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Archive for Wednesday, April 8, 2009

USDA to increase food aid to children in poor countries

April 8, 2009

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— The U.S. Department of Agriculture is almost doubling its support for a $95.5 million food aid program that focuses on hungry children in poor countries.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday his agency was providing an additional $80 million in agricultural commodities this year, which he said would feed around 655,000 children in four African nations — Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Niger and Uganda.

The 51,700 tons of food are going to the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, an effort that the Agriculture Department says will serve a total of 4.2 million children in 19 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America this year. The 9-year-old program has been credited with increasing school attendance in target countries by 14 percent, with enrollment for girls increasing by 17 percent.

“Youngsters who are well-fed are better-educated,” Vilsack said while speaking at the International Food Aid Conference, being held in Kansas City.

The Agriculture Department recently announced that it was also providing 500,000 pounds of low-fat dry milk for the program.

Vilsack added that President Barack Obama’s administration wants to double the program’s allocation in next year’s budget to almost $200 million and is looking to increase efforts to improve farming technology and crop productivity in developing nations.

“The president understands that if we do that and do a better job of it, then it will make eventually all of us much safer because if these kids are well-fed and well-cared for at the beginning of life, then they will see that there are boundless opportunities for them,” he said.

During his speech, Vilsack acknowledged that the global economic slowdown has made it harder for industrialized nations to provide food and technical assistance to poorer countries, especially following the rapid rise of commodity food prices last year that led to riots and protests in many places.

But he said such work was necessary, especially as growing population centers are reducing the amount of space for agriculture even while the worldwide population continues to grow.

“It is not a time to look inward,” he said. “It is a time for us to share and when we do we’ll be better off for it as a nation and as a world.”

In an interview, Vilsack also told The Associated Press that his agency “very shortly” plans to meet with groups opposed to a national animal identification network to address their concerns ahead of a push by members of Congress to make registering with the network mandatory.

“We’re anxious to listen and learn and then try to be creative in trying to respond, but the bottom line is we have got to have a system that works,” he said.

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