Thursday, October 22, 2009

Innovative U.S.-African Partnership Aims at Better Nutrition

USAID, food company General Mills unite with African food processors

By Jim Fisher-Thompson - Staff Writer

Washington - An innovative new public-private sector partnership with small-scale businesses in Africa will harness the power of commerce and U.S. expertise in health care and development to improve food security on a continent where disease strikes hardest at the undernourished.

The partnership of General Mills, a leading U.S. food company, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was announced September 25 at the closing of the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI).

The initiative will link the technical and business expertise of General Mills and up to nine additional food companies with up to 200 small and medium-sized mills and food processors in 15 sub-Saharan African countries.

The joint project, which could potentially reach a value of $21 million, will also benefit an estimated 1.6 million smallholder farmers who supply the African businesses.

Established in 2005 by former President Bill Clinton, the CGI brings together a community of global leaders to devise and implement innovative solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges. In four years, CGI members have made more than 1,400 commitments, valued at $46 billion, in more than 170 countries.

"People don't have to have the same politics, the same religion, or speak the same language to work together and to have an impact," Clinton said. "We all have things to learn from each other. What we need is a shared mechanism to achieve common goals."

President Obama seeks to achieve those goals with the pledge he recently made of $3.5 billion in U.S. aid for food security worldwide. The commitment involves continuing to provide emergency food aid while helping train farmers, especially women, in modern techniques and supplying the necessary agricultural inputs.

Peter Erickson, General Mills senior vice president of innovation, technology and quality, said the partnership "provides us with a practical way to further our mission of nourishing lives in Africa. We have already witnessed the great things that can happen when we connect our employees with small, but talented and growing, food processors in Africa and we are excited to see this initiative grow."

Acting USAID Administrator Alonzo Fulgham was also excited by the project, saying the partnership ties in with his agency's mission "to stimulate economic development, improve the capacity of agricultural processors, and support the health and wellness of farmers and small and medium-size business owners across sub-Saharan Africa."

Fulgham added, "We have high hopes that this collaboration will encourage sustainable economic and social growth in some of the world's neediest countries."

For many African victims of HIV/AIDS, undernourishment can hinder treatment. PEPFAR programs provide supplemental foods to enhance the effectiveness of treatment for many AIDS patients and will use the General Mills partnership to purchase local foods at low cost that not only will help AIDS patients but also will stimulate and promote food security in areas heavily affected by HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR now provides life-saving anti-retroviral treatment for more than 2 million people in Africa.

The General Mills public-private partnership is part of the ongoing effort by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the State Department to engage the private sector in international development and diplomacy.

In remarks at the September 25 CGI event, Secretary Clinton said, "Massive hunger poses a threat to the stability of governments, societies and borders. Since 2007, there have been riots over food in more than 60 countries."

So food security is "not simply a moral imperative," Clinton said. "It represents the convergence of complex issues that have a direct bearing on economic growth, energy and environmental factors, and our strategic interests. And, as such, it demands a comprehensive response."

To that end, she explained, the Obama administration "has developed an unprecedented initiative aimed at advancing food security worldwide. The scope and scale of this initiative represents an elevation of development as a key element of our foreign policy. And our approach represents a rethinking of development policies and priorities."

She said, "If we can build partnerships with countries to help small farmers improve their agricultural output and make it easier to buy and sell their products at local or regional markets, we can set off a domino effect.

"We can increase the world's food supply for both the short and the long term, diminish hunger, raise farmers' incomes, improve health, expand opportunity and strengthen regional economies."

(Published by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State)