Africa / Agriculture / Livelihoods

Gates president wants ‘big talk’ at ‘big meetings’ to remain committed to the world’s small farmers

The Huffington Post last week (25 June 2010) published an opinion piece by Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program. She argued the need for ‘big talk’ at forthcoming ‘big meetings’ to remain focused on meeting the needs of the world’s small farmers.

‘The season of big meetings and big talk,’ she says, ‘is upon us as world leaders convene in Canada this week for the G8 and G20 summits, and again in September for the UN General Assembly and Millennium Development Goals Summit. Turning the tide on global poverty is high on the agenda. To succeed, this season of big meetings and big talk must also be a season of big action.

‘At this week’s meeting, the Canadian government is shining the spotlight on maternal and child health. With almost 1,000 mothers dying in childbirth each day, this attention is needed and welcome.

‘Yet, this year’s priorities must not displace last year’s promises to support poor farmers — the millions of hardworking women and men who feed the developing world.

‘Last year, G20 countries pledged $22 billion to help poor farmers lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. After decades of decline in foreign assistance for agricultural development, this multilateral mobilization was heralded as a bold leap forward. But, as many nations have stepped up to the plate, many more are simply not delivering enough, even as the global economic crisis and rising food prices have made life even harder for the poor.

‘We cannot afford to lose momentum or jeopardize hard-won progress. At a time when donors and developing countries alike seek the greatest return on development dollars, supporting small farmers is one of the best tools we have to reap broad-based development rewards. Helping smallholder farmers grow more food and get it to market means higher incomes, improved nutrition, better health, and women’s empowerment too. But to realize these gains, we need a commitment of resources and a commitment to results.

‘In Sub-Saharan Africa, where agriculture represents two-thirds of all employment, governments are proving that resource commitments yield success. In 2004, African heads of state pledged 10 percent of their national budgets to achieve 6 percent annual growth in agriculture. By 2008, 20 African countries had met or exceeded that 6 percent target. In Rwanda, investment in agriculture rose by 30 percent from 2007 to 2009. The result? A 15 percent rise in agricultural production in 2008.

‘Among donors, the United States is leading the way with its Feed the Future initiative – a $3.5 billion commitment, over three years, to support small-scale farmers. In addition, the United States, Canada, Spain, South Korea, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are founding donors of a new global trust fund to help the world’s poorest farmers. The partners have moved swiftly to make this fund operational, and this week announced that Bangladesh, Haiti, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Togo will receive the fund’s first grants totaling $224 million. These investments will help transform the lives of more than two million people in rural areas by giving each country the opportunity to increase food security, raise rural incomes and reduce poverty. . . .’

‘Big action,’ this Gates president concludes, ‘– world leaders keeping their promises, and developing countries committing resources while listening ardently to the voice of the small farmer — is needed to bring big results and prosperity to the world’s poor.’

More: Huffington Post, Big Action for Small Farmers, 25 June 2010

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