The package of aid interventions that the world's eight wealthiest nations put in place last year to respond to the food-price crisis of 2007-08 was insufficient, according to a new report from the U.K. Hunger Alliance and the Oakland Institute. Instead, governments should be investing in sustainable agriculture in the fight against global hunger, the report concludes.
The World Food Programme expanded its budget by $755 million in 2008, and in 2009, the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations set aside $20 billion for food aid, although most of the money has not yet materialized. The funds that were spent went mainly to food subsidies, cash transfers, and other conventional agriculture investments, including chemical inputs-in what the report authors say was a 'missed opportunity.'
'Despite lofty aid commitments at international summits, only a marginal proportion of the G8's financial pledges to address hunger have actually been disbursed,' said Frederic Mousseau, Senior Fellow at the Oakland Institute and a report author.
To date, the most common form of agricultural investment has been support for short-term, chemical interventions, namely fertilizer, according to the analysis. In countries such as Benin, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Niger, and Rwanda, as much as 90-100 percent of World Bank agricultural funding went to such inputs. Yet a variety of other steps would be more effective in addressing the root causes of hunger, the report notes-including investing in irrigation, extension, local seed production, crop diversification, preservation of natural resources, and activities that favor smallholders and the rural poor.
The report also points to the inadequate G8 response on the issue of land distribution, a significant factor behind persistent hunger in much of the world. In many developing countries, rising food prices have encouraged the large-scale purchase and lease of land, making it harder for small-scale farmers to engage in agriculture and boost their production.
In addition to providing policy recommendations on trade and fiscal measures, management of food stocks, and price controls, the study focuses on ways to improve agricultural production in the long term, and to improve its sustainability. Among the positive case studies, the authors note that in 2008, Bangladesh used some $15 million of international investment to install four large-scale waste composting plants southeast of the capital city, Dhaka. And in 2009, the Philippines ended its fertilizer subsidy program to encourage more widespread use of organic fertilizer.
The number of hungry people in the world continues to grow, surpassing a record 1 billion in 2009. And despite historic increases in the World Food Programme budget, only 9 percent of the 19 million severely malnourished children in 2009 received the treatment they needed, according to the report. In response, groups like the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (ECASARD) in Ghana are tapping into farmer innovation and developing comprehensive approaches to end hunger, improve livelihoods, and protect natural resources.
Visit Worldwatch's Nourishing the Planet blog to learn more about innovative ways to address hunger.