Clinton's Africa Tour Underscores The Power Of Women

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is touring U.S. aid projects in Tanzania Sunday, part of her big push to have women and girls at the center of development efforts in Africa. Food security is another key issue, as rising food prices spark fears of instability. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

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JACKI LYDEN, Host:

This WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Nearly 13 years ago, massive bombs destroyed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people. Yesterday came news that the alleged mastermind of those attacks, Faisal Abdullah Muhammad, the leader of al-Qaida in East Africa was killed in a shootout with Somali forces at a security checkpoint in Mogadishu. He's the third major al-Qaida figure to be killed in the past six weeks. And his death is being seen as another major setback for the terrorist network.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling in Africa. She called Mohammad's death a significant blow to al-Qaida, its extremist allies, and its operations in East Africa. Secretary Clinton is continuing her visit to Tanzania today, touring USAID projects in that country. She's also focusing on food aid and food security, as rising food prices spark fears of instability.

NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the secretary and has our report.

MICHELE KELEMEN: When Secretary Clinton came to office she quickly put her chief of staff to work on revamping food aid programs. Cheryl Mills says one of the challenges was to figure out what all the government agencies were doing.

CHERYL MILLS: So one of the first things that we did when we arrived was to look at the ways in which we were addressing agriculture and food security. And to try to bring all those programs together, and say, if we were going to have a comprehensive strategy, what would that strategy do effectively, and how would we better align our resource to ensure we were all rowing in the same direction, if you will.

KELEMEN: Out of that review came a program called Feed the Future. The Obama administration has promised $3.5 billion over three years to boost agricultural productivity and help countries weather spikes in food prices.

MILLS: We are always worried whenever people can't feed themselves. And particularly worried when that actually might translate to destabilization of a country. It is one of the reasons why this program is such an important one.

KELEMEN: Her boss, Secretary Clinton, has made a point on focusing on women in agriculture.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOMEN SINGING)

KELEMEN: Here, at a women's cooperative farm about an hour outside Dar es Salaam, the secretary was serenaded by women farmers and announced new funding.

HILLARY CLINTON: The accelerated investments I'm here to announce today demonstrate our commitment to you. Subject to congressional approval, the United States will invest nearly $70 million in agricultural development and food security in Tanzania over two years.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

KELEMEN: She also visited a power plant funded by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. government aid program that supports countries that are well governed. Its CEO, Daniel Yohannes, told NPR that countries are seeking help in the agricultural sector because of rising food prices.

DANIEL YOHANNES: Our partner countries realize and understand that they needed to be food secure, so that's why they chose to invest about 50 percent of MCC funds in agriculture areas. Not only to help themselves become food secure, but also to hopefully to export food products to the outside world.

KELEMEN: What are your concerns about the U.S. budget situation, because there's been a lot of cutbacks and a lot of pressure particularly on the Millennium Challenge Corporation?

YOHANNES: We understand that we live in a very constrained budget environment, no question about it. It's real and it's been reflected in our budget which was a cut of 19 percent for 2011. But, you know, we have to find better solutions. So we're trying to leverage our very scarce resources by partnering with the private sector, other NGOs, and other development agencies at home and globally.

KELEMEN: Some nongovernmental groups have complained that the big promises of aid in food security have not materialized fast enough. But Cheryl Mills - the architect of the Feed the Future Program - says everyone needs to be patient.

MILLS: It's never going to be a short-term fix. That's the nature of agriculture. It took 20 years for an effective green revolution, but we need to actually somewhere so we begin to see the fruits of our labor.

KELEMEN: She says despite tough budget times at home, Feed the Future is a priority program and is still on track.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

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