April 10, 2014

The U.S. Government, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), assisted Ethiopian enterprise Guts Agro Industry in the launch of a new nutritious chickpea shiro product using chickpea purchased from farmer cooperative union partners, including Becho Weliso, Erer and Lume Adama from the Oromia Region. The collaboration is a result of the public-private partnerships fostered by the U.S. Feed the Future initiative and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

Chickpea is one of the leading value chains in Ethiopia ranking sixth in the world and first in Africa, with an annual production of over 322,000 metric tons (MT) (FAO’s 2010 report). According to Ethiopia’s Central Statistics Agency there are more than 800,000 smallholder farmers involved in chickpea productions in the country. Developing the chickpea value chain is an important goal of USAID’s Agricultural Growth Program-Agribusiness Market Development project, part of the U.S. Feed the Future initiative. The project is engaged in six value chains seeking to provide increased income to over one million smallholder farmers.

Under a USAID-facilitated memorandum of understanding with chickpea producers, Guts Agro Industry sourced 4,000 MT of chickpea for local processing from 52,000 smallholders in the cooperative unions. USAID also assisted Guts Agro Industry with the expansion of its processing lines to support the company’s vision of becoming a niche player in the specialty nutritional food processing business using chickpea.

Guts Agro Industry has also launched a new ready to cook chickpea shiro powder branded as “Yanetshiro.” This nutritious, savory and popular Ethiopian meal is made of chickpea ground into flour mixed with spices. Another new chickpea product includes dry roasted chickpea snacks, or kolo, which is the first of its kind to be produced in Ethiopia.“Guts Agro Industry committed to expand its operation by collaborating with the Government of Ethiopia and its development partners at a G8 summit for "The New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security” held in Washington D.C. in May 2012,” said Endigu Legesse, Guts Agro Industry CEO. “I am proud that we are able to fulfill that commitment to the benefit of the farmers, my employees and Ethiopian customers.”

Guts Agro Industry is an ISO 22000 certified nutritional food processing company in Ethiopia specializing in supplementary and therapeutic foods. It has two production facilities located in Hawassa and Bishoftu towns.

“Chickpea farmers who participated in multiplying the new Kabuli seed variety have gained up to 100% yield increases and higher market value” said USAID official Gary Robbins at the launch. “We are confident that the new products processed and packaged by Guts Agro Industry will set a trend in value addition, increase exports, and contribute to the improved livelihoods of the farmers.”

This release originally appeared on the USAID website.

May 2, 2014

In northern Haiti's Acul du Nord, one of the communes receiving assistance under a USAID agriculture program, a path through a lush forest leads to an opening where 25 farmers—women and men—sing energetically as they worked together to create a new cocoa plantation.

While the farmers sing motivating songs, they mark the ground with wooden sticks to identify locations for the trees, preparing the ground for cocoa seedlings. They are going to plant trees of the Criollo variety, which produces cocoa to make some of the most exclusive chocolates in the world.

“A seedling takes about three years to become a mature tree that produces pods ready to be picked,” said Dominique Jean Raoul, a cocoa specialist working on the USAID project. “These trees will produce high-quality cocoa, which can be exported to other countries, bringing back needed income.”

This is good news for farmers in Haiti, where half the population lives on less than $1.25 per day. And while approximately 60 percent of Haitians work in agriculture, up to half of Haiti’s food is imported. Although quality cocoa can sell for a high price, previously, Haitian cocoa rarely met international standards and failed to attract the high-end export market.

“In the past, we planted cocoa but did not use good farming methods,” said one of the women farmers in Acul du Nord. “This program is teaching us important techniques, such as how to prepare the land and take care of the trees, and how to treat the beans to get the best flavor. Now we can get higher yield and produce better quality.”

Feed the Future North, this five-year, $88 million USAID project, works together with Haiti's Ministry of Agriculture of Haiti with the aim to double agricultural incomes for at least 40,000 rural households in northern Haiti. The project will develop partnerships with private sector entities that support farmers’ groups.

Cocoa is one of the project's target crops in addition to corn, beans, rice and plantains. For cocoa alone, the program aims to double the exports of 10,000 farmers. Through the project, farmers in the north, where most of Haiti’s cocoa is produced, receive training in agricultural methods and soil conservation, acquire high-quality seeds and seedlings, and receive assistance in trading and marketing their product.

USAID supports the project under Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s flagship global hunger and food security initiative.

