By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - U.S. President Barack Obama, wrapping up a visit to the continent of his father's birth, toured an Ethiopian factory making baby food on Tuesday to show how investment in farming can cut hunger and stunting.
Child stunting has fallen by up to one-third over the past few years in African countries targeted by the U.S. government's global hunger initiative, Feed the Future, a report released on Tuesday said.
Obama has made food security a priority of his development agenda, saying in 2013 it was a "moral imperative" to end hunger on the world's poorest continent.
"The goal is to drastically increase the productivity of smallholder farmers all throughout Africa," Obama said while examining maize cobs at the Faffa Food plant in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on the last leg of his African tour.
"With just a few smart interventions, a little bit of help, they can make huge improvements in their overall yields."
One of the farmers Obama met at the factory said she had increased her yield threefold after getting better seeds, which allowed her to buy a cow and send her children to school.
In Ethiopia, stunting fell by nine percent between 2011 and 2014, the report said.
The improvement was more dramatic in Ghana, which recorded a 33 percent drop in stunting between 2008 and 2014, and in parts of western Kenya, where it fell by 25 percent between 2009 and 2014.
Africa has the world's highest rate of stunting, affecting two in five children on the continent. It is caused by undernutrition in the first 1,000 or so days of life.
Millions of poor African farmers rely on cheap staple foods to fill their children's stomachs because they cannot afford the nutrient-rich diets they need.
Stunted children learn less in school and usually earn less, trapping them in a cycle of poverty.
Twelve of the 19 countries where Feed the Future works to help farmers grow their businesses are in Africa.
Ethiopia - once known for famine although its economy is on track for 10 percent growth this year - is one of them.
Faffa Food, Ethiopia's largest baby food supplier, received technical assistance from Feed the Future, in partnership with U.S. multinationals, to expand the range and quality of its nutritious baby foods.
"It is a model that's working," said Obama, who toured Kenya and Ethiopia, and addressed the African Union in Addis Ababa.
(Reporting by Katy Migiro; Editing by Tim Pearce; please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)