The Independent View: Where is the promised aid money being spent?

In the run up to the 2011 G8 summit in Deauville, France, this May, international humanitarian organisation Concern Worldwide is pushing for commitment and clarity on the agricultural aid promises pledged by G8 members  in the 2009 G8 summit in L’Aquila.

Back then, the British Government alongside the other G8 countries committed $22 billion in aid to be distributed over three years as part of the L’Aquila Global Food Security Initiative. The British commitment in particular was for £1.1 billion. These numbers may appear substantial, however they pale in comparison to the $30 billion per year that the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation suggests is actually needed in agriculture and rural infrastructure to fight hunger and poverty.

Since then, Concern has been calling for clarity from the Department for International Development (DFiD), demanding explicit details about where and how the £1.1 billion is being spent. So far we know that the money is being disbursed, Andrew Mitchell has offered a generic overview of spending in line with OECD accountability obligations, but the information provided fails to establish if the money spent is being directed to the intended objectives of the L’Aquila initiative: funding country owned agricultural plans, supporting small-scale and women farmers and funding sustainable agriculture. Agricultural experts at the Montpellier Panel recently confirmed that international aid to agriculture has largely been spent in areas which fail to benefit those who need it most .

Looking at the problem, of the 925 million hungry people in the world, marginal farmers represent nearly half, and of these, the majority are women. Grinding poverty prevents them from either producing or buying enough food to feed their families all year round.

Recent research by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has estimated that women produce an average of 25% less food than their male counterparts . This discrepancy is frequently due to unequal access to and employment of agricultural inputs by women, such as fertilisers, land access, technology and training. The report suggests that by making women’s access to agricultural inputs equal to that of men agricultural production in the countries studied could increase by between 2.5 and 4%. Gains of this magnitude could equate to 100-150 million  fewer people living in hunger. This translates to a reduction by 12-17% in the number of the world’s hungry.

The statistics seem dry – numbers on a page always are – but this is a huge potential impact.

Focussing agricultural aid to the most marginal of women farmers and therefore improving their earning power, could entail a double whammy of simultaneously working towards two of the Millennium Development Goals: MDG1 –Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and MDG3 – Promote gender equality and empowerment for women. But it could also indirectly support others – MDG4 Reduction in child mortality. MDG 2: Achieving universal primary education.

The debates in parliament continue surrounding aid effectiveness and there is much rhetoric about value for money. What is actually being achieved with the development aid that’s being spent? How can spending on international aid be justified and how do we know it’s being spent correctly? The UN FAO’s statistics make it pretty clear. Investing in women farmers alone could have a substantial impact in reducing hunger and could also make significant contributions to the MDGs which we only have 4 years left to fulfil if we are to be on target.

With the G8 approaching, now is the time to remind the Government of its aid obligations and its pledges to achieving the MDGs. Marginal farmers are central to addressing poverty and hunger, if we want value for money in British aid spending, surely we need to place marginal farmers at the heart of our agricultural aid disbursements.

To participate in Concern Worldwide’s Hunger Promise action click here. For more information on our Unheard Voices campaign for marginal farmers click here.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

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