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Funding For Food Programs Facing Cuts

In China, dairy cows revolve on carousels in synchronized milking, while in Kenya, small farmers are planting a new high-yielding sweet potato.

These projects, and scores more, are shaping a new century of agriculture. Whether it be cattle herders in sub-Saharan Africa or rice growers in rural Asia, farmers and ranchers need help to produce enough nutritious food to feed a population estimated to have hit seven billion on Oct. 31 and heading for nine billion by 2050.

With no increase in arable land, an already taxed supply of fresh water, and fears of climate change, figuring out how to feed that many people is a top priority.

But just as research, development and expansion of agricultural programs are most critical, the public dollars pledged to this effort remain a pittance of what is needed, and are in fact in danger of sharp decline, experts say.

We are talking about adding 2.6 billion people between now and 2050. That is two Chinas, said Robert Thompson, who serves on the International Food &Agricultural Trade Policy Council.

In the 1980s, about 25 per cent of U.S. foreign aid went to agriculture, but that fell to six per cent by 1990 and then to one per cent last year, Thompson said. World Bank lending to agriculture is also sharply down.

While charitable foundations, non-profit development groups and private-sector corporations are funnelling billions into agricultural programs, that s not enough, according to food and agricultural experts.

We estimate that already today there are one billion people in the world suffering from malnutrition, said Claude Fauquet of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, which is developing a beta carotene-enriched cassava for Africa.

This will not go down unless we invest more.

Feed the future

For decades, the world s focus has been more on food aid but it has recently shifted towards helping poor farmers to feed themselves. The goals include increasing food productivity, developing rural roads, building processing and storage plants, and broadening access to markets for people in poor countries, particularly the estimated 600 million people who live in poverty in rural areas of sub- Saharan Africa and South Asia and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

But keeping the pledge is getting harder as the global economy has faltered and cuts hit U.S. and European budgets.

The World Bank is also overseeing a fund dubbed the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP). The U.S. is the largest donor, but Canada, Spain, South Korea, Australia, Ireland, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have also pledged funds that total $970 million. But more than $400 million of the pledged dollars have not come in.

Last year, the administration of Barack Obama launched a Feed the Future initiative that is targeting 19 countries for agricultural development assistance. It includes projects such as a $10-million-plus irrigation system for 8,000 farmers in Tanzania and providing Kenyan farmers with better seeds that have helped them triple their incomes from sweet potatoes.

The program is considered a bright spot in global agricultural development but its funding is in doubt.

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