L'AQUILA, Italy - Leaders of rich and developing countries launched a new approach to global hunger Friday, saying they wanted to spend $20 billion on seeds, fertilizers, tools and other aid for small farmers over the next three years so poor nations could feed themselves.
The initiative announced at the end of a Group of Eight summit marked a new emphasis on helping farmers in the developing world boost production over the long term, moving away from an emphasis on emergency food aid for people suffering from drought and famine.
'We believe that the purpose of aid must be to create the conditions where it's no longer needed - to help people become self-sufficient, provide for their families, and lift their standards of living,' President Barack Obama said.
The promised aid was $5 billion higher than originally expected, and the United Nations and anti-poverty groups welcomed the deal. But they stressed that it was important to see how much would actually be delivered from newly allocated funds and not moved from other development projects.
Obama told Pope Benedict XVI before a private meeting that the package is 'something concrete' but the final text of the leaders' statement seemed less than definitive. It said the leaders 'welcomed commitments made by countries represented at L'Aquila toward a goal of mobilizing $20 billion over three years.'
The U.S. was expected to commit $3 billion of new funding, although White House aides have not confirmed the figure. France pledged $2 billion and the extra $5 billion was pledged by the European Union, delegates said. But it was not immediately clear if there were solid commitments for the remaining amount.
For farmers in poor countries in Africa and elsewhere, any new money would help buying seeds, fertilizers and tools, said Adrian Lovett, a spokesman for Save the Children. There was expected to be a focus on ensuring property rights for poor farmers, who often cannot invest in their small farms because they don't hold legal title to the land.
The money would also likely go to building infrastructure such as roads between fields and markets, giving farmers better access to clean water by drilling wells and building pipelines and allowing them to store their products so they don't have to be sold immediately, experts said.
'In the last minute of extra time, it looks like a surprise goal was scored for the world's farmers and the world's hungry,' said Bono, the U2 frontman and co-founder of the anti-poverty group ONE. 'If there is real new money here backing these serious ideas then it is a great start.'
The initiative also says that any improvement in agricultural production should be coupled with measures to help countries to adjust to changing conditions caused by global warming.
And any efforts to reduce world hunger would still need to include emergency food aid for people affected by drought, floods or conflict, according to experts and delegates. Obama said the initiative was in addition to pledges for emergency humanitarian aid.
The document was approved after three days of talk among G-8 industrialized leaders.