A Breakthrough Against Hunger?

Jeff Sachs:

A Breakthrough Against Hunger, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Project Syndicate: Today’s world hunger crisis is unprecedentedly severe and requires urgent measures. Nearly one billion people are trapped in chronic hunger – perhaps 100 million more than two years ago. Spain is taking global leadership in combating hunger by inviting world leaders to Madrid in late January to move beyond words to action. …

The benefits of some donor help can be remarkable. Peasant farmers in Africa, Haiti, and other impoverished regions currently plant their crops without the benefit of high-yield seed varieties and fertilizers. The result is a grain yield … that is roughly one-third less than what could be achieved with better farm inputs. African farmers produce roughly one ton of grain per hectare, compared with more than four tons per hectare in China, where farmers use fertilizers heavily.

African farmers know that they need fertilizer; they just can’t afford it. With donor help, they can. … Dozens of low-income, food-deficit countries, perhaps as many as 40-50, have elaborated urgent programs for increased food production by small farms, but are currently held back by the lack of donor funding. … Hundreds of millions of people, in the meantime, remain trapped in hunger.

Many individual donor countries have declared that they are now prepared to increase their financial support for smallholder agriculture, but are searching for the appropriate mechanisms to do so. The current aid structures are inadequate. The more than 20 bilateral and multilateral donor agencies for agriculture are highly fragmented and of insufficient scale individually and collectively. …

My colleagues and I, serving on an advisory committee for the Spanish initiative, have recommended that donors pool their funds into a single international account, which we call the Financial Coordination Mechanism (FCM). These pooled funds would enable farmers in poor countries to obtain the fertilizer, improved seed varieties, and small-scale irrigation equipment that they urgently need.

Poor countries would receive prompt and predictable financing for agricultural inputs from a single account, rather than from dozens of distinct and fragmented donors. By pooling financial resources into a single-donor FCM, aid programs’ administrative costs could be kept low, the availability of aid flows could be assured, and poor countries would not have to negotiate 25 times in order to receive help.

The time for business as usual is over. The donors promised to double aid to Africa by 2010, but are still far off track. Indeed, during the past 20 years, they actually cut aid for agriculture programs, and only now are reversing course.

Meanwhile, a billion people go hungry each day. … History can be made in Madrid at the end of January… The lives of the billion poorest people depend on it.

Perhaps, with a new administration, we’ll see more emphasis and leadership on these issues. That would be a welcome change.

Originally published at the Economist’s View reproduced here with the author’s permission.