Obama to announce public-private partnership for African agriculture ahead of G-8 summit

President Obama is expected to unveil a $6 billion international public-private partnership to extend the Green Revolution to Africa.

The initiative, which is linked to this weekend's G-8 summit, aims to lift 50 million people out of hunger and poverty within a decade by investing in modern agricultural methods and technologies. Rich countries are expected to commit to spending $3 billion – the U.S. share is around $850 million over three years – while three dozen international and African companies will pledge a similar amount in investments such as fertilizer production, grain silos and new food products.

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“We're now putting together a fundamentally new approach to tackling hunger and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Rajiv Shah, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Shah said the effort was a continuation of the Green Revolution of the 1970s and 80s, which saved countless lives in Latin American and Asian countries that were facing widespread starvation.

“The effort never made it to Africa, for a broad set of reasons,” Shah said. “Private companies never really invested in Africa in this sector. Public partners abandoned Africa in this sector. And African leaders themselves stopped thinking of agriculture as the solution. This really represents a change in that mindset.”

African heads of state from Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania and Benin will participate in the announcement, as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U2's Bono, U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and officials from the UN World Food Programme and other international organizations. And three dozen companies – including U.S. giants Cargill, DuPont and Monsanto – will pledge to invest millions of dollars in African agriculture.

Such investments, Shah said, will provide long-term savings for donor nations.

“Across the board, countries view their investments in development – especially around food security – as being in the long-term defense of their national interests,” he said. “It is much cheaper to invest in agricultural development in the Horn of Africa than it is to provide food aid in a time of crisis, as we've had to do last year.”

The partnership does raise some concerns, however.

One is whether donor countries will stick to their promises.

“Significant progress was made at the G-8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, in 2009,” World Vision U.S. President Richard Stearns wrote in an op-ed submitted to The Hill on Thursday. “Global leaders committed to provide $20 billion over three years to help farmers in the poorest countries grow the food those countries need. However the 2011 G8 accountability report found that only 22 percent of funds have been disbursed and the majority of countries have not fulfilled their commitments.”

Another is the African partner nations' ability to make the reforms necessary to make the private sector investments work.

Ethiopia, in particular, has been under fire for years for its human rights record. This week, Amnesty International urged Obama to use the G-8 summit to press Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi on his government's crackdown on critics.

“Prime Minister Zenawi is greeted with open arms around the world for the progress his government claims they have made on economic growth, development and counter-terrorism,” Washington office head Frank Jannuzi said in a statement. “But while he is warmly welcomed in his travels, at home the people of Ethiopia are subjected to ever increasing restrictions on their basic rights.”

Shah said U.S. aid is conditioned on every partner living up to their end of the bargain.

African leaders, he said, “will make public a set of policy reform commitments that will tackle corruption in their bureaucracies, that will create a more open business climate for companies, that will change some of their policies on price-setting and export restrictions that will allow for us to be successful together tackling this issue.

“We're very results-oriented in how we do this work,” he said. “So if the conditions are not in place for the private investments to happen and for our investments to work, then we won't make them. And neither will the private companies. So it's a collective action challenge.”

In the end, he said, Africans are the ones who want the partnership to succeed most of all.

“Nobody wants to be receiving a hand-out when they could be investing in their capacity to grow themselves out of poverty and hunger,” Shah said. “We talk about it in terms of saving money, but it really speaks to a far more aspirational concept of human dignity. Everybody wants to be proud of their ability to feed their children and feed their families.”

Update: The White House has posted a fact sheet on the new program here.