When President Obama kicked off the 35th annual G8 Summit he reminded me of an all too familiar adage: Give a man fish and you'll feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you'll feed him for a lifetime.
Flanked by African Heads of State, Administration officials, foreign dignitaries and the rock star turned philanthropist, Bono, the President announced the launch of a new global public-private partnership to the address the very serious and persistent food crisis affecting millions around the world.
The ONE Campaign reports that low product yields, under-investment in agricultural sectors and recent spikes in food prices have left nearly one billion people in need of food and proper nutrition. If immediate and sustained action is not taken we risk derailing not only food aid but all development efforts and losing the countless many caught in balance.
Called the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, this new initiative intends to help raise 50 million Africans out of poverty within 10 years by strengthening food security policies. It will initially focus its efforts in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Ghana but add additional nations in subsequent years. By working to develop comprehensive national food policies, increase agricultural investments, and partner with the private sector, the Alliance aims to involve a global coalition of actors toward rapid and sustained growth.
It is truly an extraordinary and ambitious mission that will require significant political will and resources let alone global resolve.
What is perhaps most exciting about this approach is not that the U.S. is leveraging its own position to garner broad G8 support but the premise itself: to create conditions where nations and their people no longer depend on aid and are the architects of their own future. If the Alliance and other development programs are to succeed then the product of our effort will result in nations that are self-sufficient with their citizens fully capable of charting their own course.
The president's announcement is equally remarkable because it takes a bold step by not merely involving government, but by leveraging the private sector from the start. Some 45 local to multinational companies have already committed $3 billion to support and spur agriculture investment that will greatly improve crop yields and feed some of the world's most poor and vulnerable.
As I look at the success of programs like the president's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the philanthropy of people like Bill and Melinda Gates, I find that U.S. foreign assistance both public and private is better than it has ever been. My fellow colleagues on Capitol Hill, many of whom have fought hard battles to protect foreign aid budgets in the face of unfair criticism, should be commended for their unwavering support and for ensuring that the U.S. continues to take a leadership role in its overseas generosity.
The message to the naysayers is clear: We're not throwing precious and limited resources at a problem. Innovative solutions abound that are sustainable investments that allow recipients of aid to be equal partners in designing and implementing programs that are specific to local contexts. They are working; they are saving lives; they are creating bright futures.
President Obama's New Alliance announcement is an acknowledgment that the global community which includes the private sector is capable of achieving an enormous impact even in an economic environment where many nations are being forced to retreat from their promises.
Discussions at this year's G8 summit covered the protracted global economic crisis, grave concerns throughout the Middle East and the shaky resilience of democracy in Africa and beyond. Despite these very serious challenges that require our focused attention, I am quietly optimistic that through innovation and partnership we can solve enduring challenges that affect so many.
Karen Bass represents the 33rd Congressional District, which includes Los Angeles, Hollywood and Culver City and was the 67th Speaker of the California Assembly. She serves as the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.