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Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on Friday urged industrialized nations to help African countries improve their agricultural output by sharing technical knowhow and by cutting their agricultural subsidies.

“Half the people (in Africa) are suffering from malnutrition . . . and the crucial elements are foreign assistance, development assistance and to let African people improve their production of their own food,” Carter told a symposium at the United Nations University in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward.

While international attention is focused on conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, as well as on North Korean’s suspected nuclear program, Carter stressed that industrialized nations also need to focus on alleviating hunger in Africa.

He described the latter as a “wonderful investment that brings dividends to their own countries.”

The former president is on a four-day visit to Tokyo.

Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, has lent his support to increasing food production in Africa through programs launched by the Carter Center, which was founded in 1982.

He acknowledged that health, education and economic development are equally important in terms of eradicating poverty in Africa.

Carter maintained, however, that agricultural development plays a crucial role, not only because half the population suffers from malnutrition but also because 70 percent of Africa’s working population are farmers.

To help African nations improve their food supply, Carter said sharing the latest farming techniques, rather than simply donating food, is essential.

He said there are already programs of this kind under way, including Japan’s New Rice for Africa project, in which Japan imparts planting techniques for certain types of rice that grow well in the region’s climate.

He also warned that agricultural subsidies distributed among farmers in Japan, Europe and the U.S. are damaging the competitiveness of African farm products.

“America has made a few modest steps toward reducing subsidies, but not enough. Europe and Japan are unwilling to make any changes,” Carter said in reference to the World Trade Organization talks that start Wednesday.

“Subsidies do not help the developing world and do not help the consumers even in the countries where subsidies are given to the farmers.”

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