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Biden Treasury Sec. Yellen stands in front of straw hut telling African farmers they can fight climate change


Treasury Sec. Janet Yellen: African farmers can fight climate change and feed the world

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen traveled to a small farming community in rural Zambia to deliver a big message: Africans can help feed the world.

Why it matters: Yellen wants to convince Africans — from market women to government ministers — the U.S. will be their partner for the long-haul. That includes helping them to become more food secure and survive the effects of climate change.

What they are saying: “Farmers — like the ones we work with here — are often the first witnesses of the changing climate and its consequences,” Yellen told a few dozen subsistence farmers in Chongwe, Zambia, about an hour outside the capital of Lusaka.

  • Striking a more optimistic note, she said that Africa “has the potential not only to feed itself but also to help feed the world.”

The big picture: Devastating droughts across Africa, coupled with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have increased food insecurity and driven up energy costs across the continent.

  • In Zambia, low water levels on the Zambezi River have decreased hydro power, leading to so-called ‘load shedding” where the country’s utility imposes rolling blackouts to conserve power.
  • A key goal on her Zambia visit was to spotlight areas where the U.S. can partner with Africans and international organization to achieve more food and energy security.

Driving the news: Throughout her 10-day trip, Yellen has done a combination of listening and selling.

  • In Zambia, she has asked local farmers about “drought resistance crops you can switch to” in the face of more unpredictable weather. She shared a laugh with a cooperative of small female farmers when one said, “time is money.”
  • She is also promoting America — in words and deeds — as a reliable partner to help combat climate change and improve living standards.

Between the lines: Along the way she’s also taking shots at China and Russia.

  • On Tuesday, steps away from a wooden goat pen and a clucking hen chasing her free-range chicks, Yellen talked geopolitics and put the blame squarely on Moscow for much of Africa’s current suffering.
  • “Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against its neighbor has hurt Africa by exacerbating existing food insecurity and creating an unnecessary drag on the continent’s economy,” she said.

The bottom line: In Senegal and Zambia, Yellen used a combination of soft diplomacy and hard talk about Russia and China.

  • That one-two punch will continue on her final stop in South Africa, where she started her trip with a visit to a wildlife park, followed by a meeting with South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa.
  • On the agenda: How the U.S. can help South Africa, which relies mostly on coal for its energy grid, to facilitate a “just transition” from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.