The G8 is on the trail to food security this week. How will we know if they get there?

Porter McConnell is the Oxfam policy lead for the G8 Camp David summit.

This Friday, G8 leaders are making a big announcement on food security. We expect the launching of a new initiative.  Past summits haven’t always had development on the agenda, and the US hosts deserve credit for making sure food security is front and center. Now that the G8 is on the trail to food security, how will we know if they get there?

Although we don’ t have all the details of the initiative, here are some key mile-markers to measure the G8’s progress on the new food security initiative. If they can meet these milemarkers on their trail, it will indeed be a great day for nearly 1 billion poor and hungry people:

1. Does it match the scale of the need?

G8 leaders committed to support developing-country plans for agriculture to the tune of $7 billion a year over 3 years when they met in L’Aquila, Italy, three years ago. Earlier in Maputo, African governments committed to allocating 10% of their budgets to support agriculture, since it’s how three-fourths of Africans make a living. Experts suggest the global need for agriculture funding is between $60 and $75 billion a year. As much as private sector commitments are welcome, they are usually in the millions of dollars, rather than billions.   There’s no substitute for public investment. If the G8 wants to stay on the trail, the new G8 food security initiative needs to scale up the G8’s public sector investments from $7 billion a year to $10 billion to show forward momentum.  At a minimum, the modest funding commitments of L’Aquila should not be eroded. 

2. Is it consistent with Africa’s plans for agriculture?

Just as important as the “how much” test is the “how” test. Efforts to tackle food insecurity work best when they are led by the people and the nations who are closest to the problem. That’s why the G8 committed, through the Rome Principles, to channel their funding through country investment plans for agriculture. While a lot of the G8 countries are on track to meet their “how much” goals, they’re not doing so great on this “how”. A recent ActionAid report suggests that donors are, for the most part, still not funding through country plans. Any new initiative has to be consistent with country plans if it’s to succeed. Unfortunately, this week, we expect the G8 leaders to focus on private sector investment—despite the fact that most country plans don’t include much of a funding role for the private sector. African civil society wants to see a continued commitment to L’Aquila and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), not a distraction or a shift in responsibility. A new initiative needs to prove it’s part of Africa’s plans to be headed in the right direction.

3. Does it hold everybody accountable for delivering on promises?

Every year, the G8 puts out an accountability report intended to hold itself accountable for progress. This year, the US hosts are to be commended for making an effort to include not just what the G8 committed, but what it actually delivered. But next year and especially the year after, the accountability report will be measuring progress against the new food security initiative. How does – or should – the G8 hold private sector accountable for pledges made? They don’t answer to other G8 leaders, they answer to their shareholders. Their pledges are strictly voluntary. For the new food security initiative to succeed, all pledges must have a clear accountability mechanism, or else the initiative will get stuck at the trail head.

4. Is it based on evidence, with a clear path to poverty reduction?

Governments are often tempted to turn to well-resourced multi-national companies and investors in a period of constrained public budgets. But this faith in the private sector as a panacea is not always based on evidence.  There’s not much evidence that using donor dollars to leverage private sector funds delivers results for poor people. A recent report by the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group pointed out that less than half of its International Finance Corporation (IFC) projects successfully reached the poor. For a new G8 food security initiative to succeed, it needs to have a clearly-marked path to poverty reduction, one that’s based on the evidence, not on blind faith.

On Friday, G8 leaders will announce a new food security initiative at a special event in Washington the day before they head out to Camp David. Stay tuned this week to hear how they’re faring on the trail!

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