A remarkable thing happened at the US Treasury in DC today; the United States, Canada, Spain, South Korea and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation agreed to pool resources, and as Bill Gates described it, “put small holder farmers, especially women, front and center” of a new multilateral agriculture and food security program. The Gates Foundation will contribute $30 million.
The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) will focus on increasing agricultural productivity and linking farmers to markets. A special feature of the program is the focus on country ownership that puts countries in the driver’s seat.
The GAFSP was created in response to a call from G20 leaders last year for the World Bank to work with interested donor to set up a multi-donor trust fund to implement some of the $22 billion in pledges made by the G8 leaders at L’Aquila, Italy.
US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a lifelong farmers’ advocate, reminded the substantial press corps and colleagues that “just one lifetime ago the US was a country of subsistence farmers.” He welcomed the program’s focus on innovation and research and argued that, “There are no better innovators than those who farm the land”.
Timothy Geithner, Secretary, US Department of the Treasury, announced a $475 million U.S. contribution and reiterated the U.S.’s commitment to working with other countries and the World Bank to leverage interest in international development and mobilize additional resources for agriculture and food security.
As James Flaherty, Canada’s Minister of Finance, announced Canada’s $230 million contribution to the fund, he described it as “one more promise kept” and urged other donors to follow Canada’s lead. Elena Salgado, Second Vice President and Minister of Finance of Spain, highlighted the fact that Spain had not only promised but had already dispersed its initial contribution of $95 million, and indicated there would be more to follow.
South Korea’s Finance Minister Yoon Jeung- Hyun recalled that South Koreans remember their own hardship of regular “spring hunger seasons,” and have “heartfelt empathy” to those still suffering the challenges of poverty and hunger. Korea was inspired to join the GAFSP because of the program’s commitment to helping countries build up their own capacity and escape from poverty. Korea will contribute $50 million.
On behalf of the potential recipients of the program, Finance Minister Abdul Maal Abdul Muhith of Bangladesh welcomed renewed attention to agriculture and food and noted that the 2007 – 2008 food price crisis demonstrates that “food security must never be out of focus”. Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, welcomed this “serious effort to deliver,” and argued that the multilateral approach will enable us to deliver more effectively. He highlighted the need to maintain our focus on food security.
For those of us who have been working on agriculture and food issues for years it was a moment of unusual attention, extraordinary promise and a powerful reminder of expectations and need on the ground.
- Global Agriculture and Food Security Program
- World Bank GAFSP Media Announcement
- Press Releases: US Treasury | Gates Foundation
- World Bank Food Crisis Page