Canada backs World Bank’s food security plan

The Canadian government has pledged $230 million to a new Global Agriculture and Food Security Program spearheaded by the World Bank to boost agriculture and food security in low-income countries.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on Thursday announced Canada’s share of what so far amounts to $900 million from nations including the U.S., Spain and South Korea, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which alone will put up $30 million.

The program, GAFSP for short, was set by the World Bank in response to calls made at the G-8 L’Aquila and G-20 Pittsburgh summits for a multilateral trust fund to boost sustainable agriculture and food security assistance.

According to Ottawa’s release, the GAFSP is an improvement over current initiatives as it’s designed to “strengthen links to the private sector, provide additional and rapidly available resources for sustainable agriculture development, and ensure country ownership by linking funding to developing countries’ identified priorities and strategies.”

“Today, it is estimated that more than a billion people go to bed hungry,” Flaherty said in the release. “This new Global Agriculture and Food Security Program can help change that, and I am pleased that Canada is among the first to contribute.”

Flaherty said he was “particularly encouraged that there is a role for the private sector to boost the resources available to combat hunger, and that countries in need will play a leading role in putting these new funds to their best use.”

“Lack reliable market”

“Investing in small farmers is an incredibly effective way to combat hunger and extreme poverty — history has proved it many times,” Microsoft founder Bill Gates said in his foundation’s release Thursday.

“The launch of this fund is an important step forward, but only a first step. Other countries meeting at the European, G8 and G20 summits in June, and at the U.N. Summit in September should join the four founding partners and make good on their pledges. If we all sustain focus until the job is done, hundreds of millions of people will lead better lives.”

The foundation, quoting World Bank statistics, said about three-quarters of the one billion people who live in extreme poverty depend on agriculture for a living. “Even if they manage to grow a surplus, they often lack a reliable market in which to sell it,” the foundation said.

Smallholder farmers need a “comprehensive, long-term approach that is sustainable for the economy and the environment. That means improved seeds, tools and training, access to markets where they can sell their surplus, and better policies to support their efforts,” the foundation said.

The new fund is expected to focus on “countries with strong national plans that are already using their own resources on these kinds of effective interventions.”

Canada’s $230 million for the GAFSP is to flow from a three-year, $600 million federal agriculture package, which the government noted is “a doubling of Canada’s existing spending in this area.”

The government noted Canada is already the third-largest contributor to the United Nations’ World Food Programme, and has fully “untied” its food aid.

Ottawa in 2008 opened up its food aid procurement policy to allow up to 100 per cent of its food aid to be procured internationally, compared to a previous requirement for 50 per cent of aid to be sourced in Canada.

Aid agencies have viewed “untying” food aid as a better way to get appropriate food to areas of need more quickly, at reduced cost, while strengthening local and regional markets for farmers in developing countries.

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