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Obama visits farmers in Senegal

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President Barack Obama visits a marketplace set up in Dakar, Senegal, with Papa Sene, left, head technical adviser for the National Cooperative Business Association. Obama spoke today during an event on food security in Dakar. (NCBA CLUSA International)


President Barack Obama visited with farmers in Dakar, Senegal, today and announced new commitments for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future agricultural development program.

According to a press pool report released by the White House, Obama and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah visited a technology marketplace set up behind his hotel so that he could see rice milling, bio-fortification and mobile technology innovations that USAID has encouraged.

He later announced that Senegal will join the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, an initiative of the G-8 countries, and that USAID has made a major grant to AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

The leader of a farmers’ federation explained that she had created a network that allows 3,000 farmers to compete with larger entities, and in response to a question from Obama said that her income had gone up substantially.

A second booth displayed large sweet potatoes, small seedlings in jars and test tubes and baskets full of colorful seeds, with a sign that read “Growing Fortified Food.”

Papa Sene, the head technical adviser for the National Cooperative Business Association in Senegal, explained that 55 percent of Senegalese children have vitamin deficiencies, particularly a lack of Vitamin A, and foods are being fortified through science and “the private sector, because if people make money then it will work.”

Sene added that the program, is "building a local private sector that support the international private sector.”

At the rice milling booth, Anna Gaye demonstrated the old way of milling rice, pounding a long wooden tool into rice in a large pot, and said she has a machine that does the job much more efficiently. “So this means you can take this straight to market because you're doing it much faster,” Obama said.

After touring the marketplace, Obama said he is “confident we’re on our way” of achieving a goal of lifting 50 million people from poverty by the year 2022. By starting with small farmers, he said, “it’s not just a few who are benefiting from development, but everybody’s benefiting.”

Obama told reporters that the administration has leveraged both public and private funds and “as a consequence, we’re getting much better bang for our buck.”

Later Obama pointed out to reporters that “our foreign aid budget is around 1 percent of our total federal budget” and “chronically the least popular part of our federal budget.”

“But if you look at the bang for the buck that we’re getting when it’s done right, when it’s well designed, and when it’s scaled at the local level with input from local folks, it can really make a huge difference,” the president said.

“When people ask what’s happening to their taxpayer dollars in foreign aid, I want people to know this money is not being wasted — it’s helping feed families,” Obama told reporters.

“It’s helping people to become more self-sufficient. And it’s creating new markets for U.S. companies and U.S. goods. It’s a win-win situation. I know that millet and maize and fertilizer doesn’t always make for sexy copy, but I very much hope that all the press who were in attendance today generate a story about this, because I think if the American people knew the kind of work that was being done as a consequence of their generosity and their efforts, they’d be really proud.”