Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jeffrey Sachs warns of red tape tying up the G-8 food security pledge

In his latest commentary, Jeffrey Sachs applauds the G-8 decision to put 20 billion dollars into agriculture.

A few years ago, research conducted by the UN's Millennium Project found that food production could dramatically increase if small, peasant farmers are given good seeds and fertilizer to grow with. So the G-8 pledge of money hopes to give more of these inputs to small farmers.

However, Sachs says that a lot could stand in the way of getting the inputs to the farmers. Sachs warns against the aid money being tied up in bureaucracies and red tape. We found his latest commentary at the Business World Online.

A consensus has now been reached on the need to assist smallholders, but obstacles remain. Perhaps the main risk is that the "aid bureaucracies" now trip over each other to try to get their hands on the $20 billion, so that much of it gets taken up by meetings, expert consultations, overhead, reports, and further meetings. "Partnerships" of donors can become an expensive end in themselves, merely delaying real action.

If donor governments really want results, they should take the money out of the hands of 30 or more separate aid bureaucracies and pool it in one or two places, the most logical being the World Bank in Washington and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome. One or both of these agencies would then have an account with several billion dollars.

Governments in hunger-stricken regions, especially Africa, would then submit national action plans that would provide details on how they would use the donor funds to get high-yield seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, farm tools, storage silos, and local advice to impoverished farmers. An independent expert panel would review the national plans to verify their scientific and managerial coherence. Assuming that a plan passes muster, the money to support it would quickly be disbursed. Afterward, each national program would be monitored, audited, and evaluated.

This approach is straightforward, efficient, accountable, and scientifically sound. Two major recent success stories in aid have used this approach: the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunizations, which successfully gets immunizations to young children, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, which supports national action plans to battle these killer diseases. Both have saved millions of lives during the past decade, and have paved the way to a new more efficient and scientifically sound method of development assistance.

Not surprisingly, many UN agencies and aid agencies in rich countries fight this approach. All too often, the fight is about turf, rather than about the most effective way to speed help to the poor. Obama, Rudd, Zapatero, and other forward-thinking leaders can therefore make a huge difference by following up on their pledges at the G-8 and insisting that the aid really works. The bureaucracies must be bypassed to get help to where it is needed: in the soil tilled by the world’s poorest farm families.

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