, L’AQUILA, July 10, 2009 (AFP) – Rich nations’ leaders, including an Africa-bound Barack Obama, unveiled Friday a 15-billion-dollar boost for food production as they were urged to help the world’s poor during the downturn.
Shifting the focus away from aid towards practical help for agriculture, the eight most industrialised nations and 19 partner countries agreed to bankroll a project designed to help smallholder farmers improve their yields.
"We encourage other countries and private actors to join in the common effort towards global food security," said a joint statement released on the last day of a G8 summit being held in Italy.
"We are determined to improve coordination of financing mechanisms and stand ready to ensure that new resources compliment existing facilities and programmes," the statement added.
The United States will stump up around 3.5 billion dollars of the cash and the annoucement came hours before Obama was due to set off on his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as US president.
Kanayo Nwanze, head of UN agricultural agency IFAD, was among those who welcomed the launch, saying the plan represented a "shift from food aid — which is like providing medication after the child is ill — to providing assistance to help the countries … produce food by themselves."
The US president called on other countries to back the plan at an expanded G8 heads of state breakfast meeting joined by leaders of Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Senegal as well as African Union chairman Moamer Kadhafi.
The breakfast focused on the effects of the world economic crisis on Africa. Later, veteran Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called for a freeze of repayments on loans to African countries to help them weather the downturn.
Mubarak asked the rich countries to "arrange a temporary freeze on African debt" and to extend credit to the continent on preferential rates.
The expanded meeting gave G8 leaders an opportunity to cement ties with leaders from the developing nations. Obama leaned to his right to speak at some length to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh before the meeting got under way, Singh listening attentively as he looked straight ahead.
Summit chairman Silvio Berlusconi was to hold a press conference at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT) at the close of the three-day summit in the Italian mountain town of L’Aquila. The leaders were then to head to the town’s central square to observe a minute’s silence to the victims of the devastating April 6 earthquake.
Obama and his wife Michelle, a descendant of African slaves, was to leave for Ghana later Friday on the first visit to sub-Saharan Africa by a black US president.
Obama is expected to stress the interconnection between Africa and the rest of the world in the 21st century in the West African country, his aides said.
Libyan leader Kadhafi held talks early Friday with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who told him that richer nations should not renege on their commitments just because times were getting tougher, according to a Downing Street spokesman.
"The prime minister made the point that African countries were not responsible for the global recession and we have a responsibility to make sure that they are protected from it," said the spokesman. "This is not a time to retreat from our commitments to the poorest."
Meanwhile, hundreds of Carabinieri forces deployed along the route of a march by anti-globalisation protesters towards the summit venue.
The anti-capitalist marchers will also tap into local frustrations about the slow progress of reconstruction in the quake-hit Abruzzo region, with more than 24,000 people still homeless.
On Thursday, Obama said the world’s biggest economies had reached a "historic consensus" on cutting pollution, saying rich nations had a duty to set an example, as the leaders also agreed to shun protectionism.