“For the best flavor, the cocoa beans should be fermented,” said Mesidor F. Herolde, a farmers’ community representative in Acul du Nord, while opening a cocoa pod to show the beans that nestle in a white, jellylike matter. He enthusiastically explained the different cocoa varieties (Criollo is considered to be the most delicious), how the cocoa plant needs shade to thrive, and how seedlings (rather than seeds) are the fastest method to grow the cocoa tree. He is one of the USAID-trained farmers who is gaining expertise in cocoa farming.

While Herolde and other farmers under this project can expect to improve their livelihoods, they are also acquiring knowledge and skills they will benefit from long after the project has come to an end.

The Feed the Future North program, which runs from April 2013 to March 2018, will fund an additional $40 million in local subcontracts and grants to Haitian organizations to ensure that the project is led by Haitians and will provide long-term improvements to Haiti’s agriculture.

This story originally appeared on the USAID website.

April 1, 2014

Mohammad Mofizul Islam Gazi is a farmer and father of two living on the front lines of climate change in southern Bangladesh—one of the most vulnerable areas in all of Asia to cyclones and sea level rise.

In his village of Sutarkhali, he harvested rice—the most popular crop in his home country—on a small plot of land from which he was able to feed his family. But May 25, 2009, changed his life forever. Cyclone Aila unleashed her fury across the southern coast of Bangladesh and into West Bengal in neighboring India, and claimed everything Gazi and his family owned.

“We were devastated,” said Gazi. “Cyclone Sidr [in 2007] couldn’t destroy us, but Cyclone Aila nailed the last pin in the coffin. There was nothing left.”

The cyclone began as a moderate disturbance as it crept toward the coastline of Bangladesh. However, the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal fueled the tropical storm, transforming Aila into a full-borne cyclone as it made landfall. A tidal wave ripped through the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, displacing thousands of villagers. This surge of saltwater swept through the region devouring trees, vegetation and precious farmland that provides people like Gazi their chief source of food and income.

Cyclone Aila hit one of the most underdeveloped areas in Bangladesh, leaving more than 200,000 homeless in a region where survival includes tackling extreme poverty and a regular onslaught of floods.

After spending several days at a cyclone shelter, Gazi and his wife and children returned to where their home once stood. “All we had left after Aila was a single pillar of the house,” said Gazi.

He and other villagers also discovered that saltwater had infiltrated the paddies where they used to grow rice and vegetables. As time went on, they also noticed the crops they used to cultivate were not producing the same amount of harvests. Before the storm, the typical bigha—a rice field measuring approximately one-third of an acre—could produce up to 200 kilograms of rice. After Aila, farmers were only able to produce 70 kilograms on the same plot of land.

“The water didn’t move for months,” recalls Gazi, “and when we tried to grow crops, we couldn’t. We were spending money and energy in vain. There was literally nothing that was growing well in the fields and our village was suffering from malnutrition, with no job opportunities and with no food.”

A New Way to Grow

In 2012, a USAID agriculture program introduced Gazi and several other farmers in the area to new varieties of rice seeds. “They told us these were saline- and submergence-tolerant seeds,” he said. “Seeing no other alternative, I and my other fellow farmers got some seeds from them and sowed them into our piece of lands.”

In partnership with international research institutes and with support from USAID, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute developed flood- and saline-tolerant varieties of rice that produce higher yields. Rice plants grown using these improved seeds can survive between 12 and 14 days when completely submerged underwater, compared with traditional rice varieties that can only endure three or four days of submersion. For the most vulnerable country in the world to cyclones and sixth-most prone to flooding, these appear to be the perfect seeds to plant.

Developing rice seeds that can withstand soil salinity and prolonged submersion in water was a difficult process that required more than 10 years of testing and research, recalls Jiban Krishna Biswas, director general of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute. “The first challenge was creating a laboratory suitably equipped for testing these improved seeds. My team of scientists and I feel encouraged and proud to take part in this process, which can help farmers in Bangladesh and other developing countries become more resilient to natural disasters.”

The farmers in Sutarkhali learned to plant their fields using the newly developed rice varieties. They also learned how to store and save these improved seeds to use in the following season’s rice crop. Now, they are harvesting between 250 and 300 kilograms of rice per bigha—up to 50 percent more than they produced before Cyclone Aila hit.

Gazi’s paddy also requires less fertilizer and pesticide, helping him save money he previously poured into his field to help feed his family. In addition, he and his wife preserved rice seeds for future use and sold the leftover seeds to several neighboring farmers.

