DURING the first stop on his Africa trip, President Barack Obama, along with U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah, highlighted the important role private/public partnerships play in improving food security in areas that need it most.
While in Senegal, Obama announced more than $180 million in agricultural investments in the West African region to improve food security.
Obama said it's important that Africa be viewed not as "a dependent" but as "a partner — that instead of chronically receiving aid, it is starting to get involved in trade, get involved in production and, over time, is going to be able to feed itself, house itself and produce its own goods."
The U.S. launched the Scaling Seeds & Other Technologies Partnership, led by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, in collaboration with African governments, multilateral organizations and private-sector and civil society partners, to promote technology-driven agricultural productivity growth starting in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Tanzania.
The $47 million grant will work to increase the production of high-quality seeds 45% over three years (for 97,758 metric tons of additional seed) and ensure that 40% more farmers gain access to innovative agricultural technologies.
Obama explained that with budget constraints back home, it's important to come up with new and creative ways to promote development and deliver aid. Programs such as Feed the Future and the New Alliance on Food Security allow the U.S. government to empower smallholder farmers to increase incomes and improve nutrition.
"Every dollar that we're putting in, we're getting (out of it) a huge amount of private-sector dollars," Obama told reporters. "We're focusing on how people become more productive as opposed to simply giving them food or giving them medicine."
Feed the Future released its "2013 Progress Report," which shows that in 19 focus countries, the food security initiative has helped more than 7 million smallholder farmers adopt improved agricultural technologies or practices, brought nearly 4 million hectares of land under improved cultivation and management practices, helped increase the value of exports of targeted commodities by $84 million, forged more than 660 public/private partnerships to improve food security locally and globally and increased the value of agricultural and rural loans by more than $150 million.
While in Senegal, Obama and Shah toured the Feed the Future Agricultural Technology Marketplace, a gathering of several West African private-sector entities, non-governmental organizations and farmers demonstrating how key research and innovation can help improve the lives of smallholder farmers.
One booth that focused on "managing a virtual farm" included baskets of maize and sacks of livestock feed. Another dedicated to "growing fortified food" displayed small plants in jars, bio-fortified beans and an assortment of produce. Yet another booth was focused on "efficient rice milling" and showcased different varieties of rice.
A fourth booth included information about "creating nutritious local products" and displayed bowls filled with sorghum, millet couscous and different types of flour. Another was focused on "smart agriculture" and included rice plants, jars of rice and an assortment of fertilizers.
During the event, Obama spoke with Papa Sene, head technical adviser for the National Cooperative Business Assn., who explained that 55% of kids in Senegal have vitamin deficiencies, particularly in vitamin A. Sene said his work at the organization has focused on micropropagation — growing seedlings in small test tubes to speed up the process.
Sene explained that the key to this process is "science and, secondly, the private sector, because if people make money, then it will work."
After touring the marketplace, Obama spoke, touting the success of the program and the effort to lift 50 million people from poverty within a decade. "I'm confident we're on our way," he said.
Obama added that incomes are rising and poverty is declining in Africa, but too many people still are hungry. Obama said he has made food security a priority, and by starting with small farmers, "it's not just a few who are benefiting from development, but everybody's benefiting."