Chicago Council Symposium: Obama Calls for End to “Injustice of Chronic Hunger”

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The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ annual symposium, Advancing Food and Nutrition Security at the 2012 G8 Summit, kicked off on May 18. President Barack Obama delivered the keynote address, calling for G8 leaders to focus on the “injustice of chronic hunger” in the midst of world economic issues and austerity measures. He called for leaders to mobilize the $22 billion that was committed at the launch of L’Aquila in 2009 (of which only 22 percent has been delivered), continue GAFSP, and to mobilize more private capital into agriculture. He said our goal is to make emergency aid less and less relevant—that is how development is supposed to work.

To kick off this effort, Obama announced that 45 companies (both multinationals and African firms) have pledged $3 billion to fast track new agricultural projects that will reach those in need quicker. African agriculture will experience hugh leaps through the development of better seeds and better storage. Cell phone data is now being used to educate farmers about when to plant, harvest, and sell their products. A single bad season or change in season should not plunge a family into poverty. Obama reiterated a common theme we’ve been hearing today: that focus needs to be placed on nutrition—especially in children. It is the smart thing to do, improves a child’s potential, and lowers healthcare costs.

The Farm Futures panel focused on placing trade in the same conversation about food security and the importance of trade, markets, non-tariff and tariff trade barriers. Kanayo Nwanze, president of IFAD, said that it is good that food security is at the top of the global agenda—but it’s not simply about feeding people—food security is the foremost foundation for political stability and global security. He said that Africa needs functioning domestic markets, in order to engage in international markets. Intra-Africa trade is barely 15 percent of total trade in Africa because of constraints in how farmers are organized, poor infrastructure, and poor markets.

Given the potential for growth in domestic markets, Nwanze asked, “Why is the private sector not involved? Not just multinationals, but domestic private sector.” Smallholder farmers make up 80 percent of all farms, subsistence farming on an average of 2 hectares. Therefore focus needs to be on solving domestic trade problems before discussing international trade.

Photo credit: Bernard Pollack

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