“Before, I used to grow about 150 kilograms of rice in one bigha. Now, with less fertilizer, seed and pesticide, I can grow more than double what I used to grow in the same piece of land before Aila hit,” Gazi said.

Rice Growing, Poverty Lingering

Rice production in Bangladesh has tripled over the last 30 years, while the poverty rate has declined by 15 percent over the past decade. Despite these gains, 40 percent of the population currently lives below the poverty line.

Forty-eight percent of Bangladeshis are employed in the agriculture sector in a country that is one of the world’s largest producers of rice, tea, jute, potatoes, mangoes and onions. However, population growth, urbanization, and soil and natural resource depletion have resulted in the degradation of land and bodies of water. This poses a significant threat to the agriculture sector in Bangladesh. Rising sea levels, frequent flooding and extreme weather patterns compound the threats to food security.

“Investing in agricultural growth and innovation is an important way to fight both hunger and poverty, especially in rural areas where people rely on their land to survive,” says Ramona El Hamzaoui, chief of USAID’s agriculture and food security programs in Bangladesh. “This is why our Feed the Future activities concentrate on some of the most vulnerable areas in southern Bangladesh. We strive to help poor farmers increase their resilience to flooding and severe weather, and stabilize their income through improved technologies and diversified crops.”

In 2013, USAID helped approximately 350,000 farmers adopt high-yielding, stress-tolerant rice varieties in southern Bangladesh. In Sutarkhali, USAID initially reached out to about 50 families, including Gazi, to demonstrate the benefits of planting flood- and salt-tolerant rice. The seeds produced from these homestead farms were used by neighboring farmers for the next season of rice cultivation, and use continues to expand throughout the area.

“By addressing some of the most important needs—access and availability of important food resources—Sutarkhali has emerged from the wrath of Cyclone Aila and farmers are growing more rice than before,” says El Hamzaoui. “Farmers are able to farm again, families are able to eat, and the village is more resilient as a result.”

This story originally appeared in USAID Frontlines. 

April 1, 2014

It's a little past 8 on an April morning in Nepal’s Bardiya district in the midwestern plains. The sun is making its way upward in the clear, open sky and the day is warming. In the middle of a neat farm plot dotted with green plants less than 10 minutes off the main highway, Ram Prasad Chaudhary, 45, moves with a sense of oneness with his hand-woven basket filled with fresh green chilis, the crop that has transformed his life.

Chaudhary has been known as a model farmer in the Maina Pokhari village for the past five years. Before that, however, he suffered a past all too common among Nepal’s smallholder subsistence farmers. As a member of the Tharu ethnic group, a traditionally marginalized community that is predominantly based in Nepal’s fertile flatlands close to the Indian border, Chaudhary faced deep-rooted societal barriers to pulling himself out of poverty. Despite owning 3.2 acres of land, his life had been filled with uncertainty about something as basic as feeding his family.

In Nepal, over three quarters of the population depends on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods. Around a quarter live in extreme poverty and two out of three people are considered food insecure.

“I used to work as a daily-wage mason because the farm just never produced enough. But even a whole day’s labor paid very little, and often irregularly,” Chaudhary explained. “It was a life of hard choices, of having to frequently choose between health care for my family or my son’s education fees.”

That was until Chaudhary was approached by USAID five years ago. With support, he was able to add one more acre to his farm, which allowed him to produce two harvests a year of high-value, off-season vegetables—earning $2,350 annually, more than tripling his income. “I like to grow potatoes, chilies and cauliflower because that’s what the market likes,” he said with a smile.

Chaudhary’s story of hardship is all too common in Nepal, especially for youth, women, lower castes, and religious and ethnic minorities traditionally marginalized from civic and economic participation in Nepalese society. According to Nepal’s 2011 census, over half of the country’s 29 million citizens belong to a traditionally marginalized community. Every year, more than 550,000 people, mostly youth, join the ranks of job seekers, many of whom go abroad as unskilled labor or languish as part of the country’s unproductive workforce.

But thanks to two consecutive USAID projects in Nepal over the past seven years—Education for Income Generation (EIG) and the Nepal Economic Agriculture and Trade (NEAT) project—more people are breaking out of the cycle of poverty to create better futures for their families.

From 2008 to 2012, USAID’s Education for Income Generation (EIG) project worked with 54,000 farmers—82 percent of them women—in all 15 districts of Nepal’s midwest region, more than doubling their incomes on average. The project provided education, training and employment to historically marginalized and disadvantaged individuals, especially youth and women, and created a more productive workforce.

