Obama said the initiative will combine aid from governments and international organizations with efforts by companies, ranging from "large multinationals to small African cooperatives."
"In Africa and around the world, progress isn't coming fast enough. And economic growth can't just be for the lucky few at the top, it's got to be broad-based, for everybody, and a good place to start is in the agricultural sector," Obama said.
"So even as the world responds with food aid in a crisis -- as we've done in the Horn of Africa -- communities can't go back just to the way things were, vulnerable as before, waiting for the next crisis to happen. Development has to be sustainable and as an international community, we have to do better."
The Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security was in Washington before the weekend G8 meeting at Camp David, Md. Participants included nearly 45 private-sector companies committed to investing "more than $3 billion" to help small-scale farmers -- largely in Africa, most of them women -- "improve their product and improve their outcomes," U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah said.
An estimated 925 million people worldwide are chronically hungry due to extreme poverty, while as many as 2 billion lack food security intermittently due to varying degrees of poverty, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says.
More than 6 million children die of hunger every year -- nearly 17,000 each day.
Food security was on the G8 agenda as a priority, with promised follow-through at the broader Group of 20 meeting to be in Los Cabos, Mexico, June 18-19, officials said.
G8 leaders pledged commitments to agriculture and food security at the June 2009 G8 summit in Italy. Those pledges included multiyear follow-up by G8 members.