We can prevent another food price crisis

Ave Palm in Assahoun, Togo, is an enterprise which supports the mechanization of palm oil production in village cooperatives. The financing received from GAFSP will go towards the manufacture and installation of mini palm oil mills. Ave Palm employs 240 women in Assahoun. Photo by: GAFSP

Five years ago today, amidst a global economic recession and world food price crisis, world leaders gathered at the G-8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, and made one of the largest financial commitments to fight hunger and poverty alleviation to date — $20 billion in aid to agriculture.

At the time, price spikes had plunged millions of people into poverty and prompted riots in cities across the world. Donor support for agriculture was at its lowest point in 20 years.

This lack of investment was alarming for many reasons. According to a 2008 report by the World Bank, growth in a country’s agricultural sector is twice as effective at reducing poverty as growth in any other sector. Coupled with the fact that the majority of the world’s poor and hungry are farmers, donors used this crisis moment to reverse course and begin again to invest in agriculture — both to prevent future global food crises and to fight hunger and poverty. We know that broadly if African farmers’ productivity continues to stagnate, then by 2030, Africa will only be able to meet 25 percent of its own demand for food.

That year, the G-8 also laid the groundwork for the creation of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, a global fund that aims to help the world’s poorest farmers. This fund has already had an impact in 25 countries and is expected to reach 12 million farmers. This fund supports approved national agriculture plans that are aimed at improving productivity, increasing food security and reducing poverty.

One of these countries is Togo. Over two-thirds of Togo’s population work in the agricultural sector, but most producers earn very little because they lack access to financing and technology. GAFSP’s $39 million grant, supervised by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, is supporting investments in rural infrastructure, food processing facilities, seeds and fertilizer kits, and training for farmers, along with a competitive fund to jump-start local enterprises in the agricultural sector.

One of the farmers who is benefitting is Yama. She works at Ave Palm, a palm oil production facility that invests in equipment and training and received funding through GAFSP.

Yama observes that, “We used to have to remove the stalks to extract the palm kernels by hand, and we would always get cuts on our fingers from the thorns. Then we had to grind the kernels in a mortar and manually extract the raw palm oil; all of that took a lot of time. Today, with this new equipment, we are able to do a week's worth of work practically in a single day and our fingers are now lovely to look at.”

This year, African leaders has recommitted to investing in agriculture at their annual leaders’ summit, but there is currently a significant financing gap toward these plans. The support of programs like GAFSP to complement countries’ domestic resources remains critical to prevent a future global food crisis. The U.S. government is one of the donors that have stepped up to the plate. It has committed to match pledges made before December 2014 by other donors to the fund ($1 for every $2). The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed $30 million in 2012 toward leveraging this money from the U.S. government for this important fund. On this fifth anniversary of L’Aquila, we urge other donors to take advantage of this match to leverage real benefits for farming families.

Five years since the last global food price crisis, aid to agriculture has begun to fall again in some countries at a time when initiatives like GAFSP need resources to help prevent a future crisis. Reducing funding for agriculture now could have a dramatic impact on farmers like Yama by limiting their ability to improve the fertility of their soil, boost their yields and earn an income. The repercussions globally are even more staggering — the neglect of agriculture has been blamed by some for the recent food crisis and ongoing epidemic of chronic hunger. It is in our hands to prevent another food price crisis, but to do so we will need to show the same resolve we did five years ago in L’Aquila.

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Feeding Development is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with ACDI/VOCA, Chemonics, Fintrac, GAIN, Nestlé and Tetra Tech to reimagine solutions for a food-secure future from seed and soil to a healthy meal.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Josh Lozman

    Josh Lozman is deputy director of program advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In this role, he leads the foundation’s advocacy strategies in the areas of agriculture, family health and financial services for the poor.