With the majority of people in Nepal employed in agriculture, the program looked heavily to agriculture development and built skills to fit market opportunities, particularly in the off-season. The project established 81 market collection centers in carefully selected pocket areas in all 15 districts of the midwest region. Without such centers, many farmers would not be able to sell their increased production.

With more high-quality produce from their fields and newfound access to both local and regional markets, farmers are able to secure higher prices and more reliable markets. “Apart from being market driven with a value-chain approach, a key reason why our efforts have worked so successfully is because the project provided hands-on, comprehensive training on agriculture best practices over several crop cycles, linked farmers to markets, and embedded extension services through local private-sector input service providers,” said Shiva Narayan Shah, a local agriculture expert employed by USAID for many years.

These local input service providers were often small shopkeepers or agriculture input suppliers selling seeds and agricultural machinery in the area. The project built their expertise, enabling them to serve as private sector intermediaries who connected farmers with potential markets, offered technical advice, and sold all the appropriate inputs such as drip irritation technology, seeds and fertilizers.

From 2011 to 2013, USAID’s NEAT project built on the successes of EIG and worked with food-insecure households to facilitate access to finance, support increased investments in agriculture, and further strengthen market linkages. The project was also crucial in connecting farmers to microfinance institutions for access to credit, supporting the purchase of irrigation equipment, and reinforcing agricultural best practices. Over a period of almost three years, NEAT worked with about 67,000 farmers and 20 private firms, increasing agriculture sales by $26.5 million.

Now, subsistence farmers in Nepal are enjoying newfound success and helping others in their communities to do the same.

Ram Kumari Tharu is a 33-year-old single mother who lives in the same village as Chaudhary. Before USAID assistance, she earned less than 25 cents per day. With her current income of approximately $90 per month, Tharu is ensuring that her two sons stay in school. In many villages, children are often pulled out of school after grade eight or 10 to help with household chores or because the family is unable to afford tuition fees.

Tharu has broken stereotypes to become a leader in her community. She was instrumental in mobilizing a group of farmers in her village to advocate for resources from the government’s District Agriculture Service Center, seeking an investment of almost $3,000 in high-value vegetables for the coming year.

Tharu has used her increased income to upgrade her home, formerly a thatched hut made of mud and straw, to one of brick walls and a concrete roof. She has also invested in a bicycle that she uses to transport her vegetables to market.

“Now, I take my vegetables to the collection center on the Bardiya main road twice a week, about 30 minutes away on bicycle,” explains Tharu. “At the center, traders from the city come to buy produce from farmers like me.”

Chaudhary is also able to provide a better future for his family—and for future generations.

“The support provided by USAID for five years has completely transformed our family,” said Pradip Singh, Chaudhary’s older son.

Chaudhary’s success has enabled his older son to earn a graduate degree while his younger son continues as an undergraduate student. Inspired by his father’s change of fortune, Singh went on to train in integrated pest management (IPM), a short-term course offered by the district’s agriculture office. That knowledge, supplemented by the hands-on training he received from his father, won him a position as an IPM trainer in another USAID project.

“I had the opportunity to train and support my fellow villagers, helping them to adopt more organic and sustainable farming methods,” Singh said. “What could be more rewarding? The only thing more satisfying has been to see my father transition our family to a self-reliant life. Today, my family sleeps with a full stomach every night, my brother is continuing his education, and my mother can visit the hospital if she needs to. We no longer have to choose between the three.”

With both EIG and NEAT complete, USAID, through the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future Initiative, is now working through other projects in Nepal to sustainably improve agricultural productivity and nutrition for 1 million Nepalis by helping farmer households obtain high-quality seeds, improve access to credit, learn improved farming techniques, and connect to markets.

The new efforts continue to build on the successes and lessons learned from previous projects, and strive to create thousands more model farmers like Ram Prasad Chaudhary, said USAID/Nepal Mission Director Beth Dunford.

“For us, the big question is always how to move farmers from subsistence to commercial agriculture and out of the cycle of poverty,” she said. “Working with the Government of Nepal and other development partners, including the private sector, we have focused a good deal of attention on raising farmer incomes through a broad range of innovative approaches.

“If we work collectively towards unlocking the obstacles, Nepal’s agricultural potential can be unleashed with accelerated growth, increased farm incomes and conserved natural resources.”

Back in Maina Pokhari, Chaudhary is frequently solicited by his neighbors, from near and far, with questions about pest management, choice of seed or how to access government resources.

“Today, I actually have followers. Can you believe it?” Chaudhary said. “The projects might have ended, but they’ve left me with the knowledge, skills and the infrastructure necessary to access market opportunities and will remain with me for life.”

