African Union Commissioner Rosebud Kurwijila and WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran signed an agreement for humanitarian and development cooperation, with Sheeran expressing the hope that it would serve as "the wind beneath our wings" in their shared commitment to meet the Millennium Development Goal of cutting global hunger by half by 2015.
"The African Union is an important ally in our fight to ensure food security in Africa," said Sheeran during a two-day visit to Ethiopia, her first overseas mission as chief of WFP.
"We will work together not only to meet the needs of the hungry but also to address the root causes of poverty and hunger."
More than 50 percent of WFP's operations are in Africa, Sheeran noted, adding that the world's largest food assistance organisation is working on many fronts on the continent, endeavouring to save lives, improve nutrition, build human development and help children go to school.
"The African Union Commission is one of WFP's most valuable partners," Sheeran emphasized. "I believe that this cooperation agreement will help us together find innovative and forward-looking ways to overcome chronic food deficits and the social problems they produce."
Sheeran on Monday met leading business figures in Ethiopia's grain markets, along with economists, researchers and members of the donor community, in two roundtable discussions exploring ways the agency can use its procurement strength to help African farmers successfully connect to markets.
She noted that WFP has a "huge market presence" with its cash-based purchases in Africa, today buying 20 times more in Ethiopia, for example, than it did in 1990.
Sheeran also held talks on Monday with Deputy Prime Minister Addisu Legesse, with whom she discussed the importance of tackling the root causes of poverty and hunger in order to find long-term solutions to food insecurity. Sheeran on Tuesday met Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
On Wednesday, Sheeran travels to Sudan, where WFP currently has its biggest operation. Her three-country tour in Africa concludes on Saturday in Chad.
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