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US Philanthropy Groups Aim to Boost African Food Production


Two private U.S. charitable foundations are joining forces to improve African agricultural production. The initiative aims to combat both hunger and poverty on the continent.

Two of America's biggest philanthropic groups, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, say they want to promote high-yield farming techniques in Africa, where food production has declined in recent years and tens of millions of people rely on small-scale subsistence farming to survive.

The founder and former head of Microsoft Corporation, Bill Gates, outlined the program to reporters.

"I want to stress that this is a long-term effort, one that we hope will not only increase agricultural productivity, but also move millions of people out of extreme poverty and reduce hunger," he said.

"Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa", as the program is called, will focus on developing advanced seed varieties that generate higher-yielding crops, are pest-resistant and well-suited to varied soil properties and rainfall patterns in Africa. The initiative will also train African crop scientists, work to overcome transportation and distribution challenges so that new seed varieties and fertilizer actually reach farmers, and promote a network of African agricultural suppliers.

The foundations have pledged an initial investment of $150 million to be spent over a five-year period.

Initial reaction to the initiative has been positive.

"It is better than trying to send food to feed people," said Rashid Nuri, an agra-business consultant who spent five years in Nigeria and three years in Ghana.

Now based in Atlanta, Georgia, Nuri says the concepts and strategies promoted by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa are not new. In fact, they have been employed successfully in Europe, Asia and the Americas for several decades.

"Increased [agricultural] yields, increased tonnages are something that most governments have embraced," he added. "Certainly the Chinese have, the Indians have, also in Europe and America. It is Africa that has not had the resources to participate at the same level of development, in the agricultural sector, as the rest of the world."

Nuri warns, however, that a sustained financial commitment over a long period of time will be required if the Gates and Rockefeller initiative is to succeed. He adds that increasing African crop yields is but one half of the battle to combat hunger and provide a financial boost to farmers. The other half of the battle, he says, is improving roads and transportation so that harvests can get to market.

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