October 18, 2012


Associated Press


Bedlu Mamo stood in middle of his field in Ethiopia and cast a wary eye at the new variety of wheat he planted for the first time.

“The price is good, better than what we get for other crops. But the companies that buy the wheat may not come to buy,” Bedlu said.

But despite the farmer’s misgivings, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center says demand for wheat is growing faster than for any other food crop in sub-Saharan Africa, where corn has long been considered the most important cereal crop. As the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization marked World Food Day on Tuesday, experts are reexamining what crops are best produced in Africa, for Africans.

Ethiopia recently hosted a conference to look at ways to increase the amount of wheat African farmers grow. Only 44 percent of the wheat consumed in Africa is produced locally.

“The first task is to convince policy makers that there is a potential to produce wheat in Africa,” said Asfaw Negassa, a consultant with the center. “With the right policy, right seed and marketing system, there can be enough wheat production in Africa to substitute the significant portion of imports that costs the continent scarce hard currency.”

The corn and wheat center says African countries in 2012 will spend $12 billion to import 40 million tons of wheat — money that could be used for other pressing needs.

Wheat production in sub-Saharan Africa dropped sharply in the 1980s after an influx of food aid made the crop unprofitable, said the maize and wheat improvement center, which is known by the initials CIMMYT. At the same time, the focus of international development shifted to corn and ­cassava. A growing demand for wheat has led agricultural experts to rethink the crop in Africa, the group said.

But sometimes the farmer must confront market forces that can be a disincentive to plant.

For Bedlu, the Ethiopian farmer, this season marks the first time he has planted the Mangudo variety of durum wheat. He has high hopes for it, but worries he may not find a buyer. Showing how complicated global agricultural can be, Bedlu and Asnake Fikre, the director of the Debre Zeit Agriculture Research Center, say imported wheat can often be bought for less.

Ethiopia’s government in recent months has struggled to stabilize rampant food inflation — a big burden for a country that solicits food aid. Some 3.5 million Ethiopians required humanitarian assistance this year alone. The U.S. government contributed $427 million to agricultural development, food security and emergency aid to Ethiopia in fiscal 2011, said Diane Brandt, an embassy spokeswoman.

World Food Day is dedicated to remembering the importance of global food security. The theme for 2012 is “Agricultural cooperatives — key to feeding the world.”

Hunger is declining in Asia and Latin America but is rising in Africa, according to the FAO. The World Bank says agricultural productivity must increase in Africa because African farm yields are among the lowest in the world.

One in eight people around the world goes to bed hungry every night, the FAO says. But things are turning in the right direction: The total number of hungry people in the world is 870 million, down from 1 billion 20 years ago.

Some of the efforts have been at the grassroots level. In East Africa, an American aid group called One Acre Fund is working with 130,000 farming households to increase food production through improved seeds and fertilizer. Nick Handler, the group's country director in Kenya, said the households his organization works with are becoming more aware of the benefits that improved seeds and fertilizers can have.

“On average we’re seeing a tripling of yields and a doubling of profit once you net out the additional costs for farmers who sign up for the program,” he said.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

October 18, 2012


Associated Press


President Barack Obama’s campaign moved swiftly Wednesday to try to capitalize on his spirited debate performance, making an aggressive push on women’s issues and Libya and pressing the notion that Mitt Romney’s economic proposals are “sketchy.”

Obama’s strategy aims to solidify his crucial lead among female voters and his standing as the candidate viewed more favorably on foreign policy, the topic of the third and final debate. Democrats had worried that both advantages could slip away after the president's lackluster performance in the opening face-off with Romney and the fallout from last month’s deadly attack on Americans in Libya.

Obama, visibly energized on the campaign trail, hammered Romney on a flurry of women’s issues, from fair pay to Planned Parenthood funding. And he poked fun at his Republican rival for saying during the debate he had relied on “binders full of women” to find more female employees while serving as Massachusetts governor.

“We don’t have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women,” Obama said at a rally in Mount Vernon, Iowa.

The impact of the second debate on the tightly contested White House race won't be clear for several days. But Obama's rebound provided much-needed reassurance to anxious Democrats, some of whom feared the president lacked the passion to fight for his job. The campaign insists the debate halted Romney’s October momentum and keeps open their pathways to victory in all nine or so battleground states.

“In those states, if the election were held today, I’m as confident as anything I’ve been in my life, that we would win the election,” said David Plouffe, Obama’s senior adviser.

The president’s top aides were energized by his performance at the town-hall style debate on Long Island. Aides watching from backstage erupted in cheers at some of his pointed attacks. And there were outbursts of applause at the campaign’s Chicago headquarters, a sharp contrast to the sullen mood there during the first face-off.

Advisers said the debate ex­changes on women and Libya gave them the biggest opportunity to appeal to the narrow swath of voters in key states who remain undecided less than three weeks from Election Day.

Obama’s campaign is expected to target Romney's positions on women’s health issues. In particular, they plan to contrast Romney’s assertion that “every woman in America should have access to contraceptives” with his support for legislation which sought to reverse the administration’s policy requiring religious-affiliated institutions to cover contraception costs.

Obama’s team has run television ad­vertisements previously on Romney’s positions on women’s health issues and may do so again.

Explaining the focus on women, Plouffe said, “There are more undecided women than men in all the battlegrounds.”

Polls have long showed Obama holding an edge over Romney with female voters. But some surveys showed Romney making gains with women after the first debate, a shift strategists in both parties attributed to the softer, more moderate tone the Republican struck in that face-off.

