The budget-cutting has begun, and governments around the world are paying attention to the sharp-knives in Congress. So when the House of Representatives released a draft Continuing Resolution this week with only $100 million in fiscal year 2011 allocated to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) – a severe reduction from President Obama’s request for $408 million – a host of humanitarian organizations were quick to pen a letter to the White House sounding a stern warning about the consequences of the cut:
“The US was an original donor to the GAFSP, and failing to fulfill our commitments to the GAFSP will be very damaging. Canada, a country with significantly smaller economy than ours, has already delivered nearly $180 million to the GAFSP. Without a strong financial contribution from the United States, we are worried that the GAFSP may lose the support of several potential new donors who are actively considering contributing to the Trust Fund, but are watching the level of US contribution very closely before finalizing their decision. Critical projects to reduce hunger, invest in nutrition, and increase food security in several countries will go unfunded. And momentum towards meeting the important pledges President Obama made at the G-8 Summit in 2009 will be lost.”
The fear is that foreign aid budget cuts in the U.S. will be replicated elsewhere. It will be easy for other countries to abandon their pledges if the U.S. doesn’t fulfill its commitments. Particularly on the hunger front, where America has been leading. If the leader pulls back, why should other countries (also facing budget pressures) push forward? If this happens, GAFSP will be gasping for air.
The letter was sent to President Obama himself, imploring him to keep up the offensive.
“Given your leadership in negotiating the terms of the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, we are writing you to urge the administration to voice its strong support for this critical tool in the fight against global hunger,” write the 21 signing organizations, which represent a broad front of both faith-based and secular activism. “We are asking senior administration officials to weigh in with key Congressional leaders to ensure that at least $250 million is allocated to support the GAFSP in the FY2011 budget negotiations currently in their final stages.”
When the new multi-donor trust fund was launched in April, GAFSP was stocked with commitments of $880 million to provide financing to support agriculture development projects that developing countries are already implementing. The initial commitments came from the U.S., $475 million; Canada, $230 million; Spain, $95 million; South Korea, $50 million; and, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $30 million.
These initial donations were supposed to attract other donors, and the GAFSP pot, it was hoped, would fill up to beyond $1 billion by the end of the year. But some of those initial commitments have yet to come in, and other donors have been reluctant to join. The U.S. provided $67 million from its fiscal 2010 budget and the administration requested the remaining $408 million for fiscal year 2011. But even before the November elections, appropriations committees in both the House and Senate were whittling back the request, to $250 million in the Senate and $150 million in the House. Now, as the letter points out, the House Continuing Resolution is down to $100 million.
In the meantime, the GAFSP ambitions are also being whittled back. In June, the fund got off to a fast start, allocating a total of $224 million to five countries: Rwanda, Haiti, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and Togo. But last month, in a second round of allocations, it had enough money to fund only three of the proposals submitted by 20 countries. That meant 17 countries went home empty handed, their raised expectations crashing. GAFSP and the U.S. initiative called Feed the Future were created to end the decades-long neglect of agriculture development in the poorest countries of the world. Instead, if the lack of funding persists, those countries may move from being neglected to feeling betrayed.
“The world is looking to the US to continue its strong leadership on global food security,” concludes the letter to President Obama, “we hope we can count on your full engagement at this critical moment in support of robust funding for the GAFSP.”
In addition to landing at the White House, copies of the letter clamoring for administration support of GAFSP were also sent to the Departments of State and Treasury and to the National Security Council. But the message also needs to be given to every member of Congress. Particularly, it seems, to Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the incoming chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She has already indicated that she will be hunting for savings in the budgets authorized by her committee, including foreign aid.
There may indeed be some “fat,” as she says, in need of trimming, but not on the food security front. Not now that the U.S. has reclaimed leadership in the fight against hunger through agriculture development, not now that increasing food production in the developing world, particularly in Africa, is a critical element in feeding the world in coming decades.