After each G8 summit, a communique is regularly issued to demonstrate that all member states are in full agreement over their priorities. In the realm of food security, the G8 had an ideal opportunity to provide a clear solution that embraces trade and opportunity, a new paradigm if you will, in international development and food security. Unfortunately, G8 leaders emerging from Camp David still spoke of the same old aid commitments without any backbone, all the while ignoring the impact that trade barriers and U.S. and European multi-billion dollar subsidies have on food production in those countries most in need of development. This G8 summit was, yet again, a missed opportunity for international leaders to make a real commitment to long-term food security and support for African and developing world farmers.
President Obama has shown great leadership in ending hunger around the world with the announcement of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition during the G8 summit, which is focused on encouraging private sector investment to help sustain agriculture in African countries. As a result of the president's leadership, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has turned his eye toward hosting a hunger summit when all eyes will be on London during the 2012 Summer Olympics. While these are both steps in the right direction, it is still not enough. Everyone can agree that food security continues to be one of the pressing issues facing the developing world. The huge gap that hinders growth for farmers in the developing world is simple; they don't have the same incentives, farming skills or access to global markets as do those in the West. When demand is deliberately suffocated through economic policies, increasing supply is largely futile.
A study from the University of Minnesota found that food production will have to increase by 100 percent by 2050, a considerable task that will certainly place burdens on global agriculture and farmers. But unless real action is taken to enhance markets and provide incentives for people to invest in, and grow, high yield crops like palm oil, this challenge may prove to be out of reach. The main problem is that there is not enough of a focus on a supply side solution. The unfortunate reality is that, rather than addressing this crisis through increasing farming technology and supporting farmers in developing countries, some organizations continue to embrace the notion that only through more aid and grants can these nations achieve greater food security. This will do little or nothing to address the long-term economic well being and security for the poor in these countries. This reflects the all too often conflicting priorities behind global food security, where innovation and aid agencies are encouraged and supported, while trade is stifled. But those roles do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Aid agencies' true mission should be to empower and support farmers and food producers in developing countries. Fortunately, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) recently recognized the importance of supporting developing world farming for high yield crops. Sierra Leone-born Joe-Lahai Sormana was awarded a grant from USAID and Western Union Company to purchase a modern mill and land in Sierra Leone to produce palm oil. Sormana's palm oil will contribute to reducing Sierra Leone's food deficit with the help of USAID's grant, and will stimulate production from domestic smallholders. Now if only the U.S. and Europe would come out in support of trading with these smallholders, the success of these smallholders could attract more public and private investment in Sierra Leone's food production sector.
Governments in Africa and the private sector are actually taking measures to increase investment in agricultural commodities with significant demand, particularly of vegetable oils, for which demand is expected to continue to rise due to a rising world population. These include efforts by palm oil companies such as Sime Darby in Liberia, Olam International in Gabon, and Ghana's national investment in palm oil plantations. And much of this investment is focused on developing plantations for small farmers, reflecting a strong commitment to rural development alongside profitability and providing social services (think of health clinics and schools). These countries are leading the way on the African continent, but there is a challenge that remains in the face of rising populations. But for now, our best path forward is to look to the private sector and African governments for leadership. Moreover, the real role of the West will be to embrace polices that are supportive of African countries' decision to choose growth and development as a means to addressing food security and hunger.
Eva M. Clayton - Fmr. Congresswoman and fmr. Assistant Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization