G8 gives a boost to small farmers but more is needed

Just to show it's not over 'til it's over - and underline the power of targeted advocacy - the final communiqué on food security from the G8 leaders caught everyone by surprise by boosting the pledge for support to agriculture to US$20 billion.

It may not have been our critique that moved the leaders to set a more ambitious goal but our strong message to governments - and through the media to their citizens - can't have hurt in moving the bar.

Oxfam research shows global public investment in agricultural production fell 75 per cent from its levels in the ‘70s and has hovered around US$5 billion a year for the past twenty years. So when the draft agreement for the new food security initiative pledged US$15 billion over three years, we rightly jumped on it as a reshuffling of an old aid deck.

But between Thursday's figure and Friday's announcement, the total commitment jumped to US$20 billion - still not enough but certainly more promising.

One of the reasons they were able to boost the commitment was that they expanded the pool of contributors beyond the G8 to include countries like Spain and Brazil. But it could be too that faced with widespread criticism about the lack of new funds for agriculture - and the generally stingy response to the global call for increased aid - the world leaders assembled in l'Aquila felt they needed to cough up more.

It still pales in comparison with the resources mobilized world-wide to bail out the banks, but if it's properly targeted to small farmers - most of whom are women - it's a start on the types of investments needed to support small scale production for local consumption.

On the one hand we were caught off guard when the pledge surpassed expectations. But at the same time, we know it continues to fall far short of need - and that it likely wouldn't have happened without Oxfam's and our allies' efforts.

In the coming months we'll want to follow up carefully to confirm how much of this money is really new and to ensure it benefits the small farmers who so urgently need support to move from surviving to thriving.

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