Food security takes centre stage at G8 summit

Planting maize seeds in Mswagini village, Arusha Region, TanzaniaROME, Italy, 9 May 2012 – When this year's G8 summit opens in the United States on 18 May, food security will take centre stage. It will be a historic moment for rural poor people, with the leaders of the world's largest economies confronting a challenge that IFAD and its partners have long faced: how to eradicate hunger and malnutrition using socially and environmentally sustainable means.

IFAD and the other Rome-based United Nations food and agriculture agencies have played a central role in setting the agenda for this year's G8 summit, which will be held at Camp David, Maryland. High on that agenda is the need for donor countries and private sector partners to shore up their support for smallholder farmers.

If they do so on a large enough scale, millions of smallholders will be able to lift themselves out of poverty. In the process, these small-scale producers will meet the food needs of the developing world for decades to come.

"We have seen the renewed commitment to agriculture by donor countries and international financing institutions," IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze said recently. "What we need now is that same kind of energy from the private sector to invest in and work in partnership with smallholder farmers and farmer organizations, to meet the world's challenges of a growing population and competition for natural resources."

Reaffirming commitments
Even though smallholders are among the poorest people on the planet, in some developing countries they produce up to 80 per cent of the food consumed. It is in these developing countries that most of the population growth between now and 2050 will occur – and it is here that the impact of climate change is most severe, in the form of extreme droughts, floods and other shocks. The logic behind the G8 summit's emphasis on climate-smart agricultural development is therefore unimpeachable.

Of course, G8 leaders have addressed these issues before. At their 2009 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, the donor countries collectively pledged US$22 billion in aid to bolster food security. This year's meeting gives them an opportunity to reaffirm their commitments and map out significant new investments in smallholder agriculture.

IFAD and other advocates have been working to ensure that the G8 leaders also recognize the importance of fully engaging farmers' organizations, rural women and young people in the process that was started at L'Aquila.

Finite resources
Along with the Rio+20 conference on environmental sustainability and the G20 summit – both upcoming – the G8 summit reflects a growing awareness of the need to accelerate sustainable agricultural development against a global backdrop of finite natural resources. Nowhere is that need more acute than in sub-Saharan Africa. The massive food crisis in the Sahel, coming on the heels of a similarly lethal emergency in the Horn of Africa, tragically confirms this assessment.

In fact, IFAD's own success in meeting ambitious targets for rural poverty reduction in the next few years will depend largely upon its efforts in Africa being stepped up.

"Africa is rich in human resources and in natural potential," said Nwanze. "We have seen in South Africa, Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania and Togo, to name just a few countries, that transformation is possible, even when it means overcoming the legacy of conflict and natural disasters. Our challenge is to take what we know works and apply it, country-by-country, region-by-region, until this transformation becomes a reality."

Smallholders are the key
As a partner of choice for African governments – a partner with a proven record of effective rural investments – IFAD has been a catalyst for both public and private financing in the smallholder sector on the continent. The G8 summit can build on the successes achieved to date in Africa and take them to the next level.

Signalling another step forward on this front, the host of the G8 summit, US President Barack Obama, has invited the chairperson of the African Union and the leaders of Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania to join discussions at Camp David about accelerating progress towards food security in Africa.

With the right programme of action, the G8 can provide farmers in key African nations with ready access to land, credit, technology and the other inputs they require in order to advance from subsistence to market-oriented farming. By securing the G8 nations' robust support for such a programme in Africa and beyond, IFAD and its partners can demonstrate once and for all – if there was ever any doubt – that smallholder farmers are the key to the future of food security.