L’AQUILA, Italy (Reuters) - G8 leaders pledged $20 billion in aid on Friday to help poor nations feed themselves, surpassing expectations of a summit that made little ground on climate change and may spell the end of the G8 itself.
U.S. President Barack Obama and the summit’s Italian host Silvio Berlusconi reflected growing consensus that the Group of Eight industrial powers, long criticized as an elite club, does not reflect the shifting patterns of global economic power.
Tackling global challenges “in the absence of major powers like China, India and Brazil seems to be wrongheaded,” Obama said, adding that he looked forward to “fewer summit meetings.”
Begun in 1975 with six members, the G8 now groups the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Russia and Canada. The Italians made it a “G14” with emerging powers on the second day, then added 15 more on the third.
That enabled Obama, traveling to Ghana on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president, to use the summit to push for a shift toward agricultural investment from food aid. Washington will make $3.5 billion available to the 3-year program.
“There is no reason Africa should not be self-sufficient when it comes to food,” said Obama, recalling that his relatives in Kenya live “in villages where hunger is real,” though they themselves are not going hungry.
Obama said Africa had enough arable land but lacked seeds, irrigation and mechanisms for farmers to get a fair price for their produce — issues that the summit promised to tackle.
Africa told the wealthy powers they must honor their commitments, old and new — mindful that some in the G8 had fallen well short of their 2005 promise to increase annual aid by $50 billion by 2010, half of which was meant for Africa.
South African President Jacob Zuma said the new funding will “go a long way” to helping Africa, adding: “We can’t say it’s enough, but at least it begins to do very concrete things.”
Nigerian Agriculture Minister Abba Ruma said the new pledge was “very commendable in view of the current global recession.”
But he cautioned that it must be “disbursed expeditiously. It is only then we will know that the G8 is living up to its commitment and not just making a pledge and going to sleep.”
The United Nations says the number of malnourished people has risen in the past two years and is expected to top 1.02 billion this year, reversing decades of declines. The global recession is expected to make 103 million more go hungry.
Aid bodies like the World Food Program said a last-minute surge of generosity at the summit in L’Aquila resulting in the $20 billion pledge was “greeted with great happiness.”
That amount over three years may compare unfavorably with the $13.4 billion the G8 says it disbursed between January 2008 and July 2009, but aid groups said the new pledge in Italy was more clearly focused.
Japan and the European Union were also championing a code of conduct for responsible investment after growing farmland acquisition or “land grabs” in emerging nations.
The summit was held in the central Italian town of L’Aquila, devastated by an earthquake in April which killed some 300 people. That may explain why the usual anti-G8 protests were on an unusually small scale and without the violence that marred Italy’s last G8 summit, held in Genoa in 2001.
But environmentalists were disappointed that the G8 failed to get major developing nations China and India to sign up to the goal of halving world greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The 17 biggest emitters in the Major Economies Forum chaired by Obama could only get China and India to agree temperature rises should be limited to 2 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).
But Obama, also suffering a delay to his own global warming bill in the U.S. Congress, said the talks had created momentum for a new U.N. climate change pact in Copenhagen in December.
G8 leaders said the global financial crisis still posed serious risks to the economy. Further stimulus packages for growth might still be required and it was dangerous to implement “exit strategies” from emergency measures too early, they said.
“Reaching the bottom of the slump is not when you start with exit strategies,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
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Additional reporting by Felix Onuah; writing by Janet McBride and Stephen Brown; editing by Elizabeth Piper and Crispian Balmer