By Mark Weinraub
CHICAGO, June 29 (Reuters) - The United States will shift its emphasis in the fight against global hunger from giving emergency aid to helping countries produce more of their own food, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Monday.
Under the new approach, the United States will focus on providing expertise and training to boost agricultural productivity abroad, Vilsack said in a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
"It is a more comprehensive, holistic view of food security that focuses on the notion that we want to make food more available, we want to make it accessible and we want to make sure that it is properly used," Vilsack said.
"If we can help countries become more productive themselves then they will be in a better position to feed their own people," he said.
The United Nations World Food Programme has pleaded with rich nations not to cut back on food aid, estimating earlier this month that more than a billion people are chronically hungry. [ID:nLC507551]
Vilsack did not provide details about how the new approach would be funded. He said he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plan to meet 28 African agriculture ministers in coming months to discuss their new approach.
President Barack Obama has said his administration will ask Congress to double funding for agricultural development aid to $1 billion by 2010.
Aid groups have urged the administration and Congress to do more to address global hunger and poverty.
The United States is the world’s largest donor of emergency food aid — mainly crops grown by American farmers — but spends 20 times as much on food aid to Africa as it spends on programs that could boost African food production, according to research by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
U.S. annual spending on African farming projects topped $400 million in the 1980s, but by 2006 had dwindled to just $60 million, the council has said.
Vilsack said the United States wants to invest in roads and other infrastructure projects in foreign countries to ensure that food is accessible to everyone who needs it.
Developing nations may also be able to produce more food for trade, helping to improve the global economy, he said.
U.S. assistance to other countries must take into account the smaller scale of most farms overseas and ensure that the natural resources of those countries are not overtaxed even as productivity is increased, he said. (Editing by Christian Wiessner and David Storey)