US focuses on food security in Africa

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A consumer shopping for grocery. The US says Africa will soon see large scale food security initiatives rolling out. Photo/FILE

The Obama administration will put food security at the heart of its Africa policy, as it seeks to enhance ongoing US efforts on trade, investment and HIV/Aids on the continent, a top US diplomat said.

“We want to see the food security initiative take on greater momentum as more African countries are drawn into this program,” said Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, the administration’s top official for Africa.

Reviewing the first year of the administration’s ties with Africa, Carson said visits by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the continent last year underscored strong US support for economic development, good governance and the fight against corruption.

And he said Africans would soon see the food security initiative rolling out on a scale to rival major trade and HIV/Aids commitments of previous US administrations.

The United States was a major backer of a plan unveiled by the Group of Eight (G8) developed countries last year to spend $20 billion over three years to help small-scale farmers in Africa and parts of Asia improve productivity as part of a long-term solution to chronic hunger and malnutrition.

Supporters hope the program will boost initiatives that give farmers seed, fertilizer, irrigation and infrastructure to get crops to market, as well as research to create seeds better suited to local conditions, and agricultural education.

Carson said that African countries could also expect new US-led initiatives to emerge, including broader efforts to promote health and new strategies to protect the environment.

He said Africa had seen some political setbacks despite Obama’s early message on governance and anti-corruption, pointing to military take-overs in Guinea, Niger and Madagascar as throwbacks to an earlier era on strongman rule.

Kenya, once the brightest star in East Africa, has become mired in political infighting and corruption while Nigeria, the continent’s most populous state and a major oil exporter, remains in perilous political waters ahead of new elections expected next year.

Sudden crisis

Chronic troublespots including Somalia, Zimbabwe and the Ivory Coast continue to fester -- any one of which could explode into a sudden crisis.

But Carson said he was encouraged by the strong responses by the AU and other regional groupings, saying they were now fully aligned with the broader goal of spreading democracy.

“Africa knows that the era of military dictatorship is a part of its past and should not be a part of its future,” Carson said, adding that a string of elections in coming months, including in Sudan and Nigeria, would be signposts to the future.