G8 leaders, including an Africa-bound US President Barack Obama, vowed to stand by the world’s poor despite the downturn yesterday, unveiling a US$15 billion boost for food production.
The leaders of developed countries also heard calls from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to freeze repayments on loans to African countries to help them weather the economic crisis.
Mubarak, in L’Aquila as part of an expanded G8 summit, asked the rich countries to “arrange a temporary freeze on African debt” and to extend credit to the continent on preferential rates.
He also said they should seek the means to cover the deficit in development finance caused by the economic crisis.
Hours before making his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as US president, Obama was expected to announce an international initiative to boost agriculture in developing countries to ensure food security.
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 themselves to put in place the right policies to be able to produce food by themselves,” said Kanayo Nwanze, head of UN agricultural agency IFAD.
The US president called on other countries to back the plan at an expanded G8 heads of state breakfast meeting joined by the leaders of Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Senegal as well as African Union chairman Muammar Qaddafi.
The breakfast gathering focused on the effects of the world economic crisis on Africa.
The leaders expressed concern about “the growing scarcity of water resources and by the dramatic lack of sustainable access to water and sanitation in many African countries,” which they said was a major impediment to development.
In a declaration issued after the breakfast, they agreed to work for water and sanitation improvements at national and international levels.
The meeting expanded still further at a 10.30am session to include the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey, as well as the G5 emerging economies and Egypt, and the heads of the major international organizations, like the UN and World Bank.
Australia, Indonesia and South Korea were also taking part as members of the Major Economies Forum as the leaders turned their attention to food security.
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, the Italian prime minister, was flanked by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Turkish President Abdullah Gul, with whom he has maintained close diplomatic ties.
Berlusconi was to hold a press conference at the close of the three-day summit.
Obama and his wife Michelle were to leave for Ghana in West Africa later yesterday 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, his aides said.
Libyan leader Qaddafi held talks early yesterday with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who told him that richer nations should not renege on their commitments just because times were getting tougher, a Downing Street spokesman said.