International

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Significant Boost Given to Agriculture in Developing Countries

July 10, 2009 06:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
At the G8 Summit in Italy, world leaders agreed to put $20 billion toward agriculture in developing countries, the culmination of past recommendations within and beyond Africa.

A Shift in Agricultural Tactics

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The funding will be distributed over the next three years and is intended to "help the poor feed themselves," according to The Associated Press. Initially, $15 billion was committed, but the $5 billion supplement, which was decided upon after discussions with African leaders, signifies a major "shift in the global fight against hunger." World leaders appear committed to changing the current system in which developing countries are often forced to import food instead of growing their own. 

The decision comes in the wake of calls for agricultural investment earlier this month at the African Union Assembly held in Sirte, Libya.

During the Assembly, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro emphasized that agriculture has long "been the cornerstone of development in every region, not just in Africa." She asked for increased funding and attention to agriculture from donors who work with African farmers, and discussed the importance of "ensuring that all African countries have a national agricultural development strategy."

In addition to creating jobs and more lasting economic growth, agriculture can influence national security and "social equality, particularly by improving the situation of women, who account for the bulk of smallholder farmers in Africa," indicated Migiro.

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Background: Technology, GMO could boost agriculture in Africa

In a video posted on Monsanto.com, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute and the United Nations Millennium Project, talks about the need for improved agriculture in Africa through the use of technology and genetically modified organisms (GMO), such as drought-resistant seeds. Like Migiro, Sachs emphasizes that agriculture is the cornerstone of all developed countries, and that once African countries can feed themselves, they can begin to develop their own economies, rather than being dependent on richer nations.

In 2004, the U.S. and a Kenya-based organization called African Agricultural Technology Foundation agreed to identify and share agricultural technologies that could be used by African farmers. "The agreement will help African scientists to learn specific technologies developed by USDA scientists," said U.S. Agricultural Secretary Ann M. Veneman in a USDA press release at the time.

The funds recently committed by G8 countries could help such agreements reach their fullest potential. Identifying technologies and teaching techniques to African farmers requires significant financial commitment.

Related Topic: How subsidized U.S. and European agriculture affects Africa

According to an NPR study, Africa's cycle of poverty arises in large part from agricultural subsidies in the U.S. and the EU that drive up production, lower prices and flood the world market with cheap goods, particularly cotton. Africa's lack of influence over global trade leaves it at the mercy of richer nations, so many of its nations are forced to accept outside help and import food in order to survive.

Janet McKinley, who sits on Oxfam America's board of directors, wrote in 2007 that although cotton growers in California represent less than 1 percent of American farmers, they receive close to $3 billion in government subsidies every year, enabling them to dominate the world market. McKinley asserts that American overproduction thwarts Africa's attempts to compete and, for example, leaves Mali villagers, whose livelihoods depend on cotton, in abject poverty.

Key Players: Mpoko Bokanga

Mpoko Bokanga, Ph.D., is the executive director of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation. In a column for Monsanto, Bokanga discusses African government and organizations' commitment to using technology and science to improve agricultural productivity. He touches on hybrid seeds, biotechnology products made especially for Africa and talks about the "agricultural innovation platform," which involves agricultural partnerships, research and field-testing, and helping farmers gain access to markets.
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