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Grass-roots food initiative in Africa serves Clinton's goals

Group helps to match African farmers, especially women, with on-the-ground experts and better technology.

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As she continues her seven-country tour through sub-Saharan Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will focus on the $20 billion food security and agricultural development initiatives that world leaders including President Obama launched earlier this year.

But as crucial as big dollars are, the key to meeting Africa's agricultural potential will be the connections fostered between Africa's farmers on the one hand, and new technologies – and the experts that understand them – on the other, some Africa specialists say.

To that end, an organization of former Peace Corps volunteers is developing a plan to help match up African farmers with the experts, technologies, and new ideas that can help African fields bloom.

Called Africa Rural Connect, or ARC, the advocacy group aims to connect 200,000 current and past Peace Corps volunteers, the African diaspora, and farm and technology experts with Africa's millions of small farmers. Behind ARC is the conviction that, as useful as big international programs may be, sometimes the best ideas come from farmers or unsung development experts.

"Very often the programs and recommendations come from above, but we want to shine a light on the ideas that farmers and those who work with them can come up with," says Molly Mattessich, manager of ARC and the National Peace Corps Association in Washington.

The ARC idea appears to fit well with two of Secretary Clinton's stated goals laid out in a speech in Washington last month: to enhance the concept of "partnering" in US foreign policy, and to make better use of America's current and former development practitioners.

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