is a young democracy that has elected the first female head of state in Africa.

But these same women, who risked their lives for the safe future of their children, are struggling with a much more basic challenge: providing food for their families. When the rain stops, their crops dry up, and when international food prices increase, they can’t purchase enough food with their small incomes. Parents in countries like Liberia won freedom from war for their children, but now, they fight for a luxury we take for granted: food security.

For all these reasons, at the outset of his presidency, President Obama made food security a key development priority. As part of that, the United States joined with Canada, Spain, Australia, South Korea and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in forging a new global partnership to support local solutions to fight hunger called the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP).

Last week, the fund announced a new round of investments totalling $160m for Liberia, Cambodia, Nepal and Tajikistan. These funds are invested in agriculture because it is a proven and effective anti-poverty strategy, a foundation for social stability; and as most small farmers are women, it is a way to empower them.

But amid this great success lies a great challenge. After awarding the most recent round of assistance, the fund has fully depleted its resources. While we have been able to help 12 countries, we have turned away more than 20. As donors in a difficult budget environment, we have striven to keep our promises and we are calling on our international partners to do the same. Without swift support from the rest of the G8 and the G20, the global fight against hunger could be put at great risk.

Much attention has focused on the swings in food prices over the past several years. Large and unpredictable price fluctuations can create uncertainty for farmers and adversely impact the most vulnerable populations. Finding ways to reduce this vulnerability is important, but to address food security, our actions need to go beyond a focus on short-term volatility. We need to look at the fundamental factors driving food prices: demand and supply. The world is confronting population growth, while supply and production is constrained by climate change, water scarcity and lack of technology, especially among smallholder farmers.

In countries like Liberia, greater food security for the rural poor means small-holder yields must go up. To increase productivity, farmers need access to technology; to protect and preserve their crops, farmers need storage infrastructure; to sell their surplus, farmers need roads that link to markets. The solutions are well-known but they require sustained investments. And these investments have to be channelled in a smart way, as they are through this fund.

For the hillside farmers of Rwanda, we are providing resources to enrich soil, improve seeds and fertilisers and reduce erosion. In the last harvest, crop yields for some farmers increased six-fold – and they were able to sell the excess at market, and thus bolster their income and provide for their families. Whether it is nomadic communities in Mongolia or rural entrepreneurs in Haiti, the fund is working in 12 countries to enable small farmers to grow more and earn more.

We have already been able to provide nearly $500m in grants in the fund’s first year of existence. At the same time, developing country governments have demonstrated their own financial commitment to agriculture, a key criteria for GAFSP recipients. But this effort goes beyond governments – in fact, it rests on steadfast participation of civil society organisations to give smallholder farmers a stronger voice in this effort.

If there were ever a moment in time for our partners to come forward and join in a coordinated response to combat food insecurity, this is it. With their support, the Liberian generation, and many children in other countries, can come of age without being held back by hunger. And with that, there is hope for us to build a more secure and stable world. Source>>

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