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US Launches Initiative to Support African Farmers Amid Food Security Challenges

In partnership with the African Union, the United Nations and others, the US Department of State has launched an initiative to help African farmers and governments prepare and adapt to the food security challenges posed by climate change.

dr Cary Fowler, US special envoy for global food security, presented the new program on Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“Crops adapted to climate, pests, diseases and market needs are a prerequisite for food security,” Fowler said. “Poor soil does not bring a rich harvest.”

Fowler, who recently visited Zambia and Malawi, warned of the urgent need to develop crops that can withstand the impacts of climate change and the agricultural productivity demands of Africa’s growing population.

“At a time when Africa is experiencing extreme weather and increasing population growth, we see a real opportunity to promote soil health and climate-resilient crops in Africa,” Fowler said. “By the end of the century, as you probably already know, Africa will be the most populous continent in the world, but already 300 million people on the continent are food insecure.”

Historically, most adaptation efforts have focused on a handful of crops, such as corn, rice and wheat, Fowler said. That attention, he said, should include lesser-known plants rich in vitamins and micronutrients.

“Other crops such as grains like sorghum, millet and teff and almost all root and tuber crops and hundreds of native African fruits and vegetables have received a lot of attention,” he said. “Not surprisingly, their yields are low and their potential unfulfilled. For many of these plants, no scientifically trained plant breeder has ever worked on them in the entire history of agriculture.”

This initiative is being launched in partnership with the African Union and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Ambassador Cindy McCain, US Permanent Representative to the UN agencies in Rome, was present at the launch. She said intersecting crises — armed conflict, COVID-19 and climate change — are straining global food systems. And that affects everyone, especially the most vulnerable around the world.

“During my travels as US Ambassador to UN agencies in Rome, I have seen the impact of conflict, water scarcity and extreme weather conditions from Kenya to Madagascar, from Sri Lanka to Laos and more,” she said. “As global leaders sought climate solutions at COP 27 in Egypt last year and the Negev Forum in the United Arab Emirates last month, it is clear that we must harness science, technology and innovation in agriculture to support a growing to feed populations, and this requires a concerted global effort.”

Fowler said that in addition to the FAO and the AU, entities such as the Rockefeller Foundation, Columbia University and CGIAR, a global partnership bringing together international organizations involved in food security research, are also involved in this effort. He said this is like a potluck dinner where the State Department brings some resources and maybe a main course, but other partners need to contribute to the effort for it to be a success. Fowler noted that the process outlined is part scientific and part consensus and bond building.

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