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US agriculture companies pledge millions to Africa

NBC's Rohit Kachroo visited an irrigation project in Turkana, Kenya, where famine has taken the lives of thousands, and witnessed how it changed the lives of many. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has announced a plan to boost farm productivity in Africa and alleviate hunger worldwide.


A group of U.S. seed, chemical and equipment companies will invest at least $150 million over the next few years into African agricultural projects and products, the companies said on Friday. 

The investments pledged by DuPont, Monsanto, Cargill and others are part of an overall $3 billion effort by companies around the world announced by President Barack Obama.

Along with companies from India, Israel, Switzerland, Norway and the United Kingdom, and 20 companies from Africa, the corporations have committed some $3 billion for projects to help farmers in the developing world build local markets and improve productivity.

The United Nations has said that by 2030, the world will need at least 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more water. Absent these resources, it said, up to 3 billion people would probably be condemned into poverty.

Capitalizing on food demand in Africa also holds strong profit potential, corporate leaders said.

"It has been a bit chaotic. There are all sorts of issues around the countries in Africa. But the population, the economic growth, the quality of many of the soils is there," DuPont Executive Vice President Jim Borel told Reuters in an interview. "The need is there, the potential is there."

USAID's Rajiv Shah explains how 45 businesses will invest in reforming agriculture at the grassroots level to help alleviate hunger in Africa.

"We're convinced we can take the base we have now, and accelerate that progress," said Borel, who oversees DuPont's food and nutrition businesses. Among DuPont's units is its Pioneer Hi-Bred International seed company, which has operated in Africa for decades.

India and China are more stable and growing faster, but Africa is "not far behind," according to Borel.

The push by global corporations to spend more money and develop new markets across Africa comes as an expanding world population and growing demand for quality food threaten to exceed existing limits of agricultural production.

Investors have been buying up farmland in Africa, hoping to make it more productive using modern agricultural technologies. That, combined with the rising interest of international agricultural corporations, has brought criticism.

Advocates for African farmers fear they will lose control over their food supply and markets. They say African farmers are being displaced and unsustainable farm practices are being introduced.

"The problem is all this is based on large-scale commercial agriculture," said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, a policy think tank. "Who does it benefit? All of these things are supporting the formation of large-scale commercial agriculture, which will hurt small farmers. They could spend far less but focus on providing credit facilities, ensuring open markets and ensuring the rights of small holder farmers." 

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