While much of the world’s attention is focused on the Middle East, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the government will release 200,000 metric tons of wheat for emergency food assistance in Africa.

The wheat will come from the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, the same program that has been designated to provide up to 600,000 metric tons of wheat to help avert starvation in the U.S.-occupied portions of Iraq.

“The United Nations World Food Program has appealed for assistance, and once again we are responding,” said Veneman. “The United States is the largest donor addressing the serious food shortages in the Horn and southern Africa. We are pleased that we can use the abundance from our nation’s farms to assist hungry African people in this time of crisis.”

"This latest commitment of food aid for Ethiopia and Eritrea once again demonstrates the compassion of the American people for those in need around the world," said Natsios. "We are pleased to be able to continue to help Ethiopia and Eritrea address this dire situation." (Both countries are located in the “Horn” or northeast corner of Africa.)

The World Food Program indicates that more than 11 million people in Ethiopia face acute hunger in coming months. Eritrea has suffered its worst crop failure in a decade. People in several other nations on the continent also face the consequences of drought, floods, conflict and economic decline.

Last year, in two separate actions, USDA allocated a total of 525,000 tons from the Emerson Trust to provide food to relieve suffering and avert famine in southern Africa.

The wheat will be shipped as emergency food relief under P.L. 480, Title II, a program administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It will be distributed mainly through private voluntary organizations and is expected to arrive in the recipient countries over the next few months.

The Emerson Trust is an emergency reserve administered under the authority of the Secretary of Agriculture. It is available for humanitarian relief in developing countries, allowing the United States to respond to unanticipated food crises. It is being tapped because U.S. food aid programs are fully allocated for this fiscal year.

Use of the reserve will help ensure that sufficient commodities are available to respond to urgent needs in Africa without undercutting other U.S. food aid commitments. The reserve was reauthorized through 2007 by the 2002 farm bill.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com