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Obama to announce global food alliance today

President Barack Obama today will announce a new G8 alliance for global food security and nutrition that expands the effort launched at the L’Aquila G-8 meeting in 2009.

The new alliance involves both major companies in the private sector and governments worldwide in assisting millions of small-scale African farmers, most of them women, in improving their products and outcomes, administration officials revealed late Thursday.

The endeavor will involve 45 companies and will seek a commitment of $3 billion.

Obama, hosting the G-8 leaders at Camp David this weekend, is scheduled to announce the alliance at a conference sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

In a telephone briefing for reporters arranged by the White House, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah explained that, since 2009, “We’ve seen real progress.”

He said the results have shown that “Agricultural productivity growth in our own, target Feed the Future countries is eight times that of the global average. And that extra agricultural product has protected millions of people from needing food aid during times of emergency crisis like we saw during the drought -- severe drought in the Horn of Africa last year.”

Shah said the new goal will be to extend the current governmental commitments and to include the private sector in tackling problems in ways that governments cannot.

Shah said that 45 companies would make a commitment to spend more than $3 billion. He named several of the larger companies involved:
  • Pepsi will help smallholder farmers plant chick peas that will be used for both commercial purposes and World Food Program feeding initiatives
  • Norwegian company Yara International will build the first major fertilizer production company in Africa
  • Vodafone will help 500,000 African farmers obtain the capability to use texting to find out market information
  • In addition, Shah said, slightly less than half of the 45 companies involved are African-based.

Responding to concerns that some nongovernmental groups (NGOs) have accused the developed countries of shifting the burden of helping developing countries to the private sector, Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Mike Froman, who participated with Shah in the briefing, said, “It’s not about replacing aid; it’s about combining aid with private capital, tools to scale innovation and strategies for managing risk.” Froman’s background includes connections in the private sector, as a former Citigroup executive (1999 to 2009) as well as Treasury Department Chief of Staff (1997 to 1999).

Shah noted that in response to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program at the World Bank, more than 30 African countries completed the process of creating country plans and investment programs. Many of them achieved the target they set for themselves, he said, which was having 10 percent of local resources being invested in the agricultural sector.

Shah said a G-8 accountability report will be published Saturday that “will demonstrate that, by and large, countries have worked hard to meet commitments.”

Shah said the report shows the United States has lived up to its commitments and has worked feverishly to disburse the money in the time promised.

The report will also describe how countries have performed in trying to adopt the (now-termed) Rome Principles, which target small-scale farmers, mostly women. The report will detail country plans and support those plans, to better coordinate efforts, the officials said.

At a reception at the State Department late Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted that Shah had worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on many of these ideas before he came to USAID.

The secretary of state also said, “We’re proud of what the United States did during the Green Revolution, but we can’t keep looking toward the past and say ‘That was great, look at what we did 30, 40 years ago.’ We now have to take what we know and apply it in the 21st century.”

She noted that Thomas Jefferson, “an actual farmer,” wrote to James Madison, telling him, “’The small landholders are the most precious part of a state.’”

Clinton added, “We know from our own history smallholder farmers helped to build America, and now we’re seeing it across the world.”