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UN food agency Pushes ‘Smart Crops’ as Rice Alternative to defeat Hunger in Asia

Soaring rice prices, slowing economic expansion and poorer growth in agricultural productivity have been blamed for the slowdown in efforts to tackle hunger

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FILE - A worker carries a bale of dry millet at a field on the outskirts of the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, Nov. 17, 2011. VOA
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Asia needs to make extra efforts to defeat hunger after progress has slowed in the last five years, including promoting so-called “smart crops” as an alternative to rice, the head of the U.N. food agency in the region said.

Kundhavi Kadiresan, representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Asia, said the region needs to focus on reaching the most marginalized people, such as the very poor or those living in mountainous areas.

The Asia-Pacific region halved the number of hungry people from 1990 to 2015 but the rate of progress slowed in many countries – such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Cambodia – in the last five years, according to a December FAO report.

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“The last mile is always difficult.. so extra efforts, extra resources and more targeted interventions are needed,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of a business forum on food security in Jakarta on Tuesday.

She said government and businesses needed to develop policies to help make food more affordable, while changing Asians’ diets that rely heavily on rice.

“We have focused so much on rice that we haven’t really looked at some of those crops like millets, sorghum and beans,” she said.

A campaign is underway to promote these alternatives as “smart crops” to make them more attractive, Kadiresan said.

“We are calling them smart crops to get people not to think about them as poor people’s food but smart people’s food,” she said, adding that they are not only nutritious but also more adaptable to climate change.

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Soaring rice prices, slowing economic expansion and poorer growth in agricultural productivity have been blamed for the slowdown in efforts to tackle hunger.

More than 60 percent of the world’s hungry are in Asia-Pacific, while nearly one out of three children in the region suffers from stunting, according to the FAO.

Achieving zero hunger by 2030 is one of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals adopted by member states in 2015. (VOA)

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U.S. Welcomes Pakistan’s Actions Towards Peace in Afghanistan

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan

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Imran Khan, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Pakistan"s Prime Minister Imran Khan is seen during talks in Beijing, China, VOA

The United States said Saturday it welcomes actions Pakistan is taking to promote a negotiated solution to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

The acknowledgement came a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced his country has arranged another round of Washington’s peace talks with the Afghan Taliban scheduled for Monday.

“The United States welcomes any actions by the Pakistani government to promote greater cooperation, including fostering negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other Afghans,” a U.S. embassy spokesperson in Kabul told VOA.

US negotiator

U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has met, and will continue to meet, with all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan, the spokesperson added.

Neither Khan nor the U.S. spokesperson have disclosed the possible venue for the upcoming meeting with Taliban officials.

Some Afghan sources say Monday’s meeting will take place in Islamabad, but no official confirmation is available.

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U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

Khalilzad, who is visiting regional countries to gather support for Afghan peace talks, is to lead the U.S. delegation in talks with insurgent representatives. This will not be the first time Khalilzad has met with the Taliban.

Since taking office in September, the special U.S. envoy has held two publicly known rounds of preliminary discussions with insurgent negotiators in Qatar, where the Taliban runs its so-called political office. The talks have been for the sake of talks, according to insurgent and other sources aware of the meetings.

Trump’s letter to Khan

U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month wrote a formal letter to Khan asking for his help to bring the Taliban to the table for negotiations. A day later, Khalilzad visited Islamabad where he met with Khan and his military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, to follow-up on Trump’s request, Pakistani officials say.

Speaking in northwestern city of Peshawar on Friday, Khan said the U.S. has changed its tune by requesting help instead of saying Islamabad is not doing enough, as U.S. officials have previously insisted.

“By the grace of Allah, the dialogue is now happening inshallah [God willing] on the 17th [Khan did not mention the month] and Pakistan has facilitated the talks between America and the Taliban,” Khan said. He did not share further details.

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Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, right, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Nov. 9, 2018. VOA

Khan recounted Friday that critics used to mock him as “Taliban Khan” for saying the Afghan war could not be ended without political negotiations but now all key stakeholders are jointly working to pursue a political settlement to end the violence in Afghanistan.

“If peace were achieved, God willing, Peshawar will change and become a hub of commerce and tourism, as things around the 2,500 years old living city are likely to change,” Khan said Friday.

Ambassador Khalilzad is 13 days into an 18-day visit to the region. He has traveled to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belgium and plans to visit the U.A.E. and Qatar.

Withdrawal an issue

Pakistani officials privy to the U.S. interaction with the Taliban have told VOA that until now no progress has been achieved because the insurgents adamantly demand “a date or timeframe” for all foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan before the Taliban decides to participate in an intra-Afghan peace process.

Also Read: What to Make of Taliban’s Continued Rare Silence on Ghani’s Peace Offer? 

U.S. officials have long maintained Taliban leaders are sheltering in Pakistan with covert support from the country’s intelligence agency. Washington has been urging Islamabad to use its influence to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan and continue to pose serious battlefield challenges for U.S.-backed Afghan security forces. (VOA)