The Democratic ticket was also buoyed in the latest debate by the candidates’ exchange on the September attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including Am­bassador Chris Stevens, were killed in the attack, and the Obama administration has faced intense criticism about its security levels at the consulate and shifts in its explanation about the violence.

The president countered Romney’s criticism by saying that as president, he is “always responsible” for attacks on American interests overseas. And Romney got tripped up on his accusations that the president didn’t refer to the attacks as terrorism in the immediate aftermath.

Speaking in the Rose Garden the day after the violence, Obama had referred to “acts of terror.”

The candidates have less than a week to prepare for the final debate on October 22, when they expect a fuller discussion of Libya. The president has campaign trips scheduled through Friday and plans to spend the weekend practicing with his debate team at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

Obama’s team said the debate helped sharpen their message on the economy, the top issue for voters. On both Tuesday and Wednesday, Obama called Romney’s economic proposals “a sketchy deal,” a phrase voters can expect to hear frequently in the campaign’s closing weeks.

The campaign also plans to use a debate exchange on immigration in its final push for Hispanic votes. Obama needs to run up big margins with Hispanics in swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Virginia. The president used the debate to promote his administration’s efforts to provide a path to legal status for many young illegal immigrants, while Romney said he wouldn't grant amnesty to people who come to the U.S. illegally.

Obama’s aggressive debate performance calmed the nerves of many Democrats, no small accomplishment given the deep anxiety that set in among many supporters following the president’s first debate.

“I think everybody takes their cue from the leader,” said David Axelrod, Obama’s senior campaign strategist.


Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

October 11, 2012

Associated Press


The panel writing Egypt’s new constitution has released an unfinished draft of the document, calling for a public debate on the charter in the face of mounting criticism.

The parliament-selected panel is dominated by Islamists. It has come under criticism from liberals and secularists who accuse the panel of seeking to place limits in the new constitution on religious freedoms and women’s rights.

They have challenged the 100-member panel in courts, calling for its disbandment.

Leading Islamist panel member Mohammed el-Beltagi told reporters the assembly has not voted on the draft it released on October 10. He appealed for public feedback on the incomplete document.

A final version will eventually be put to a referendum.

Egyptians are writing the charter following longtime President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last year in a popular uprising.

Parent Category: ROOT
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October 11, 2012

By BEN FELLER Associated Press 


The last campaign got the glory. This one is the grind.

For all the many ways that President Barack Obama's bid for a second term is different from his first, the one that stands out now is the feel at the finish.

The crowds are behind him, but this is not the 2008 "Fired Up, Ready To Go!"

Obama's admonition to supporters might as well be turned around — be ready to go, or I may get fired.

"There are times where you just have to grind it out, because it's hard," Obama told wealthy donors at a softly lit dinner in Los Angeles, speaking almost quietly even with a microphone in his hand. "It's hard work bringing about change."

On Obama's trail, the current narrative is about his strangely listless appearance in last week's debate. Yes, it left a major impression on the race, and given the enormous TV audience that saw it, Obama chose a bad day to have a bad day.

Yet Obama has also turned in upbeat appearances since then, revving up one late-night concert-hall crowd in San Francisco to the point of screams. He has found peace in the company of longtime friends traveling with him on Air Force One, energy from teenagers just waiting to shake his hand and glee in improvising ways to mock Republican rival Mitt Romney for targeting Big Bird.

There is no singular feel to Obama events as he fights for his job.

Despite his trademark steadiness, Obama tends to turn in campaign performances that mirror the crowd and the setting. He soaks up enthusiasm and shares it back when the audience is rocking, yet he can seem flat if his listeners are. He drew 15,000 students at Ohio State University on Tuesday but appeared in a hurry to finish.

The more representative feel of life around Obama is the determined, difficult lift of everything he wants to do.

It was telling that his convention speech was remarkably short on inspiration, emphasizing instead that he offered voters a hard path, but one that would lead the country to a better place.

His message in rallies and fundraisers is no different.

"I always said that change takes time," he said. "We always said that it would take more than one term. ... And by the way, no, it doesn't just take me. That's not the deal. The deal is it takes all of us."

At times Obama almost sounds like voters inked a contract with him, and they need to renew it. Not exactly the stuff of tingles for Obama supporters who show up looking for that.

But it does reflect a campaign that recognizes this is no 2008, when Obama was the fresh voice, and helped by the anti-incumbency mood of voters who saw Republican Sen. John McCain as a version of President George W. Bush.

It was this time back then, during October's chill, when Obama's campaign took on the anticipatory feel of victory. Obama recalls it as a period when "things just kind of converged" in his favor.

Yet even on that feel-good front, Obama offers tough lessons for voters.

"Back in 2008, everybody always remembers the victory. Things always look good in retrospect," he said. "But in the middle of it, we made all kinds of mistakes. We goofed up. I goofed up. But the American people carried us forward."

Such is the period Obama is in now.

It's been one of the hardest of the campaign. His aides are still dealing with questions about the last debate and eager to get to the next one, but insistent that Obama never loses perspective.

He spoke about it often during a reflective campaign swing that took him from the donor-rich events of California on Sunday and Monday to the student rally in Ohio.

When a classmate from his Hawaii school days, Pam Hamamoto, welcomed him to a fundraiser in San Francisco, Obama turned to her and said: "That was the sweetest introduction I've had since I've been president."

It didn't take, long, though for him to get down to business again.

Sure, some hope. But mostly hard work.

"I very much intend to win this election," he said, "but we're only going to do it if everybody is almost obsessive."

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