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Africa: Food Security is Top Agenda Item On Clinton Africa Trip

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is putting a spotlight on food security and partnerships as she makes her first official visit to sub-Saharan Africa, a region that the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) World Vision says is "riddled with hunger."

Before leaving on her August 4-14, seven-nation trip, Clinton told a World Food Prize ceremony at the State Department, "The issue of chronic hunger and food security is at the top of the agenda that we're pursuing here in the State Department and in the Obama administration."

Sometimes called the "Nobel Prize of agriculture," the World Food Prize was established in 1990 by philanthropist John Ruan to recognize individuals who advance humanity by improving the quality, quantity and availability of food in the world.

Following the awarding of the 2009 prize to Purdue University agronomy professor Gebisa Ejeta, Clinton said, "Attacking hunger at its roots directly impacts whether we meet our other foreign policy goals, from achieving economic recovery to stabilizing fragile societies, creating stronger partnerships, cleaning up our planet, and creating economic opportunity."

So "now for us," she said, "sustainable agriculture [underlying food security] won't be a side project. It is a central element of our foreign policy."

The United States continues to be the world's largest international food donor, providing $5.5 billion last year in the fight against hunger -- including aid to 16 sub-Saharan African countries for emergency food, staple food production and agricultural technology.

Clinton will stop in Kenya, South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Liberia and Cape Verde. Her visit follows a widely acclaimed speech President Obama gave in Ghana July 11 in which he highlighted the U.S. commitment of $3.5 billion to revamp African agriculture.

"I've pledged substantial increases in our foreign assistance, which is in Africa's interests and America's interests," Obama told the Ghanaian Parliament. "But the true sign of success is not whether we are a source of perpetual aid that helps people scrape by -- it's whether we are partners in building the capacity of transformational change."

Robert Zachritz, World Vision's U.S. director for advocacy and government relations, praised Obama's $3.5 billion pledge, with its emphasis on partnerships and agricultural reform, saying, "We welcome President Obama's lead on this issue.

"Tackling the need must include long-term agricultural development and providing quality nutrition, as well as food aid, and this [Obama] initiative is a bold move toward a more holistic approach to ending global hunger. We urge leaders to back this approach with funds and action," Zachritz added.

In Kenya, where Secretary Clinton attends the eighth meeting of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum, World Vision operates an irrigation project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

According to the USAID Web site, the Morulem Irrigation Scheme in Kenya's Turkana District has resulted in a greater variety of crops being grown and the number of farmers selling cash crops has "increased significantly."

The project also includes an agroforestry program that attacked deforestation in the arid Turkana region with the planting of more than 26,000 tree seedlings and fruit trees. The project increased nutrition among farmers and led to the creation of 938 new agricultural jobs.

Other USAID agricultural programs in Africa support research and development of technologies to improve production practices. Previous biotechnology-related projects led to greater access to quality seeds and fertilizers, agricultural services and financing.

A number of these projects are implemented with the help of Peace Corps volunteers working with Africans to strengthen farmer organizations and cooperatives while linking small producers to markets.

In 2008, the Peace Corps established a Worldwide Food Security Task Force that furnishes volunteers with the resources, information and training to implement grass-roots agricultural programs aimed at eliminating hunger, improving nutrition and supporting farmers.

Now, 40 percent of the Peace Corps' 7,800 volunteers are involved in furthering food security in the 74 countries where they serve.

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