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DAKAR, SENEGAL - President Obama on Friday touted his vision to reduce hunger in Africa and the developing world by injecting new business and science initiatives into farming.
The president emphasized food security while touring Dakar, Senegal's capital, saying far too many people on the continent endure poverty and chronic hunger. He also announced that Senegal had become the 10th country to join the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a Group of Eight plan that has seen $3.7 billion pledged in private investments in Africa.
"This is a moral imperative," Obama said. "I believe that Africa is rising and wants to partner with us, not be dependent but be self-sufficient."
But critics say the alliance, the centerpiece for such goals, has been fraught with controversy since its launch last year.
The plan by the eight economically powerful nations calls for lifting millions of people out of poverty and hunger by encouraging foreign companies, including massive agricultural multinationals, to invest in Africa in exchange for government incentives that critics say involve fewer protections for small farmers along with greater crackdowns on corruption.
Some analysts say the plan risks driving the poorest farmers from their small holdings and leaving populations worse off. It places too much emphasis on getting business to invest in agriculture and not enough, if any, on ensuring the efforts will lead to better production for small farmers, or better nutrition for hungry children, these analysts say.
The vast majority of private investments pledged under the alliance are not expected to produce high-protein, nutrition-rich foods; many will focus on nonfood activities such as selling fertilizer, some analysts said.
On the front lawn of the luxury hotel where Obama stayed, the U.S. Agency for International Development set up five booths with displays explaining various programs aimed at reducing hunger and malnutrition. The president, accompanied by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, stopped at the thatched-roof displays.
Obama chatted with Nimna Diayte, a farmer and the president of a cooperative of 3,000 farmers. The network uses cellphones to link members to ensure they get the best price for their crops. Diayte said the network had boosted her profits and she'd bought a tractor.
After visiting the booths, Obama touted the success of U.S. and international efforts to address hunger, including Feed the Future, launched in 2010, which focuses on small farms and women.
A report released Friday indicated the initiative had helped more than 7 million farmers improve their equipment or practices, developed more than 660 public-private partnerships and increased the value of exported commodities by $84 million.