STATE DEPARTMENT - As host of this week's summit of the world's Group of Eight leading industrial nations (G8), President Barack Obama has put African food security on the agenda.
Food security remains a recurring problem across Africa, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid each year. The Horn of Africa endured a severe drought last year that turned to famine in Somalia, and several countries in West Africa are now going through a food shortage that aid agencies have warned needs immediate international attention.
With that in mind, the president has invited Benin's President Boni Yayi, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Ghana's President John Atta Mills and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwere to the U.S. There, they will join with business leaders and civil society groups to discuss agricultural development and food security in Africa as part of this G8 summit.
"It is one of the things that this president and this administration regard as a major, major project to work with Africa on," said Johnnie Carson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.
Nailing down business commitments
The leaders meet Friday at an event hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs to launch what Carson says will be significant new business commitments for African agriculture. They also will discuss how best to address issues of hunger and poverty in a development environment affected by the global economic crisis.
Carson said the Obama administration's "Feed the Future" program is designed to create a green, agricultural revolution in Africa like those that ended widespread hunger in much of Latin America and Asia in the 1960's and 1970's.
"Africa has enormous promise and potential in the agricultural field. And there is absolutely no reason why Africa should be in a food deficit, why there should be insufficiency in the continent, and why it can not, in fact, be a major agro-producer not only for the continent, but also for export globally," said Carson.
Money, ingenuity and opportunity
Working with the United Nations and the G8, Carson said Obama is determined to spotlight Africa's agricultural challenges and opportunities for private sector investors. African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka and African Union chairman Jean Ping will join those talks.
Relief groups including ActionAid, Oxfam, Save the Children, and World Vision are calling on G8 leaders to start by meeting their existing financial commitments to easing hunger in Africa.
Friday's new initiative is expected to target 50 million food-insecure people by boosting agricultural investments. In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 80 percent of food is still grown by small-scale farmers.