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Cousin: U.N. to provide food and farm aid in Horn of Africa

United Nations officials and world agricultural leaders plan to help the Horn of Africa with its drought through a twin-track program of food aid and agricultural development, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. food agencies Ertharin Cousin said today.

In a telephone interview from Rome, Cousin told The Hagstrom Report that the international community wants to improve agricultural development in the region “while you have the public will to do it.”

Cousin gave the interview after an emergency meeting organized by FAO at the request of the French presidency of the Group of 20. The meeting was attended by ministers and senior representatives from FAO’s 191 member countries, other U.N. agencies and international and non-governmental organizations.

Drought is behind a declared famine that is affecting 12 million people in two regions of southern Somalia. The World Food Program and other donors will provide food relief, but the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and other donors also want to help farmers in the region so that they will be productive next year, she said. In addition to the drought-afflicted farmers in Somalia, farmers in Kenya and Ethiopia will receive agricultural aid as well.

Cousin said that “normal to slightly less than normal” rainfall is predicted in the region this fall. While drought is the main cause of the famine, she said, farmers in the area also need tools and other resources to improve productivity.

The plans to help the farmers with a combination of food aid and long-term development fit with the Obama administration’s “Feed the Future” program run by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted last week that the U.S. government has contributed $459 million to the Horn of Africa effort.

Participants in the meeting agreed that governments of the six countries hit by the crisis would manage the response, informed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Horn of Africa Plan of Action, FAO said in a news release. The participants stressed that there is still a “window of opportunity” to help affected populations resume their livelihoods and enable farmers, fishers and herders to help themselves through the crisis within their own communities. Displacement of populations should be avoided as far as possible, FAO said.

“The combined forces of drought, inflation and conflict have created a catastrophic situation that urgently requires massive international support,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said in a news release. “If we want to avoid future famine and food insecurity crises in the region, countries and the international community urgently need to bolster the agricultural sector and accelerate investments in rural development."

Bruno Le Maire, the French minister of agriculture, said the famine points to the need to coordinate world food prices.

“This crisis highlights the need for urgent implementation of the action plan on food price volatility and agriculture adopted by G20 Agriculture ministers on 23 June in Paris, notably regarding international policy coordination, agricultural production and productivity and targeted emergency humanitarian food reserves,” Le Maire said.