Obama promises private aid — or punts? — on fighting hunger in Africa

Tanzanian farmer compares maize yields
CIMMYT

Today, at the opening of the G8 (Group of Eight, richest nations) meeting likely to be focused mostly on the European financial crisis and NATO, President Barack Obama urged the international community to get serious about tackling hunger in Africa.

To show his Administration’s commitment to solving what the wonks call the “food security crisis” in sub-Saharan Africa, the President announced a $3 billion plan for the private sector to get more involved in assisting African farmers.

Calling this strategy the New Alliance for Food and Security, some 45 agri- or food corporations like Cargill, Monsanto and Unilever have pledged to invest in projects aimed at reducing poverty and hunger in Africa. Here are some of the other news reports on the announcement from the Washington Post, CNN, NPR and The Guardian.

As USA Today summarized:

The Obama administration announced Friday morning it has received support from the private sector to invest more than $3 billion to reduce global hunger and combat poverty by financing projects that make it easier for small farmers to grow their own food.

U-2′s Bono even joined in, celebrating the announcement as an end to “paternalism” in foreign aid and his anti-poverty advocacy organization ONE also claiming this was a big win for agriculture, quoting Obama:

“As President, I consider this a moral imperative. As the wealthiest nation on earth, I believe the United States has a moral obligation to lead the fight against hunger and malnutrition—and to partner with others.”

But not everyone concerned about hunger and the plight of Africa’s farmers appeared so inspired.

Some saw this more as a punt than a partnership.

Here’s a photo of a bunch of protesters from Oxfam America (including Seattle’s Jon Scanlon, as Italy’s Mario Monti) outside the G8 meeting, who criticized the Obama Administration’s plan as a shell game diverting attention from failed promises.

Can you identify the Seattle member of this Oxfam protest at the G8?
Oxfam America

Oxfam’s Lamine Ndiaye notes the G8 promised $22 billion in food aid to Africa in 2009, little of which has been delivered. Ndiaye goes on to say:

The New Alliance is neither new nor a true alliance … It focuses too heavily on the role of the private sector to tackle the complex challenges of food insecurity in the developing world. The organization called instead for G8 leaders to keep the promises they have already made to help developing countries invest in sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty.

Though nearly all of those concerned about hunger in Africa support the need for some kind of agricultural reform, others share the concerns expressed most loudly and colorfully by Oxfam America.

Other aid organizations like Action Aid and World Vision say rich governments must follow through with their pledged assistance to poor countries — and remain strong partners in fighting hunger rather than merely shift responsibility to the private sector

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.