BY GLORIA OH
President Obama may have nudged a few eggs down the South Lawn during the annual Easter Egg Roll, but outside the White House, advocates from ActionAid, a nonprofit organization working to eliminate poverty and injustice, gave the U.S. leader a not-so- subtle push of their own.
A life-size cutout of the president humorously depicted as a “Hunger Hero” stood next to a large poster emblazoned with, “Obama: Find the will to be a hunger hero at the G8 summit.”
Food security is defined by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization as “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
Whether the President will rise to the occasion and address food security is still up in the air, but considering how charged the issue of food and agricultural security will be in Washington D.C.’s political climate that weekend, there’s a good chance the issue will be discussed at Camp David.
As it turns out, the timing is ripe. The L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, a $20 billion financial commitment that was to be disbursed over three years from the 2009 G8 summit, is to expire this year. The agreement outlined measures to reach global food security by focusing on sustainable agricultural development while keeping a strong commitment on ensuring adequate emergency food assistance.
“L’Aquila created huge expectations, especially in Africa,” said Richard Mkandawire, former leader of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program, which aims to help African countries reach a higher path of economic growth through agriculture-led development. “Naturally, these expectations need to be addressed.”
But foreign budget austerity may challenge talks of establishing a new food security initiative with financial backing.
“If countries can’t pledge in terms of monetary investment at this point because of fiscal constraints, which we understand, then we’re pushing for an impact target, said Katie Campbell, a senior science policy analyst at ActionAid. “We are saying that countries should commit to pulling 50 million smallholder farmers out of poverty over the next three years through agricultural development.”
The Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security, which will be convened in Washington by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs the day before the G8, will highlight the need to incorporate more private-sector investment and increase the role of African leadership.
“The development agenda has been orchestrated in the past from outside the countries,” Mkandawire said. “Countries in Africa really need to see that this is their own agenda, and we need to commit our own resources.”
Critics of private-sector investment say the profit motive is inherently problematic when addressing food security and poverty alleviation due to conflicting incentives. Yet, increasing reliance on non-governmental players is fast becoming a reality.
“In a nutshell, there’s no alternative,” said Keith Wiebe, the deputy director of the agricultural development economics division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “We always think of large-scale commercial enterprises, but the biggest private sector is farmers themselves.”