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America's promise to the poorest

The world's fund to help the very neediest has taken steps to reassure the United States Congress that it is living up to its mandate. Now Congress ought to respond by supplying America's pledged share of support for this fund, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

For nearly two years the US has withheld its budgeted payments. The Senate Subcommittee on Foreign Operations wanted to be sure that IFAD's staff was not getting too big, that the early US hope for OPEC to supply half of IFAD's funds would be fulfilled, and that IFAD gear its development lending to projects designed by other agencies like the World Bank, rather than initiate projects on its own.

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IFAD offers reassurances such as these: Its staff freeze of the past two years has been extended for 1983 and a new study undertaken to keep its staffing lean. OPEC's share of the funding has climbed from 40 to 43 percent, while the US share has dropped from 35 percent to 29 percent. And IFAD has indicated its commitment to seek out projects initiated by existing agencies (though this is not always possible since IFAD's mandate to reach the poorest of rural poor is not always the aim of other development agencies these days ).

This year the Reagan administration, no spendthrift on foreign aid, has requested $65.4 million of its $180 million promise for 1981-1983. It needs to push its case this week, as noted in today's Opinion and Commentary article, ''Fulfill America's pledge to the hungry.''

If Congress follows through, the US delegation can take more than empty promises to the fund's governing council Dec. 13.

But for Congress to try to get by with mere half-loaf tokenism could lead other impatient IFAD donors to drop their own commitments and the fund to unravel altogether. Why run such risks - especially when everyone seems to agree (including Congress and the administration) that IFAD is one joint venture on the world scene that really works?

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