President Barack Obama is expected to announce a $15 billion agricultural investment initiative to help small farmers feed themselves, delegates at a Group of Eight summit said on Thursday.
Not all the money is new funding, however, and as it is several countries are already well behind in aid pledges to Africa made four years ago.
The announcement, however, underscores a shift in the way Washington and other Western countries are trying to tackle world hunger. Rather than providing only emergency assistance and food aid, the new strategy seeks to enable poor farmers to produce more of their own food by improving productivity.
"The figure of $15 billion has been quoted and we expect President Obama to make this announcement tomorrow and to call on other G-8 countries and emerging economies to support this initiative," said Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, who is participating in G-8 talks in Italy on Friday.
White House national security aide Denis McDonough said he could not confirm reports that the G-8 food security package would total $15 billion, of which the United States would provide $3 billion. "These numbers are bouncing around. It may end up being something similar to that," he told reporters. "It is the kind of investment that the president promised or committed to at the G-20 in London in April, when he pledged to double (U.S.) food security funding."
He said in Ghana, where Obama travels to after Italy, the president "will be talking about a new way of looking at food security."
Philip Mikos, head of the European Commission's unit for environment and food security, said the U.S. plan was a "great initiative at a great time," though he noted that the European Union has been investing in agricultural development for years.
"A collective initiative is fundamental," he said. Nwanze said the initiative would use existing institutions rather than creating a new framework and U.N. food agencies as well as the World Bank and the Africa Development Bank would likely be involved. Mikos stressed that any new funding initiative must complement existing country agricultural programs and not impose something from the outside.
"We welcome this initiative and we're saying, 'Let us see some action here, not just promises,"' Nwanze told reporters. Nwanze said the reason the initiative may be more than an empty promise was that the link between food security and national and political stability has been clearly established. A recent estimate by the Food and Agriculture Organization said the number of hungry people this year was a record 1 billion.
Focusing on the world's 500 million small-holder farmers would create an opportunity for them to increase production and productivity. They produce 80 percent of the food that feeds the world's population, according to IFAD.
However, Oxfam's response to the expected proposal was less than enthusiastic.
"The G-8 are planning to cook the books once again. One billion people are hungry, and the G-8 are feeding them nothing but lukewarm words," said Gawain Kripke of the aid agency. "Fifteen billion for food sounds like a lot, but with no new money this is like wrapping up the same present and giving it to someone again."