Three years later, as they announce a new food security initiative to replace the expiring L'Aquila commitments, G-8 nations are failing to live up to their promises. Today, there are at least 30 poor countries that have developed country-led, sustainable, and coordinated plans for food security and agricultural development -- just like President Obama and other G-8 leaders challenged them to do in 2009. These projects have been vetted by a multi-donor fund, the Global Agriculture & Food Security Program, and are "shovel ready"; they just need a partner to help get them off the ground. But the G-8's new food security initiative includes just six of these plans initially, over a period of 10 years, with no financial pledges. This is a far cry from the L'Aquila commitment to deliver $7 billion a year over three years.
The new plan will emphasize private sector initiatives to address complex food security challenges. Indeed, the private sector, especially smallholder farmers and small and medium enterprises, can and must play a central role in the development process as an engine of sustainable job creation and broad-based economic growth. Oxfam, for example, engages in these kinds of initiatives -- most notably with SwissRe, the Relief Society of Tigray, and others to integrate a risk management "insurance-for-work" program into the Ethiopian government's pre-existing safety net program, a suggestion that came from farmers.
But there is a temptation -- especially during a period of constrained public budgets -- to make convenient assumptions about the private sector as a development panacea. Yet there's is a worrying lack of evidence to support using official development assistance to leverage private finance to fight poverty. A recent report by the World Bank's Independent Evaluation Group pointed out that less than half of the International Finance Corporation's projects actually reached the poor. It is unclear how these private financial institutions or intermediaries are chosen and how the public can effectively track and evaluate the social impact of these interventions. Moreover, the private sector is unlikely to invest in many essential public goods that do not provide short-term returns on investment.
At Camp David, the leaders of the eight richest countries should forge ahead on a more promising path. This will require specific, measureable funding and policy commitments. If they live up to their end of the bargain and support the shovel-ready plans put forward by developing countries, they can help 50 million people lift themselves out of poverty through sustainable smallholder agriculture, and help 15 million children get the nutrients they need to avoid stunting -- but only if they are willing to take urgent action to tackle the problem.
To achieve this, a genuine partnership between the G-8 and poor countries is needed, recommitting to the promise made in L'Aquila. The G-8 leaders themselves need to take responsibility for fulfilling their commitments -- they can't pawn it off on others or private enterprise. In the end, just like in L'Aquila, what is needed at Camp David is leadership. In a room filled with the heads of state of the world's wealthiest countries, I'd sure hope there would be some of that on offer.