G8 pledges billions for global food crisis

President Obama hopes to win billions of dollars in agricultural assistance for developing nations Friday as he leaves an international summit that failed to make major progress on climate change.

His next stops: a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and his first visit as president to sub-Saharan Africa.

While the U.S. commitment of more than $3 billion represents double a pledge he made in London earlier this year, it was unclear Thursday whether other major industrial nations in the Group of Eight would be offering additional aid or reiterating old promises. As a result, some advocates for aid to poor countries withheld praise.

Obama will take his fight for agricultural aid to the Vatican on Friday and on to Ghana that night, where he will speak about revamping the billions of dollars the West sends to impoverished African nations. The president wants to place more emphasis on helping those countries help themselves through agriculture, technology and improved access to world markets.

Obama previewed his speech in an interview with AllAfrica.com, a news media website. “I’m a big believer that Africans are responsible for Africa. I think part of what’s hampered advancement in Africa is that for many years we’ve made excuses,” he said, blaming corruption, racism and colonialism. “I’m not a believer in excuses.”

The exact amount of the summit’s aid pledges wasn’t made public Thursday, but advocates at Oxfam International and ONE, two anti-poverty groups, said it would be about $15 billion. “It may end up being something similar to that,” National Security Council spokesman Denis McDonough said.

On Thursday, the G-8 concluded discussions on climate change with an announcement from Obama and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of a new institute to research how to capture and store carbon emissions that are heating the globe. The two leaders said the institute will act as a clearinghouse for the best technological ideas.

The institute was the highlight of a meeting Obama led of 17 major economic powers largely devoted to environmental challenges. The group did not agree to the G-8’s goals for reducing carbon emissions, because Obama and others couldn’t convince developing nations such as China and India.

“We’ve made a good start, but I’m the first one to acknowledge that progress on this issue will not be easy,” said Obama, who views moving away from fossil fuels as another economic challenge facing the U.S.

On Africa, Obama’s message of self-reliance put him squarely within a debate about foreign aid effectiveness. The dispute has implications for how Obama will steer about $25 billion in aid U.S. taxpayers send to the developing world each year, said Noam Unger, director of the Foreign Assistance Reform project at the Brookings Institution. Obama wants to increase that to $50 billion.

Obama hasn’t renounced all foreign aid, but in the AllAfrica.com interview, he echoed skeptics when he said that African governments must reduce corruption and improve the business climate. He also said he wants to fix a system in which “Western consultants and administrative costs end up gobbling huge percentages.”

Obama said he was going to Ghana because he wants to highlight its success. The World Bank lists Ghana as one of the best-run countries in Africa.

Obama noted that his father’s native land, Kenya, had a higher economic output than South Korea when Barack Obama Sr. left for the USA in the early ’60s. Kenya remains one of the world’s poorest countries, while South Korea is the 32nd richest, measured by income per person.

Development experts are heartened by Obama’s fluency on the issue, but they are frustrated that, six months into his term, he has yet to fill foreign aid leadership posts at the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“It’s so ironic that with all the rhetoric … there’s no leadership in the administration on development,” said Carol Lancaster, a former USAID official under President Clinton who is interim dean at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Asked to respond, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly pointed to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s remarks this year that Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq would take priority over development assistance, which she also views as important.

The new agricultural initiative sought by Obama won praise at the G-8 summit from Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development at the United Nations, who called it a “major shift” that could lead to “sustained economic growth.”

“This has not happened before,” Nwanze said. The international fund was created in the 1970s after a drought led to widespread famine in sub-Saharan Africa. Since then, it has invested $11 billion and other relief agencies have come up with an additional $17 billion, Nwanze said. That has helped 340 million people, a figure that could be doubled by Obama’s initiative, he said.

Farming represents 30% of Africa’s gross domestic product, 40% of export earnings and 80% of jobs, Nwanze said.

Anti-poverty groups hailed Obama for raising the issue’s profile but said $15 billion wouldn’t be enough. “It doesn’t smell like new money,” said Gawain Kripke of Oxfam International. “The economic crisis is casting a shadow on donor commitments.”

Source: USA Today

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