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Experts Urge US to Help Agriculture Development in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia

A group of specialists committed to foreign assistance is proposing a renewed U.S. commitment to agricultural development in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The recommendations were presented Tuesday by the Chicago Council of Global Affairs.

The 13-member panel making the recommendations is co-chaired by Catherine Bertini, a Syracuse University professor and former head of the United Nations World Food Program. She says an increased commitment to food production in Africa and South Asia would help bring 270 million people out of poverty by 2020.

"Agriculture development has fallen off our development agenda. We must put it back on. As a result of the decline for agricultural support, if it continues, we cannot see significant improvements," he said.

The panel's recommendations were unveiled at Washington's Peterson Institute for International Economics. The panel's other co-chairman, former US agriculture secretary Dan Glickman, says the recommendations are aimed at the more 700 million people in rural Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia who subsist on the equivalent of $1 per day. Glickman says increased funding for research and education is a priority.

"To achieve these goals the U.S. government should increase Agency for International Development [USAID] support for students in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to study in the United States, and increase the number and extent of American university partnerships," he said.

David Beckman says it is critical that remote villages-like one he recently visited near Lake Malawi in Mozambique-- gain access to fertilizer that would boost production of cassava, their food staple. "Everybody I met in this area of northern Mozambique, everybody, has gone for long periods without food. They know what it is to be hungry. If they-Pedro (the man with whom he stayed) could get access to fertilizer-it would be transformative," he said.

The agriculture experts are delighted that President Obama shares their commitment to improving food production. They repeated words from his January 20 inaugural speech, to the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish. No American president, they say, had so specifically addressed the food production issue.