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U.S. will focus on long-term ag development

NEW YORK -- At a United Nations event on global food security on Sept. 20, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged a long-term U.S. commitment to agricultural development in the Third World, but there still are many questions about how it will...

NEW YORK -- At a United Nations event on global food security on Sept. 20, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged a long-term U.S. commitment to agricultural development in the Third World, but there still are many questions about how it will operate.

Clinton did not say what U.S. agencies would be in charge of the effort and officials from other countries and anti-hunger advocates said that to succeed, the effort must keep donor and recipient countries accountable and make sure that poor people have the purchasing power to buy the food.

President Obama and Clinton have said the United States and other developed countries have put too much stress on food aid rather than helping poor countries develop their agriculture. But Clinton made clear that the United States will not decrease its food aid commitments in the short run. Under U.S. law, almost all food aid must consist of U.S.-grown food.

Aid focus

In her U.N. speech and another speech Sept. 19 at former President Bill Clinton's global initiative conference, she devoted most of her attention to agricultural development and emphasized the need to help women farmers increase production.

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Clinton said U.S. officials "will put women at the heart of our efforts. We have seen again and again -- in microfinance and other programs -- that women are entrepreneurial, accountable and practical. And since the majority of the world's farmers are women, it's critical that our investments in agriculture leverage their ambition and perseverance."

At the Clinton initiative conference, Clinton called the U.S. commitment to revitalizing global agriculture "one of the most ambitious and comprehensive diplomacy and development efforts our country has ever taken."

But she did not say which U.S. agencies will run the U.S. effort or how much of the money the United States intends to provide to a World Bank multidonor trust fund to boost agricultural productivity that also was announced in Pittsburgh.

Clinton did say that Cheryl Mills, her chief of staff and counselor, is in charge of the U.S. initiative. No U.S. official besides Clinton spoke at the U.N. event, but Agriculture Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics Rajiv Shah and Ann Tutwiler, his adviser on international issues, were present in the observer section. The U.S. Agency for International Development usually has been in charge of agriculture development efforts, but Obama has not yet nominated an administrator to head it. Clinton did say that the effort would include everything from agricultural research to helping build refrigeration facilities.

Pledges

Others present at the U.N. conference included former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who now is president of the Motion Picture Association of America, but has been involved in a Chicago Council of Global Affairs project urging the U.S. government to take a greater role in overseas agricultural development. Former Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, who now is head of UNICEF, the U.N., agency for children, and Josette Sheeran, a former Bush administration official who now is head of the World Food Program, the U.N. agency that distributes food aid, also were present.

Clinton's speech followed an announcement at the G20 conference in Pittsburgh Sept. 18 that country pledges for the food security initiative have risen from the $20 billion in three years that President Obama and the G-8 countries made in July to $22 billion. Clinton said the United States will provide $3.5 billion during that period.

"We've called on Congress to fully fund our request for 2010, and we'll ask for additional funding the following year -- funding that complements, not supplants, our continuing commitment to emergency humanitarian relief," Clinton said.

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Neither the House nor the Senate has gone along with the Obama administration fiscal year 2010 budget request of $1.35 billion for international agricultural development, but the fiscal year 2010 foreign operations appropriations bills appear headed to provide $1 billion for the program.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the summit that the effort must address "accessibility to food for vulnerable groups" and Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Querishi said it also should address food distribution and storage problems. Joachim Von Braun, director general of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, said in an interview afterward he thinks a comprehensive food security effort is "finally coming together," but that governments and nongovernmental organizations must "blow the whistle" on donor governments if they don't provide the money and recipient governments if they do not spend it properly.

One international anti-hunger advocate who asked not to be identified said the Obama administration's goal must be eradication of hunger rather than agricultural development because increasing production does not assure consumption. Brazil, the advocate noted, increased production years before President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva instituted his zero hunger program of family grants. Increases in U.S. agricultural production did not reduce the need for the food stamp program, the advocate said.

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