The G-8 has agreed a $20 billion (14.3 billion euros) aid and security package to fight global hunger and promote more productive farming in the world's poorest countries.
The G-8 has joined forces with the G-5 and African countries to tackle hunger
The package, largely funded by the United States and Japan, was approved by the Group of Eight (G-8) leading developed economies, the Group of Five (G-5) top developing states, and African leaders on the third and last day of a summit in the Italian city of L'Aquila, diplomats said.
The final figure was $5 billion more than touted earlier in the day.
"Working with the G-8, African and European countries and multinational bodies, we had the satisfaction of increasing the $15 billion to $20 billion over three years," said Italian President Silvio Berlsuconi.
Aid agencies are warning that the global economic crisis has pushed 100 million people in developing states back into poverty and raised the risk of famine and food riots around the world.
"We need to show the world that we will take action to avert what is a famine and hunger emergency," said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is supporting the initiative.
In the past, rich nations have responded to such crises by sending billions of dollars' worth of food from their national surpluses to feed the starving.
At a summit in Gleneagles in 2005, G-8 leaders pledged $22 billion in aid to Africa by 2010. So far, however, only a third of this pledge has been delivered.
A shift in focus to productive farming
The G-8 wants to avert crises by promoting farming
Now, with their budgets deep in the red from spending trillions of dollars to stave off financial meltdown, G-8 states are shifting the focus onto making farms and farmers in poor countries more productive, so that famines do not happen in the first place.
Funding could be used, for example, to buy seeds, build irrigation systems and teach farmers more efficient techniques.
However, UN officials say that despite the shift in focus from food donations to agricultural investment, pledges made at the summit will not meet needs.
"What is new and is encouraging is that there is a decision for the first time to shift policy," Jacques Diouf, director-general of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told Reuters.
"Food aid is necessary because we have people suffering from drought, from flood, from conflicts and what they want is immediate food to eat ... But if we have to feed one billion hungry people, we have to help them produce their own food," he said.
Aid agencies welcome funds but say more is needed
"Twenty billion dollars was a last-minute agreement and it was greeted with great happiness by all of us in the conference room," said Staffan de Mistura, vice executive director of the World Food Program. "While we are rebuilding agriculture we need to continue supporting food assistance because the financial crisis is pushing another 103 million people into hunger this year."
Diouf (l.) applauded the package but called for more
The FAO's Diouf applauded the G-8 plan, but warned that the situation was so grave that this amount still fell short of what was needed. "Certainly, it's not enough. But compared to where we were, it's certainly a big jump," he said.
"The most important thing is the shift in policy and focus on the need to help hungry and poor people to produce their own food. That's the biggest shift in strategy I have seen over the past two decades.
"We still have a lot of work to do, but this time I believe we will deliver, because this was the initiative of President Barack Obama, so Yes We Can," Diouf said.
Sarah Gilliam from the non-governmental organization ActionAid agreed: "The final pledge doesn't change much. It is a welcome step in the right direction to get food on the table for the one billion hungry but it's not enough to feed them all.
"Aid for food must reach at least $23 billion a year by 2020
to reach the millennium development goal of halving hunger by 2050," she said. "This takes the G-8 much closer but there is still a way to go. Also, is this all additional money? Given the G-8 record on delivery, this is still very much a work in progress."
Food crisis gathering pace
The UN says the G-8 should do more than just give food
According to the UN, the number of malnourished people has risen over the past two years and is expected to top 1.02 billion this year, reversing a four-decade trend of decline.
"I think the G-8 should help reverse the trend. How far they go toward achieving the goal, that's the question," Diouf said.
Diouf also criticized reductions in aid for agriculture, which he said fell from 17 percent in 1980 to around five percent today.
"You don't develop a sector by cutting resources to that sector. We therefore should reverse this negative trend in resources to agriculture and go back," he said.
"The tragic events of the last three years, with riots in 22 countries in all regions of the world, restrictive and protectionist measures on the supply side, clearly demonstrated how fragile our international food system is and how vulnerable it is," he added.
Editor: Chuck Penfold