This story originally appeared in USAID Frontlines. 

March 25, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Bass, and Members of the Subcommittee, for having me here today. I am delighted to be here to talk about the nutrition efforts of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

First, I want to recognize Congress for the strong leadership it has demonstrated in addressing the challenge of global child and maternal nutrition. As you may know, at least 165 million children worldwide are stunted, or have short stature resulting from chronic under-nutrition. New evidence shows that the effects of stunting are even more far reaching than we realized, with implications on many aspects of the lives of individual survivors and the countries they live in. Stunting leads to irreversible cognitive impairment and poor health over the lifespan. Each year, under-nutrition in all forms is the underlying cause of 3.1 million child deaths or 45% of all child deaths worldwide. It leads to higher health care costs, increased mortality and lower productivity. On a national scale, widespread under-nutrition undermines economic development, costing low and middle income countries up to 8% of economic growth potential. Our goals of reducing extreme poverty and hunger as well as ending preventable child and maternal deaths cannot be met without addressing nutrition, especially during the critical 1,000 day window, from a mother’s pregnancy to her child's second birthday. We also strive to reach women with nutrition interventions even before they become pregnant.

This is a unique time for nutrition, and in the last few years, global nutrition has received unprecedented attention as new research and evidence have contributed to a better understanding by the international development community of the importance of good nutrition in early life for forming the basis for healthy individuals and productive societies. A few major recent developments in particular are fueling momentum for nutrition:

  • The Scaling Up Nutrition Movement (or SUN) was launched in 2010 as a platform for partnership between the UN, civil society, the private sector, donors and developing country governments to support country-led efforts to reduce under-nutrition, especially during the 1,000 days window. Today, 47 countries have joined the SUN Movement, indicating their commitment to improving the nutrition and health of their citizens. USAID is a strong supporter of the SUN Movement, serving as a donor-convener in 6 countries and providing both financial and technical support and playing a leadership role at the global level.
  • In 2010, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin launched the 1,000 Days Partnership, which brings together governments, civil society and the private sector to promote targeted action and investment to improve nutrition for mothers and children during the 1,000 day window. The efforts of the 1,000 Days Partnership also support SUN.
  • The World Health Assembly set nutrition targets for reducing under-nutrition by 2025 for women and children, including a 40% reduction in stunting. In June 2013, a nutrition summit in London culminated in the Nutrition for Growth Compact, which led to increased nutrition funding commitments from G8 donor governments and civil society. At the summit- the U.S. government announced that, from 2012 to 2014, we anticipated providing more than $1 billion for direct nutrition interventions and $9 billion worth of attributed nutrition-sensitive investments. Together we estimate that these investments will result in 2 million fewer stunted children.
  • In June 2013, the new Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition provided updated research and analyses and made recommendations for nutrition interventions and approaches. New information from this series, particularly on how interventions in other sectors can have an impact on nutrition, is already helping to inform and improve USAID programming.

USAID is taking a strong leadership role in these international efforts, both within the U.S. Government and at the global level.

USAID promotes nutrition through the Feed the Future and Global Health interagency initiatives, the Food for Peace Development and Emergency programs, and through our humanitarian assistance efforts. Our goals are to reduce stunting by 20% in Feed the Future zones of influence and Food for Peace Development programs and, where possible, to maintain global acute malnutrition rates below 15% in times of crisis through humanitarian programs.

To reinforce these efforts, USAID is in the final stages of developing a multi-sector nutrition strategy which will improve the integration and effectiveness of nutrition programming across all our bureaus and missions. Under our strategy, USAID will address nutrition with more discipline than ever before, developing country nutrition frameworks (based on national plans), setting country-specific targets, and tracking and reporting on nutrition progress. Nutrition programs will be integrated across humanitarian and development contexts and coordinated with those of other U.S. government agencies active overseas. The USAID nutrition strategy addresses the underlying causes of poor nutrition during the first 1,000 days by promoting the scale-up of proven, cost-effective nutrition interventions. These include both nutrition-specific (those that directly address under-nutrition) and nutrition-sensitive (such as hygiene, that indirectly affect nutrition outcomes) activities. USAID nutrition investments link programs in agriculture and food security, health, and water, sanitation and hygiene in a more integrated manner. Nutrition is also an integral part of USAID’s resilience strategy.

