A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
As part of Oxfam’s G8 team in Washington, DC last week, I had the chance to return to my native country with a new perspective. In my role as the Sustainable Agriculture Policy Adviser for Oxfam Great Britain, I was specifically interested in the UK’s part in the G8 summit this year, and have been reflecting on how the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition sets the stage for the next year’s summit in the UK.
As highlighted by this G8’s agenda, global hunger is a critical and growing problem. Ironically, it is the very same small-scale farmers who produce food for billions of people in the world that are the majority of those who go hungry. As we can see with the worsening food crisis in the Sahel, the third this decade, this is a long-term problem that requires long-term solutions.
As someone who has spent time with farmers in developing countries like Nepal and Ethiopia, I’ve seen firsthand what works for smallholders. Most investment needs for smallholders boil down to increased access—access to natural resources, knowledge and information, low-cost appropriate technologies, financial services, credit, policymaking processes, and basic rural services. Access is especially vital for women farmers; if women farmers had equal access and opportunities as men, the number of people suffering from hunger would drop by up to 150 million. And, as natural resources dwindle and the climate becomes more unpredictable, it is essential to support smallholder farmers to adapt through use of environmentally sustainable techniques.
In recognition of these great challenges, the G8 set out a 3-year global food security initiative in L’Aquila, Italy in 2009 to support country-led agriculture plans to the tune of $22 billion. Through this initiative, the G8 made great strides in supporting poor farmers in developing countries. As the L’Aquila agreement nears its deadline, the UK deserves credit for sticking to its pledges as well as its overall aid commitments (they still plan to hit their promise to reach 0.7% GNI for development aid in 2013). This year they are also promising $120 million over three years to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), a fund that was set up for donors to pool resources towards country agricultural investment plans. As an aid champion, the UK can encourage other G8 countries to follow its lead.
Unfortunately, although the G8 as a whole had an opportunity to renew those commitments this year, they have chosen to walk away. The new money being committed to food security is a tiny fraction of previous aid levels, representing a shrinking response to a growing problem. In addition, their New Alliance is a questionable approach to reach their goal of helping 50 million people lift themselves out of poverty, because it depends largely on low levels of private sector investment. And results have been mixed on private sector partnerships: the World Bank’s Internal Evaluation Group reported last year that less than half of projects which blended public and private funding actually reached poor people. That's hardly a ringing endorsement.
The private sector has a role to play, but is not the whole solution. Clear global commitments and frameworks coupled with effective national and regional policies are necessary. History shows that public investment in agriculture can have a large impact on poverty reduction, not just because of the importance of agriculture for food security but also because developing countries depend heavily on the agricultural sector within their economies.
As chair of next year's G8, it is the UK’s turn to raise the level of ambition and work hand in hand with developing countries to tackle the scandal that sees one in seven people going hungry. I plan to be there to hold them to it.
Read the report: Growing a Better Future: Food justice in a resource-constrained world (May 2011)
Watch the video: 15 million at risk in the Sahel food crisis: urgent help is needed now
Join: Oxfam's GROW campaign to fix the global food system