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Clinton Says Education for Women to Cap Population Growth

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Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Increasing education opportunities for women and girls may limit global-population growth, easing food shortages and slowing the erosion of natural resources, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said.

“It wouldn’t be bad for American farmers if instead of going from 6.5 billion to 9 billion people on planet Earth, we topped out at 8 billion,” Clinton said today at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual outlook conference in Arlington, Virginia. “It would save more water, and we’d have more resources for our children and grandchildren.”

The global population is expected to rise to 9.256 billion by 2050, up 34 percent from 6.93 billion this year, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Half the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day, and 1 billion people go to sleep without food every night, Clinton said.

Women make up about 70 percent of the world’s poor, according to the United Nations. In 2008, wages for women were 17 percent less than men, on average, the UN said.

“What’s particularly frustrating to me is if you look around the world, more people have been lifted out of poverty in the last 20 to 30 years than any other period in history, but populations are growing the fastest in nations that have the least ability to take care of their people,” Clinton said.

Food Cost

High commodity costs have a disproportionate affect on poorer countries, where people spend more of their incomes on food, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today in a speech. U.S. consumers spend about 6.2 percent of their income on food, compared with 33 percent in China and 45 percent in Kenya, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

Rising food costs and corruption have sparked protests across the Middle East and North Africa, toppling regimes in Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, and Tunisia. Global food prices jumped 25 percent last year and surged to a record in January, according to the UN.

Before today, corn prices soared 85 percent in the past year on the Chicago Board of Trade. Wheat surged 58 percent, and soybeans climbed 39 percent. Prices rallied as adverse weather from Russia to Canada curbed global output, while demand increased in emerging markets including China.

The William J. Clinton Foundation, in partnership with the Hunter Foundation, plans to spend $100 million over 10 years to improve agricultural businesses and infrastructure in Africa, according to Clinton’s website.

The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, a collaborative effort with former President George W. Bush, has raised funds for Haiti earthquake victims, including providing grants to promote agriculture. Clinton also worked with former President George H.W. Bush in 2005 to raise money for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami.

To contact the reporter on this story: Whitney McFerron in Arlington at wmcferron1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Stroth at sstroth@bloomberg.net.