The USAID strategy is informing a broader U.S. Government-wide nutrition coordination plan, which is currently being developed. For the first time, the U.S. Nutrition Coordination Plan will bring together all the U.S. government agencies working in global nutrition with the purpose of maximizing impact through better coordination of U.S. Government global nutrition investments.

USAID leads Feed the Future, the President’s global hunger and food security initiative. This is the first Presidential Initiative to address nutrition at the goal level. Feed the Future reduces under-nutrition during the first 1,000 days window and hunger by improving access to nutrition services, clean water and support for agriculture value chain activities that include nutrient-dense crops.

USAID’s integrated, multi-sectoral approach has led to tangible results:

To address water and hygiene-related factors associated with stunting, USAID has helped install more than 155,000 “tippy taps” (water-saving, hand washing device that makes clean water available at the household level) throughout Bangladesh. They help reduce diarrhea and other waterborne illnesses among young children, which in turn help promote healthy nutrition. At the same time, USAID has also supported nearly 91,000 women farmers in homestead gardening, which means improved access to nutrient-dense foods and increased income for Bangladeshi women and their children.

In Tanzania, we take a three-pronged approach to help resolve common micronutrient deficiencies that contribute to stunting. USAID trained flour millers to fortify their products with vitamins and minerals, and strengthened the capacity of 405 small and medium-scale maize millers and processing plants to safely fortify maize flour. To complement these efforts, USAID provided 1.6 million micronutrient powder sachets to help prevent stunting and micronutrient deficiencies among children 6-24 months old. USAID also promotes bio-fortified crops like the orange-fleshed sweet potato, green leafy vegetables and small livestock. Moreover, to further strengthen results like these, through Feed the Future’s nutrition innovation labs, USAID supports research on nutrition-sensitive agriculture and their work is informing a growing number of Feed the Future programs. Feed the Future also works with the private sector to increase the level of responsible nutrition investments. In 2013 alone, the US government, through Feed the Future in collaboration with the Global Health Initiative reached 12.5 million children with nutrition interventions.

USAID supports the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition in its Marketplace for Nutritious Foods program, which increases private sector investment and marketing of nutrient-dense foods. In Mozambique, for example, the Marketplace has been working with producers and food processors on a locally made peanut butter to support market development as well as food safety and quality control.

Beyond Feed the Future, to help maintain global acute malnutrition rates below 15% in times of crisis and to support nutrition in humanitarian settings and among the most vulnerable populations, especially during the 1,000 days window, USAID is seeking to reform the way it delivers food aid. In certain emergencies and under certain circumstances, USAID now provides cash to purchase local and regional food near food crises, which is on average much timelier and cheaper than in-kind food aid and also stimulate economic growth in developing countries. By enacting the food aid reform that we have requested in the 2015 Budget to allow 25 percent of Title II food aid funding to be used for flexible emergency responses, USAID programs will be able to help about 2 million more men, women and children in emergency crises without additional resources. These reforms will allow USAID to expand the use of local and regional purchase as well as innovative approaches, such as food vouchers, that are often cheaper than in-kind food aid and also allow beneficiaries to select their own food in local markets. In addition USAID continues to support research on various types of specialized foods as well as work on updating and improving existing products based on evolving nutritional evidence.

Through USAID’s continued efforts to coordinate and integrate multi-sectoral programs across USAID offices and bureaus and strengthen program quality using new findings, we are better addressing the complex underlying causes of stunting. We are also making meaningful contributions toward achieving the World Health Assembly 2025 nutrition targets and reducing under-nutrition during the first 1,000 days worldwide.

I would like to thank Congress again for the leadership you are showing on this issue. We look forward to working with you to make progress on ending child and maternal malnutrition.

These remarks originally appeared on the USAID website. 

March 25, 2014

For seven years, I’ve served as the program manager for the USAID-supported Farmer-to-Farmer Program. Like many agricultural development programs, Farmer-to-Farmer strives to help smallholder farmers improve productivity, access new markets, develop local organizations, and conserve environmental and natural resources.

To reach these results, our program employs a unique approach.

We rely on the expertise of U.S. farmers, agribusinesses, cooperatives and universities to provide voluntary technical assistance to rural farmers, producer groups, businesses and service providers in more than two dozen countries around the world. These volunteers spend an average of two to three weeks working hand in hand with their assigned hosts.

Assignments range from developing a strategic business plan and building the capacity of the host organization’s workforce to providing training in new technologies.

Since the program’s inception in 1985, we have recorded and reported on measurable activities, such as the increase in beneficiary incomes, the number of people trained, or the area of land under improved environmental and natural resource management. This is the data. And we can measure it empirically.

