Obama Seeks to Advance African Agenda in Food Security Plan

June 28, 2013 10:00 AM

June 28 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama highlighted U.S. and private-sector financial commitments for food security efforts at a summit today in Senegal as he wrapped up the first stop of a three-country tour of sub-Saharan Africa.

The U.S. will increase by $47 million its assistance for seeds and agricultural technology, while private companies will commit to invest $134 million in Senegal’s agricultural system.

"When people ask what’s happening to their taxpayer dollars and foreign aid, I want people to know this money is not being wasted," Obama said today as he toured a food security exposition in Dakar, Senegal. The assistance is "helping people to become more self-sufficient, and it’s creating new markets for U.S. companies."

Obama was joined by business leaders and agriculture ministers from West Africa and other parts of the continent to focus on bolstering Africa’s farm output. It is Obama’s last event in Senegal before he is scheduled to depart for South Africa and Tanzania.

Obama, who arrived on the continent on June 26, has proceeded with the long-planned trip as the health of Nelson Mandela, 94, the former South African president and anti- apartheid icon, has deteriorated. Mandela has been placed on life support while hospitalized for a lung infection.

Yesterday, Obama used reminiscences about Mandela’s struggle against apartheid and a visit to a former slave house to underscore a message that African nations have made strides in democratic governance and human rights protections that should be recognized as the continent seeks more investment and trade. Aides said boosting food security is part of the same effort.


Signature Effort


Food security is "one of our signature development efforts here in Africa and one that is directly relevant not just to lifting people out of poverty but to promoting economic growth," White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said.

Senegal is the latest country to join the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, said Raj Shah, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development. The program was organized last year by the U.S. with other Group of Eight member countries, the African Union, African heads of state and the private sector.


Facilitating Investment


The alliance seeks nations’ changes in tax policy and pledges to tackle corruption in exchange for facilitating private investment commitments with a goal of lifting 50 million people from poverty by 2022. Before today’s announcement, more than 70 companies had committed to assisting countries through $3.7 billion for seed and agricultural processing and marketing, according to a fact sheet distributed by the White House.

Other countries in the alliance include Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Benin, Malawi and Nigeria.

As part of its participation, Senegal is pledging to expand access to credit for small farmers, better target seed and fertilizer subsidies, tackle corruption and offer tax exemptions to its value-added tax system.

Also today, the Obama administration will release a report on its "Feed the Future" program in 19 countries, showing that the program has reached 7 million households, increased food production by as much as 70 percent for some participants and improved nutrition for 12 million children, Shah said.


Hunger Remains


In a separate report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today that the number of people in 76 low- and middle- income countries who experience food insecurity -- defined as consuming less than 2,100 calories per person per day -- will rise 23 percent to 868 million by 2023. In 26 of the nations studied, more than 40 percent of the population faces hunger, with the biggest concentration in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In a news conference yesterday with Senegalese President Macky Sall, Obama called the times "a moment of great progress and great promise for the continent."

He described Mandela as a "personal hero" who inspired his own political activism in college and after.

Obama traveled by ferry to Goree Island off the coast of Senegal, where he toured the Slave House before a meeting with civil society advocates.

With cramped rooms labeled as prison cells and a portal dubbed the Door of No Return overlooking the water, the museum draws thousands of tourists each year to learn about the Atlantic slave trade.

Obama described looking out of the portal with first lady Michelle Obama and family members as a "very powerful moment."

Even as historians have disputed the details of the island’s history and role in slavery, the location has drawn civil rights leaders, celebrities and U.S. presidents, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

"For an African-American and African-American president to be able to visit this site, I think, gives me even greater motivation in terms of the defense of human rights around the world," Obama said.


--With assistance from Alan Bjerga in Washington. Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Leslie Hoffecker


To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Talev in Dakar, Senegal at mtalev@bloomberg.net; Julianna Goldman in Dakar, Senegal at jgoldman6@bloomberg.net


To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net


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