Friday, September 16, 2011

Memo: African Visitors Focus on Climate, Food Security

By Karin Rives - Staff Writer from the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State

Rising global temperatures are already affecting food supplies in many parts of the world. 

A group of African government officials and experts on agriculture and climate change recently participated in a professional exchange program in the United States focused on the issue. 

Fourteen people from 11 African nations traveled to six U.S. cities during a two-week period to learn how American communities and research organizations are handling food security and working to sustain agricultural production in a changing environment. 

Their July 2011 visit was sponsored by the U.S. State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), which seeks to build international friendships and collaboration between Americans and people in other nations. 

In the southeastern state of North Carolina, the group visited Goat Lady Dairy, a family-run farm specializing in goat dairy products and organic vegetables that are sold fresh at local farmers markets and to restaurants. 

While in North Carolina, some of the visitors also spent time bagging groceries at Food Assistance Inc., a food bank assisting poor families. "This, for me, was a very enriching experience and strengthened my desire to care for others," said Joaquim Duarte Gomes, an agronomist with Angola's Ministry of Agriculture who was amazed to see so many Americans volunteer their time at the food bank. "It was quite remarkable." 

ORGANIC FARMS INSPIRE 

The idea of using locally grown food to help sustain the poor and keep communities healthy also made an impression on Abdulkadir Iman Mohamoud. At the time of his visit to the United States, he headed the Somali Regional State Livestock, Crop and Rural Development Bureau in Jijiga, Ethiopia. He's since switched jobs to head the region's Education Bureau. 

Inspired by what he saw in North Carolina, Mohamoud said he wants to encourage school gardening and environmental studies in school curricula - with the ultimate goal of helping Ethiopia sustain farmlands that are now challenged by drought and changing growth conditions. "I noticed that organic agriculture is profitable and a booming business in the U.S.," Mohamoud said. "I also learned about the strong linkages between universities, farmers markets and consumers there - and about technology generation for crop production in a stressed environment." 

Another memorable field trip, he said, was the visit the group paid to the University of California-Davis, where researchers showed them emissions-free food processing technologies. 

Seynabou TourĂ© Laye, executive secretary of Senegal's National Council on Food Security, said the IVLP activities reinforced the need to share ideas and technology across borders, as well as the need to help communities adapt to climate change. "We must promote simple technologies that are accessible to small food producers and support local knowledge of climate change adaption," she said. 

NEW CROP TYPES BRING PROMISE

Laye also emphasized the role public-private partnerships will play in developing new biotechnology, such as drought- and saline-resistant crops. 

While in California, the IVLP group visited Monsanto, one of the world's largest biotechnology and agricultural seed companies, which is now working on drought-tolerant maize seed for Africa, among other things. 

They also visited university biotechnology labs. 

Gomes noted that innovative ways to genetically modify crops "can solve past problems that hampered successful agricultural production" in Angola and beyond. "I retained many ideas," he said of his first trip to the United States, "some of which I'll try to implement as opportunities come up."