G8 call for tighter investment controls in Africa

Italy's agriculture minister called for tighter controls on development aid to Africa to ensure the money "arrived at the right place" inorder to boost food production.

Minister of Food, Forest and Agricultural Policies Luca Zaia, chair of the Agriculture Ministers' Meeting of the G8 + 5 (the developed countries plus China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico) to discuss the global food crisis, made the comment at a press conference that closed the second day of the conference, according to the G8 website.

The meeting of the G8 and G5 agriculture ministers in Cison di Valmarino, near Treviso in the Veneto region of northeast Italy, is the first of its kind and is expected to produce a final document on 20 April for the G8 leaders' summit in July. The ministers were asked to come up with concrete proposals to address food security in a declaration by the G8 summit in Japan in 2008.

The global recession and the related decrease in fuel costs have stopped the spiral of food prices, said the G8 website, but food price remain high in most poor countries.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned earlier in 2009 that the 2008 food crisis had already pushed 40 million people into hunger, bringing the number of undernourished in the world closer to one billion.

The world's poorest countries need more help to boost food production and adapt to climate change, said Chris Barrett, who teaches development economics at Cornell University and edits the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

The other, obvious measure by the G8 countries to alleviate the situation would be to "invest in restoring demand in the large market economies, as the economic downturn is devastating workers in developing countries," he said.

Europe is Africa's market

"Europe is Africa's nearest market," Zaia told the press conference. "Some countries of that continent, like Egypt, have asked to have more opportunities on the market, when they have no production problem. We are for a free market but there must be rules agreed upon by all, and protocols on food security."

Highlighting the urgent need to address the crisis, the UK-based aid agency Oxfam said more than 75,000 people would have died of hunger during the three days that G8 agriculture ministers met.

Oxfam food policy expert Chris Leather said the opening promise by Italian Agriculture Minister Zaia of "three days that will make history" was sounding very hollow, with ministers "dithering" over "bold action" needed to address the crisis.

"Right now it looks like the only way this summit will make history is as another nail in the coffin of the goal to reduce world hunger," said Leather.