‘No empty promises’ at pre-G8 symposium on advancing food security

IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze is in impressive company today at a high-level symposium on agricultural development and food security. Held in Washington, DC, and organized by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the all-day session takes place in connection with this year’s G8 summit of world leaders.

Planting maize seeds in Mswagini village, Tanzania.
©IFAD/Mwanzo Millingan
Like the summit itself – which President Barack Obama will host tomorrow at Camp David – the symposium is taking a serious and long overdue look at how the G8 nations can most effectively advance food and nutrition security in the developing world.

Among the other participants in the event are President Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Presidents of Benin, Ghana and Tanzania, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the Administrator of USAID, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, the pop star and activist Bono, and many more.

Their presence reflects a growing international consensus that, as Nwanze said today, “food security is the foundation for global security.”

New Alliance for sustainability
In a keynote speech at the symposium this morning, Obama echoed that sentiment. “Food security is a moral imperative, but it’s also an economic imperative…and it’s a security imperative,” he said. “Reducing hunger and malnutrition around the world enhances peace and security.”

Obama went on to announce a G8 initiative, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which he called “a major new partnership to reduce hunger and lift tens of millions of people from poverty.”

Rather than relying inordinately upon emergency aid to address cyclical crises, Obama said, the alliance will honour the commitments to global food security that the G8 made at their 2009 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy. Beyond those commitments, the G8 governments and their partners will also launch substantial new programmes in support of sustainable agriculture, with a special focus on Africa.

“No empty promises,” Obama said, adding that the New Alliance will begin with projects in Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania – “but this is just the beginning.” Over the next decade, the initiative aims to help 50 million rural people overcome poverty.

Africa’s potential
IFAD, WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization welcomed the launch of the New Alliance, and the Rome-based UN agencies will remain engaged in its rollout. At a symposium panel on trade and food security, IFAD’s Nwanze shared his thoughts on the need for such an undertaking, especially in many African nations.

“Africa is the last frontier,” Nwanze said, explaining that the continent holds greater potential for agricultural development than any other region – if only because it has under-produced for so long. To realize that potential and compete internationally, he said, Africa’s smallholder farmers need “sound, vibrant and sustainable domestic markets.” Strong domestic markets, in turn, hinge upon adequate infrastructure, technology, innovation and investment.

The New Alliance is slated to be active in all of these areas.

‘An enabling environment’
Of course, small-scale farmers are, themselves, central to the agricultural private sector. As rural entrepreneurs, they must be full partners in any effort to make a mass transition from subsistence to commercial agriculture.

Therefore, Nwanze said today, “we need to have strong farmer organizations. Where farmers are organized, particularly women farmers, they begin to thrive.” By creating “an enabling environment for smallholders,” he concluded, the partners in the New Alliance can bring lasting, positive change to rural Africa and beyond.

As the G8 leaders grapple with a host of thorny economic and political issues at their summit this weekend, let’s hope they remain focused on the imperative to end hunger and food insecurity worldwide. To do anything less, as the US President so aptly put it, would be “an affront to who we are.”

Below: Watch an IFAD video on increasing  food security in African countries based on increased private sector investments in agriculture, in line with the current G8 agenda.