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G8 Summit Wraps Up With Hunger Initiative

G8 leaders pose with African and other world leader in L'Aquila.
(RFE/RL) -- The three-day Group of Eight (G8) summit in L'Aquila, Italy produced mixed results on issues like climate change.

So it must have been with some satisfaction that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced an agreement that, this time, surpassed expectations.

Brown announced that the G8 leaders have agreed a $20 billion program over three years "to support food [production] and the agricultural sector to develop its capacity to grow food in poorer countries, to develop their ability to feed themselves."

The deal marks a shift in the way rich countries tackle hunger. In the past, they've mostly given aid directly to feed the starving in poor countries.

This time, the focus is on making farms and farmers in poor countries more productive, so that famines don't happen in the first place.

The funding could be used to buy seeds, build irrigation systems, and teach farmers more efficient techniques.

The program is being launched amid a global economic crisis that has made life even more precarious for many of the world's poor.

The United Nations says the number of malnourished people has risen over the past two years and is expected to top 1.02 billion this year, reversing a four-decade trend of declines.

Living Up To Commitments

Some experts have welcomed the G8's shift from food aid to farm aid.

"What is new and encouraging is the decision for the first time to shift policy and to do what we always have been saying we needed to do if we want to address the problem of hunger in the world," said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.

"There are 1 billion persons hungry, and most of these people, if not all, are in developing countries. In addition the world population will be increasing to reach 9.2 billion persons by the year 2050 and most of these people, if not all, will be in the countries that already have the hungry persons."

But rich countries are also being urged to live up to commitments already made.

Meeting in Scotland four years ago, Group of Eight (G8) leaders promised to double aid to Africa by 2010.

But rich countries have fallen behind on their pledges, as the global economic crisis squeezes their national budgets. The crisis has also pushed some 100 million people in developing countries back into poverty and raised the risk of famine.

The program's launch came hours before Obama was due to make his first visit to Africa since becoming president.

Obama, whose father was from the East African country of Kenya, is to arrive in Ghana later on July 10.

with news agency material