By Stephanie Strom | NYT | May 17, 2012
The Obama administration has drafted some of the world’s largest food and finance companies to invest more than $3 billion in projects aimed at helping the world’s poorest farmers grow enough food to not only feed themselves and their families but to earn a livelihood as well.
President Obama and the leaders of four African countries will introduce the group of 45 companies, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, on Friday at a symposium on food security and agriculture that will begin the summit meeting of the Group of 8 industrialized nations this weekend at Camp David in Maryland.
“We are never going to end hunger in Africa without private investment,” said Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. “There are things that only companies can do, like building silos for storage and developing seeds and fertilizers.”
The alliance includes well-known multinational giants like Monsanto, Diageo and Swiss Re as well as little-known businesses like Mullege, an Ethiopian coffee exporter.
The introduction of the group will coincide with the administration’s report on the progress of what is known as the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, the largest international effort in decades to combat hunger by investing in the fundamentals of agriculture, including seeds, fertilizer, grain storage, roads and infrastructure.
The initiative, first agreed upon by the Group of 8 leaders at their meeting in L’Aquila, Italy, in 2009, was a pledge to put $22 billion into food and agriculture projects. Although much of the money had previously been earmarked for agriculture projects, about $6 billion was new.
Almost all of the $22 billion has now been “budgeted and appropriated,” and 58 percent of it has been disbursed, Mr. Shah said. “I am confident that continuing into this year and the next, the U.S. and other countries will absolutely meet their commitments,” he said.
He conceded, however, that not all of the money is being spent as promised, which has drawn complaints from many nongovernmental organizations and African countries.
“The grand promise of L’Aquila was, if you build a plan for agriculture, the donors will help them find the resources for it,” said Gregory Adams, director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization.
“Now there are 30 plans of varying degrees of quality with shovel-ready projects donors could invest in today, but instead donors have put their money in other things.”
Some donor countries have insisted that their money be spent on traditional food handouts rather than the building blocks of an agricultural development program, Mr. Adams said.
Several companies that were contacted said the administration had asked them not to speak about their commitments until Friday.
Mr. Shah, however, offered a few examples. Tanseed, a Tanzanian seed company, will commit to spend $11 million over time to buy certified seed and sell it in little packets to meet the needs of small farmers.
Derek Yach, senior vice president for global health and agriculture policy at PepsiCo, a member of the alliance, said it grew from work the World Economic Forum had been doing on food security with the African Union.
“What’s exciting about it is that the companies participating really extend across the value chain,” Mr. Yach said, including seeds, plants, processing and financing.
Mr. Shah said that the administration does not plan for the private sector to take over.
“The president will commit to encouraging ourselves and our G-8 partners to seek to maintain the high level of commitment to agriculture and food security even as we go forward beyond the formal L’Aquila period” of three years, he said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 17, 2012
A previous version of this article referred to the alliance of 45 companies as the Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security.