Food crisis mounts pressure on G8 to deliver in Africa

June 24th, 2008 - 5:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Nairobi, June 24 (DPA) Africa is once again set to be high on the agenda at the upcoming G8 meeting in Japan as the global food crisis threatens to set back the tentative progress the continent has made in recent years. Independent bodies, campaigners and government officials are calling for an urgent increase in aid to prevent Africa from sliding further into poverty and hunger.

However, the G8’s failure to meet development aid targets already set has lead many to worry that further financial commitments are likely to be no more than empty promises.

A report by former British prime minister Tony Blair’s Africa Progress Panel in mid-June painted a grim picture of just how far the G8 is from meeting the commitments it made in Gleneagles in 2005.

Former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, now chair of the panel, said that at the current rate of progress the G8’s pledge to double assistance to Africa by 2010 will not be met, with the current shortfall standing at $40 billion.

Annan called for the G8 to address the gap at the meeting and warned that “the only promises that matter are the ones you keep.”

The panel chose not to point out the worst offenders. However, British charity Oxfam singled out Germany, France and Japan - the current chair of the G8 and host of the upcoming meeting.

Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam’s Executive Director, met Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda June 18 to push for action. He believes that it is not the funds that are lacking.

Some $60 billion of Africa’s debt has been written off, the poverty rate has fallen by almost 6 cent since 2000, and infant and child mortality has dropped, the panel found.

But the panel warned that the food crisis could render this irrelevant if the G8 does not act “urgently and decisively.”

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 21 of the 37 countries most seriously affected by high food prices are in Africa.

Aid agencies are warning that in those nations where rising prices have gone hand in hand with conflict and drought, such as Somalia, millions are facing hunger.

Graca Machel, president of the Foundation for Community Development and a member of the panel, said the consequences of G8 inaction would be horrendous.

“The cost of food will not only be measured in the price of wheat or rice, but also in the rising number of infant and child deaths across Africa,” she wrote in a recent opinion piece in the Kenyan press.

However, fingers are not being pointed just at the G8.

Calls are increasing for serious investment in agriculture in Africa, which is now a net importer of food after once being an exporter.

Kenyan Agricultural Minister William Ruto, speaking at a recent FAO conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, urged African nations to invest in agriculture, particularly in irrigation. He is not alone in believing this is the way forward.

Diouf believes that Africa has the potential to feed not only itself, but the rest of the world. However, he criticized African governments for failing to meet their commitment to allocate 10 percent of their budgets to agriculture.

This is a big task for many nations, though, and a large slice of the money needed to boost production through improved irrigation, fertilization, seed quality and the infrastructure needed to allow farmers better access to markets will have to come from international aid or investment.

China is leading the way in investing in Africa, receiving in return a slice of the bountiful natural resources in nations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But many feel that the key to driving Africa forward is for the G8 to start delivering more than empty promises.

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