Five nations will receive the first grants from a new and unusual fund aimed at helping developing-world farmers.
Bangladesh, Haiti, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Togo will receive a total of $224 million from the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, a new World Bank-administered fund set up following a pledge by leaders of the Group of 8 countries last year to commit more development aid to agriculture.
Advocates praise the new fund, but say not all of the G8 nations are living up to their pledges.
Food price crisis
When G8 leaders met in L'Aquila, Italy, last July, the 2008 food price crisis was fresh in their minds. High prices for staple foods had pushed more than 100 million people into poverty and hunger and triggered riots in several countries.
Led by the Obama administration, the G8 pledged $22 billion to boost food production in developing countries. Last September, in Pittsburgh, the G20 called for a fund to be set up at the World Bank to channel some of that pledge.
The five grants announced this week are the first to come from that fund.
'Making good on promises'
"It is...the first real and strong signal that the international community is serious," says Navtej Dhillon, senior advisor with the U.S. Treasury Department. "It's about some of the donors making good on their promises."
The donors are an unusual group. It includes G8 members the United States and Canada, but also Spain and South Korea, as well as the private foundation of software tycoon Bill Gates.
And it's not just the donors that are unusual. The funds are administered by the World Bank, and program manager Christopher Delgado says there is an unusual amount of coordination among the donors and with the recipient countries.
"It's not just an individual donor showing up one day and saying to the minister, 'Gee, what can we do for you today?" he says. "Or, worse, in some cases, 'Gee, we've got something we'd like to do and we hope you agree.'"
Delgado says countries come up with their own plans to help farmers, after consulting with civil society groups and the private sector. They put up some of their own money. Outside experts review the proposals. And the countries collect data to measure whether their programs are working.
"This is a tough economic time for a lot of people, including in the donor countries," he says, "and if we're going to be spending money, we really have to show that we're achieving results."
David Beckmann, president of the charity group Bread for the World, says, "What they are planning to do is just excellent...The broad plans are right. The donor countries are trying to be receptive to what the recipient countries want. The idea of investing in poor farmers is right on track."
Other G8 countries lagging
Beckmann praises the Obama administration for its leadership on the issue, and says Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union are living up to the commitments they made in L'Aquila last year.
But as G8 leaders meet again in Canada this week, critics say not all of them can make that claim.
The advocacy group Oxfam says Italy, France, and the Netherlands counted existing funds as their part of the $22 billion pledge. And although the group praises the United States for putting forward new money, the group's David Waskow says, "It appears as though there's some double-counting going on, and the U.S. is counting the same pot of funds both to its L'Aquila commitments from the G8 last year and toward its Copenhagen commitments on climate."
Others point out that even $22 billion would be far less than what is needed to meet the goal nations set for themselves to cut hunger and extreme poverty in half by 2015. But there is broad agreement that it's a step in the right direction after agriculture worldwide suffered decades of neglect.