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President of Nigeria and WFP chief demand pride of place at G8 for Africa's hungry

ROME -- President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and the Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), James Morris, today called for greater efforts to eradicate child hunger and malnutrition in Africa, ahead of next month's summit of the G8 leading industrialised countries in Scotland.

President Obasanjo, who was in Rome for discussions with Morris and to address WFP's governing Executive Board, said Nigeria was working with WFP and other agencies to give agriculture and food security pride of place. He expressed his support for WFP's operations in Africa, where the agency is currently providing food aid to more than 35 million people, including victims of conflict, natural disasters and many millions more who are simply too poor to provide for themselves or their families.

"You can count on Nigeria and the African Union (AU) to remain enthusiastic and reliable partners in our efforts at eliminating hunger and abject poverty from the face of the earth," said the President, who is also the current chairman of the AU. "We urge you to continue to give due attention to food emergency needs in Africa. I want to reiterate the fact that before any significant reduction in poverty-related food insecurity in Africa and economic growth can be achieved, agriculture must be given priority."

"There is a saying in my country: When you take hunger out of poverty, poverty is halved. I believe that food security substantially reduces the element of poverty for individuals, families, for communities, nations and the world in which we live," the President said.

Obasanjo said that in the past, understanding and appreciation of agriculture had been undermined by bad governance and a dependant food policy that benefited the elite. "Working with WFP and other agencies, we should address this fundamental failing and give agriculture and food security a pride of place in our educational curriculum and in employment generation for our people," the President said.

President Obasanjo will be attending the G8 summit in Gleneagles. The summit is being hosted by the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who is expected to use the occasion to gather support for his Africa Initiative and the campaign to Make Poverty History.

Morris said he welcomed the spotlight the G8 summit was placing on Africa and paid tribute to the European Union's pledge last week to double its development aid, as well as Tuesday's announcement by the US and the UK of a major boost in aid to the victims of hunger and other humanitarian crises in Africa.

Recalling the eight Millennium Development Goals signed up to by the international community in 2000, Morris drew attention to the first goal: to eradicate hunger and poverty and specifically to halve the proportion of poor and hungry people in the world by 2015.

"We cannot think about development -- infrastructure, roads, schools, hospitals, industry and better services -- if people are too poor or too hungry to benefit from such projects, let alone play a role in bringing them to fruition," Morris said. "We need to take a 'food first' approach to development, to ensure that the poor have proper nutrition as a first priority, so that they can then benefit from development."

"We all believe that in the lead-up to this summit, substantial attention must be paid to hunger and malnutrition, particularly among young children," Morris said. "That is the message I have asked President Obasanjo to give to the G8 summit, and he could not possibly be more supportive."

A full text of President Obasanjo's speech is available on request.