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Obama calls for farm aid for Africa

President Obama called Friday for a new phase of African farm aid as 45 companies worldwide pledged more than $3 billion to ease threats to global security posed by scarce nutrition.

The "New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition" has a goal of pulling 50 million people from poverty in the next 10 years, Obama said Friday in his first speech on food security, before traveling to the Group of Eight summit at Camp David, Md.

"As the wealthiest nation on earth, I believe the U.S. has a moral obligation to lead the fight against hunger and nutrition and to partner with others" to end poverty, Obama said at a symposium in Washington. In the audience were U-2 singer Bono and several African heads of state.

World food supplies are being stressed by rising demand in emerging markets and increased use of crops in biofuels, leading to higher and more volatile prices, according to a U.S. intelligence report released last week.

Import-dependent countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sudan are especially vulnerable to food unrest, the report said. Competition for water will fuel instability in South Asia and the Middle East, the United States said in March.

Food supplies gained global attention after a run-up in corn, wheat and soybean prices in 2007 and 2008 prompted riots in more than 60 nations, according to the U.S. State Department. The G-8 summit in Italy in 2009 led to a pledge for $22 billion in agricultural development assistance to boost food production in poorer countries.

The United States promised $3.5 billion and the next year unveiled a "Feed the Future" plan that focuses on farm development in poorer nations and generating additional investments from other donors. The new initiative is requesting an additional $1.2 billion over the next three years from existing and new donors.

Increased production will lift Africans out of poverty and stabilize economies, Obama said, referring to his own relatives in Kenya and the hunger experienced in the region's villages.

Commitments from companies range from $100 million over three years from Agco Corp., a Duluth, Ga.-based farm- equipment maker, to a pledge to raise more cows and ewes from Selous Farming, a Tanzanian livestock- and crop-producer. Minneapolis-based Cargill, the biggest U.S. agribusiness, plans to invest in two Mozambique projects, while St. Louis-based Monsanto, the world's biggest seedmaker, is committing $50 million over 10 years.