But I want to talk about the immeasurable: the incredible relationships fostered between our volunteers and their hosts.

These relationships are the lifeline of Farmer-to-Farmer. It’s what makes it special and different from other agricultural development programs.

Scott and Ngila’s Story

The story of Scott Stovall and Ngila Kimotho highlights the deep bonds that can develop between a volunteer and beneficiary. Scott, a native of New Mexico, started volunteering with the Farmer-to-Farmer Program 13 years ago. Over those years, he visited countries in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, but it was an assignment in Kenya that turned a business consultation into a friendship.

In 2011, Ngila, the owner of Dryland Seed Limited, requested a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer to help devise a business plan for his small company. At the time, Dryland produced 100 tons of seed and hoped to apply for funding to procure processing equipment. Farmer-to-Farmer sent Scott to help Ngila develop the skills to achieve these goals.

Scott worked with Ngila to write a business plan that enabled Dryland to successfully apply for funding from the African Seed Investment Fund. With the new processing equipment purchased through the investment grant it received, Dryland’s business grew.

A year later, Ngila requested that Scott come back to help his company apply for another grant. Scott returned to Kenya in 2012 and helped Ngila write a second business plan that placed Dryland in the top 30 businesses selected to receive funding from the African Enterprise Challenge Fund.

What I described in the previous paragraph is a factual account of how a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer helped a small agribusiness access financial support. It does not, however, tell the whole story. It doesn’t include all of the email exchanges between Scott and Ngila throughout the year where they shared business tips.

It doesn’t mention that Ngila invited Scott to stay with his family. It doesn’t record Ngila telling us that he and Scott have developed a close relationship and that he’s come to trust Scott with all information, not only about Dryland, but also about his family. It doesn’t and can’t measure the value of the friendship formed.

Participation in Farmer-to-Farmer programs provides some beneficiaries with the most interaction they will ever have with a U.S. citizen. Overall, volunteers have donated millions of dollars’ worth of time to complete nearly 16,000 assignments in more than 110 countries all around the world. These volunteers have helped generate higher incomes, improve crop production and expand economic growth for smallholder farmers.

But to me, the real impact and success of the Farmer-to-Farmer Program is what we can’t measure: the long-lasting friendships developed between hosts and volunteers.

Interested in getting involved with the Farmer-to-Farmer program? Watch the video below to hear from more volunteers and visit the USAID website for more information.

This post originally appeared on the USAID blog. 

March 19, 2014

Standing at the gates to the Nigerian cassava processing plant, Thai Farms, we held our breath while watching a local farmer anxiously weigh a sack of his latest cassava crop. Cassava, a starchy local staple crop, takes 12 to 24 months to grow, but begins to rot after only 48 hours out of the ground. So for this local farmer, transporting and being able to quickly sell his crop is essential to getting a good price.

To determine purchase prices, cassava is weighed and then tested for starch content through a simple, yet ingenious method of submersing the cassava tubers in water to test buoyancy. The higher the starch content, the more cassava flour is produced and the more money the farmer earns per kilo. The farmer breathed a sigh of relief when the starch content turned out to be high enough for the factory to buy his produce, but not high enough to fetch the best price.  The farmer left relieved, but somewhat disappointed and hopefully inspired to plant improved varieties next season.

In Nigeria, more than 70 percent of the population earns their livelihood from agriculture and 70 percent of the MARKETS II farmers live on less than $1.25 each day. By giving these farmers the tools to improve their harvest and connecting them with buyers, USAID is helping the farmers earn a higher selling price that is essential to increasing their household income and lifting their families out of extreme poverty.

Thai Farms exemplifies the MARKETS II model of connecting local farmers to new markets and technologies. However, there are several other local agri-business enterprises boosting the economy in Nigeria. Timmod Farms, for example, is a Nigerian success story. The farm was established in November 2004 with just four ponds of fish and is now one of the leading fish processors in Nigeria. Timmod Farms produces a smoked catfish that is well-known in the local Nigerian market and has been recognized by the Federal Department of Fisheries in Nigeria. The extremely entrepreneurial owner, Rotimi Omodehin, keeps adding new parts to the business, but is also concerned about the potential for further growth. Every step on the value chain suffers from some fundamental constraints, especially reliable access to energy and credit. These producers pay three to five times the price of energy from the grid to power their enterprises with expensive diesel generators. This is necessary as the power supply from the utility is unreliable and surges can damage expensive equipment. Credit, meanwhile, is hard to get at all and often costs 20 to 25 percent annual interest making loans hard to get, very expensive and very risky. To really enable small famers and small enterprises to drive inclusive economic growth, these problems will have to be addressed.

