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Ex-President Clinton: Inequality helped bring change in Mideast

By Paul Courson, CNN
  • Ex-President Bill Clinton: U.S. farmers can export know-how while not creating competition
  • Self-sustaining agriculture can help stabilize countries in turmoil, Clinton says
  • Education of young women key to slowing population growth worldwide, he says

Arlington, Virginia (CNN) -- Former President Bill Clinton told an agriculture convention Thursday that U.S. farmers have a chance to export their know-how to help other countries feed their people and that the timing for such aid is good because of "these political upheavals in the Middle East."

In keynote remarks to the 2011 Agricultural Outlook Forum, Clinton noted the uprising in Egypt provides opportunities to improve the way of life in that country.

"Those young people who were interviewed in the streets in Cairo were about the most impressive people I've seen in a long time," Clinton said. "It was stunning that you saw what they were dealing with in terms of inequality."

He said the unrest came to a head "because Egypt maintained its university system and generated 400,000 graduates in a year and nowhere near enough jobs every year for grads to hold."

Clinton urged the American farming community to help "build a world that we want to share with other people," including "making life more sustainable in rural areas."

"You're going to be at the vortex of all this," he told the group, assuring them the rising demand for food will strengthen the export market for American farm goods.

"Is what we're doing good for America today, and is it helping the world to feed itself, so it will be good for a world tomorrow with a rapidly growing population?" he asked rhetorically.

Addressing the need to restrain population growth, Clinton said, "One of the things I desperately hope will come from all this political upheaval is that it will elevate the status of women and the value of girls."

He said the education of girls and providing access to work for young women is a noncontroversial way to slow population growth.

Recalling his days as a child on a working farm in rural Arkansas, Clinton said the grown-ups struggled to make ends meet. "I got into politics because I didn't want to work that hard," Clinton said, drawing laughter from the audience. "We're laughing, but it's true."