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Obama Announces Food Initiative for Africa

Kent Klein

May 19, 2012

U.S. President Barack Obama has announced a plan aimed at lifting 50 million Africans out of poverty in the next 10 years. Private companies from around the world have pledged more than $3 billion toward the effort.

With the leaders of several African countries watching, the president said Friday that governments, private industries and organizations will work together to improve Africa's food security.

"Today, I can announce a new global effort we are calling a 'New Alliance' for food security and nutrition. And, to get the job done, we are bringing together all the key players around a shared commitment," said Obama.

At a food security forum in Washington, the president said ending hunger by making African farms more productive is a moral imperative.

"Because of smart investments in nutrition and agriculture and safety nets, millions of people in Kenya and Ethiopia did not need emergency aid in the recent drought. But when tens of thousands of children die from the agony of starvation, as in Somalia, that sends us a message that we have still got a lot of work to do. It is unacceptable. It is an outrage. It is an affront to who we are," he said.

The president spoke as he prepared to host the annual economic summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations at the Camp David presidential retreat outside Washington.

To emphasize the importance of food security, Obama invited the leaders of four African nations to attend the G8 summit and discuss the issue.

The president of Ghana, John Mills, said making food more plentiful would make societies more secure.

"When you talk about food security, nutritional security, you are at the same time talking about health security, economic stability, political stability. And without these elements you will struggle with democracy," said Mills.

Although some of the G8 countries are dealing with economic austerity, Obama said the "New Alliance" initiative would help ease the burden on some governments.

"That is what I mean by a new approach that challenges more nations, more organizations, more companies, more NGO’s [non-governmental organizations], challenges individuals - some of the young people who are here - to step up and play a role, because government cannot and should not do this alone. This has to be 'all hands on deck,'" said Obama.

But Obama said private contributions cannot take the place of a government commitment. He said the United States will continue to make what he called "historic investments" in development.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said government contributions are absolutely necessary for African development.

"The role of the private sector can only be to supplement the small-scale farmers. There is the issue of rural roads, water supply systems, irrigation infrastructure - all of these require public investment," said Zenawi.

The new food initiative is intended to build on a 2009 food security effort that brought $22 billion in pledges.

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