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Quibbling in the Face of Crisis

A quibble over burden-sharing now jeopardizes the future of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. But an appropriate compromise is in sight if the government of the United States will accept the payment formula that the other major donors have already approved, and if the oil-producing nations make an adequate pledge.

Survival of this innovative fund is important for two reasons. With its establishment in 1977, IFAD provided an international foreign-aid organization that attracted for the first time substantial support from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. And the fund has filled an important aid gap by targeting its assistance on the poorest farmers of the Third World, helping directly those most in need of help.

The controversy now centers on OPEC’s declining support--a decline due in part to reduced earnings as oil production has been cut back, and in part to the Iran-Iraq war and the revolution in Iran, which have led Tehran to renege on all commitments and Baghdad to reduce support for the fund. In this circumstance the OPEC share, originally 43% of the total, then 42%, is now proposed at 40%. This has been accepted by all the contributing nations except the United States.

American resistance has been all the more damaging because it has been matched by declining U.S. contributions, down from 20% of the original funding to 17%.

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Another effort to resolve the controversy will be made at the end of this week at IFAD headquarters in Rome. The project may collapse because of a failure of OPEC to promise an adequate level of funds. The OPEC commitment is still a secret, but it is expected to be adequate to assure continuation of the program. The real risk is that the United States will remain rigid on burden-sharing, and in this way kill the organization at the very moment that it could play an increasingly important role in development--particularly in crisis-ridden Africa.


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