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Nations Turn To Companies For Help In Food Aid - US Officials

05/18/2012 | 06:15am US/Eastern
   By Bill Tomson 

The U.S. and other donor countries will turn to corporations to assist in a renewed effort to prevent starvation and spur agricultural development in needy countries, U.S. government officials said, previewing what President Barack Obama will say in a speech Friday.

The speech comes a day before the Group of Eight highly industrialized nations begins meetings in Camp David, Md. At the 2009 G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, the countries agreed to set up a $22 billion fund at the World Bank to combat hunger by helping impoverished countries improve farming practices.

But there likely will not be any specific target for government donations announced this time, said Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and White House Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Mike Froman.

"Going forward, our goal is to recognize that this is going to be a long-term effort," Shah said. "It will take at least a decade to achieve our objectives, and we want to maintain ... the level of support on an annual basis that the L'Aquila pledges represented."

The new factor in the effort, he said, will be the involvement of the private sector. Companies like DuPont and Vodafone will be providing specialized assistance that governments could not, Shah said.

Corporations are expected to commit to more than $3 billion worth of assistance in the G-8 effort, Shah said, but often it is hard to put a value on their contributions. DuPont, he said, has pledged to send scientists to Ethiopia to help improve crop yields.

Another company which has committed to help is Vodafone, which will provide 500,000 small farmers with cellular service to give them instant access to market pricing information, Shah said.

"In previous studies ... we've found that that service alone helps farmers improve their incomes by 20% because they can negotiate better farm-gate prices with middlemen when they have that data at their fingertips," Shah said.

-By Bill Tomson, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-646-0088; bill.tomson@dowjones.com

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