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US pledges aid for African scientists

Published date:
Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Chronic poverty and hunger in Africa have come under the searchlight of the continent's women scientists and the United States (U.S.) government.

Under its new response to the twin problems in Africa, the Barack Obama administration is counting on the continent's women farmers/scientists to bail out millions of Africans from poverty and hunger in the region.

These were some of the decisions taken in Nairobi, Kenya, during a parley between the African women and visiting American officials led by the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

And when she arrives in Nigeria tomorrow, Clinton will discuss security matters and how to foster greater transparency and participatory governance in Nigeria with the Federal Government.

The Guardian learnt at the weekend that the idea of giving democratic power to the people in a more demonstrable way enhanced by reliable public institutions would dominate the bilateral talks.

The American-African women forum agreed that the absence of women in decision-making institutions in agriculture in Africa had contributed to the rising rate of poverty and hunger in Africa.

The women scientists under the aegis of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), who urged African leaders and the U.S. policymakers to put women at the centre of efforts to address chronic hunger and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, argued that it was only when women could exert more influence on public policies and programmes that sub-Saharan Africa could ward off future food crisis, drought and other impacts of climate change.

Besides Mrs. Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, featured in the talks held during their recent visits to research facilities outside Nairobi.

In her response, Vilsack said: "The outstanding achievements of the women of the AWARD initiative serve as a model and inspiration to women farmers all over Africa. As part of President Barack Obama's international initiative to help millions become food secure, a focus on women farmers will be an important and integral part of this effort."

Women account for about 80 per cent of Africa's food production. But their access to land, vital services, such as credits, and improved technologies, is extremely limited. They receive only five per cent of agricultural extension training and 10 per cent of rural credit.

Also, a few agricultural projects are designed to address women's specific needs. Only a quarter of its researchers and development experts are women and only 14 per cent of the management positions in agricultural research and development are female.

In a statement made available to The Guardian in Abuja by the organisers of the event, Sheila Ommeh, a Kenyan scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), said: "Science is crucial to building a pathway out of poverty. Yet, a few young Africans are pursuing careers in agricultural research and science. We need support in expanding that number."

Measures like the American Global Food Security Act of 2009 are a step in the right direction, the group said. But the impact of this initiative would be limited unless it was reinforced by targeted efforts to provide Africa's women farmers with the technical and financial resources to respond to new economic opportunities, the women stated.

"Investing in women is the smart solution to Africa's hunger. It will help ensure that U.S. development resources yield maximum returns in reducing food insecurity and poverty," Kenyan horticulture, Prof. Mary Abukutsa-Onyango, said.

Co-ordinated by the Gender and Diversity Programme of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), AWARD provides 60 fellowships yearly to boost the female talent pool supporting Africa's farmers, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Diplomatic sources in Abuja confirmed to The Guardian at the weekend that apart from a shared vision of how best to secure Nigeria's prosperity and collective future, the bulk of issues in the envisaged "New U.S.-Nigeria Engagement" presented by the Nigerian delegation to influential groups in the U.S., including the Black Congressional Caucus and the American Centre for International Studies (CSIS) during Obama's inauguration of last January would be appraised.

Responding to The Guardian's inquiry on Clinton's visit in Abuja, American Ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Renee Sanders, said: "We do not have that information yet. It's a tour of nations and when we have the timing of her coming to Nigeria, you will be told."

During a press briefing in Abuja, Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, said: "The Secretary of State has called in on phone to say that America is not just working with Nigeria this time around but is going to work more closely with the biggest black nation on earth. And I thought this is very significant for all our efforts in the new time. And with this, we are now going to see multilateralism, a restoration of the shared values of the United Nations (UN), and just as what President Obama represents, which for Nigeria means a triumph of diversity."

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