U.S., Gates Foundation commit to food security fund

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — A group of finance ministers from the United States, Canada, Spain and South Korea, as well as the leadership of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have agreed to an initial contribution of $880 million for a new fund to address global hunger and poverty.

The fund, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, will include a U.S. commitment of $475 million as well as $30 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In addition, Canada has pledged $230 million, Spain $95 million, and South Korea $50 million.

“As we work to build a stronger, more stable and balanced global economy, we must renew our commitment to tackle global hunger and poverty,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. “A global economy where more than one billion people suffer from hunger is not a sustainable one. At a time of limited resources and large global challenges, this fund will leverage support from around the world to achieve lasting progress against hunger and bolster agricultural productivity and growth.”

The United States previously contributed $67 million to the fund, which was created in response to a call by G-20 leaders in Pittsburgh last year for the World Bank Group to work with interested donors to set up a multi-donor trust fund to help implement some of the $22 billion in pledges made by G-8 leaders at their meeting in L’Aquila. The United States has since requested $408 million in President Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget, which is subject to congressional appropriation, bringing its total pledge to $475 million.

“With the global number of chronically hungry reaching 1 billion, working together to put an end to the status quo and improve on past efforts is both a moral and economic imperative,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “The financial commitments to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program announced today will help address this critical issue in a meaningful and comprehensive way.”

As part of the fund, contributions for the public sector are expected to be used to provide aid for better irrigation systems, linking farmers to markets and building post-harvest storage infrastructure, while private sector funds will be used to provide financing to increase the commercial value of small and medium-size agri-businesses and farmers.

“Investing in small farmers is an incredibly effective way to combat hunger and extreme poverty — history has proved it many times,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, which has committed $1.5 billion to date to agricultural development. “The launch of this fund is an important step forward, but only a first step. Other countries meeting at the European, G-8 and G-20 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.”

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