22 April 2010, Washington, DC - FAO welcomed the launch here today of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), a new multidonor trust fund managed by the World Bank to improve food security and incomes in low-income countries through assistance to agriculture.
Calling it a "key instrument to bring to fruition the commitments made in L'Aquila", FAO Deputy Director-General Jim Butler said that the Organization looks forward to working with its development partners to make it operational as quickly as possible.
The new mechanism is designed to address the underfunding of country and regional agriculture and food security investment plans, making aid more predictable in the fight against hunger and poverty.
The fund’s founding donors, Canada, the Republic of Korea, Spain, the United States of America and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged initial contributions totalling $880 million at today’s launch.
"The GAFSP, with its focus on country-led initiatives and the provision of technical assistance, fits well with FAO's approach," Butler said.
FAO is already supporting the preparation of a number of country-led investment strategies and plans with the potential to apply to the GAFSP, especially in the context of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme.
"First and foremost, Nation States need to assume their responsibilities for meeting the basic needs of their people," Butler said. "This requires political and financial commitment, appropriate policies and programmes, the creation of an equitable international environment for expanding trade and aid, and support for regionally driven initiatives."
The new mechanism includes both a public- and private-sector financing window to provide grants, loans and equity investments aimed at raising agricultural productivity, linking farmers to markets, reducing risk and vulnerability, improving non-farm rural livelihoods, and providing technical assistance and capacity development.
Historic hunger levels
The recent food and economic crises have pushed the number of hungry people worldwide to historic levels - over 1 billion people were estimated to be undernourished in the 2009 FAO report The State of World Food Insecurity.
The elimination of hunger requires major increases in agricultural investment. FAO estimates that investment in agriculture needs to rise by 50 percent if the increased food demand by 2050 is to be met.
"Sustainable agriculture has been proven to drive economic growth, and in so doing provides opportunities for smallholder farmers and ensures improved food security and better nutrition," Butler said. "Agricultural growth, compared with growth in other sectors, also has the greatest impact on rural poverty."
Moreover, food production promotes self-reliance, gradually decreasing dependence on outside assistance, he added.
The launch was hosted by U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, with participation of ministers from trust fund donors and developing countries, as well as Bill Gates and World Bank President Robert Zoellick. Representatives of a number of multilateral institutions, non-governmental organizations and key U.S. congressional leaders were also in attendance.