USAID has the opportunity to pull farmers out of poverty by sharing best practices in agriculture activities and focusing on value chains as a whole. Let us know what programs have been most successful for you or share your local stories of success.

This post originally appeared on the USAID blog. 

March 17, 2014

Nepal is a place of mesmerizing beauty. Located in the Himalayas with eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains, including the highest peak on Earth, Mt. Everest, it’s no wonder more than 20 percent of the country is protected. The diverse terrain ranges from emerald green tea gardens, terraced paddy fields and historic temples nestled in hillsides to thick jungle, sprawling forest, pristine lakes and the largest concentration of glaciers outside the polar region.

But what lurks behind this idyllic landscape is a growing problem—climate change. Nepal struggles with both water scarcity and increased flooding, impacting everything from health and nutrition to livelihoods and food production. With agriculture employing 80 percent of the population and one in three suffering from food insecurity, these ecological shocks can present serious setbacks for farmers and their families, robbing them of their livelihoods or ability to put food on the table.

At USAID, one of our top priorities is developing innovative solutions that can help vulnerable communities withstand chronic threats, such as pandemics or climate change, and sustain progress when disaster strikes—not get pushed further into poverty. This is important across the globe but particularly in Asia, where half the world’s poor live and more than half of all natural disasters occur. In today’s interconnected world, our success matters to the United States. As the fastest growing region in the world accounting for more than half the world’s GDP and nearly half its trade, Asia has become a key driver of global politics and economics. Progress—or instability—in Asia has ripple effects throughout the world and can impact us here at home. Across the region, we’re hard at work.

In Nepal, we’re helping farmers and families mitigate the adverse impacts of a changing environment on their lives and livelihoods. We’re helping them adapt to new rainfall patterns and adopt new water-saving tools such as multiple-use water systems for sanitation needs, drinking and growing food. We’re also introducing solar-powered pumps, which enable farmers to use drip irrigation for high-value crops, increasing their annual income by over a third. Our work has had a transformational impact on women in particular—who are typically responsible for collecting water—freeing up their time and energy to invest in other aspects of their lives.

We’re forging partnerships that leverage resources and harness the science, technology and innovation that exist throughout the region to maximize impact—and reach. USAID recently announced three new partnerships with Indian organizations to share successful, low-cost agricultural innovations and technologies with African countries. These partnerships are a win-win for all: The organizations gain access to new market space; USAID advances its efforts to increase food security and farmers’ incomes in Africa; and African countries gain access to new tools to help their citizens escape extreme poverty. These include a low-cost tractor, an organic fertilizer made out of seaweed and a solar-powered food dehydrator—all devised to increase yields and incomes by mechanizing operations, fertilizing depleted soils and preventing post-harvest losses.

In Timor-Leste, we saw a great opportunity to extend our reach by partnering with ConocoPhillips, which has significant investments in the country and contributes to sustainable community development—particularly in agriculture and education to help Timor-Leste improve agricultural productivity and increase its pool of skilled workers. This is vital in a country where nearly 40 percent of people live in extreme poverty and more than 60 percent of the population work in agriculture. Together, we are helping more farmers than ever before diversify their crops to increase their incomes and improve their families’ health and nutrition. Through this partnership, we have been able to double the number of farm families benefiting from this project. Farmers practicing new horticulture techniques have boosted their incomes by up to 300 percent.

And we’re bringing transformative science and technology to remote corners of the world where they’re needed most. Due to climate change and rapid urbanization, the coastal nation of Bangladesh—which has the highest malnutrition rates in the region—is losing up to 1 percent of its arable land each year. Adding to the challenge, 80 percent of the country rests in a low-lying river delta prone to flooding.

To tackle these challenges, USAID is training farmers in the use of high-yielding varieties of rice seeds that are tolerant to soil salinity and adverse weather, as well as in the use of fertilizer deep placement technology, which allows for fertilizer to be placed under the soil and closer to the root where it is most effective, as opposed to on top of the soil where it is more likely to be washed away. As a result, soil fertility is improved, fertilizer use is reduced and yields are increased. Our efforts helped the coastal district of Barisal end its rice-deficiency and produce enough rice to feed its people.

Asia faces complex and integrated problems on a scale never before seen in history. These issues demand innovative approaches that combine resources and expertise at every opportunity. We are committed to the task, and hope you’ll click here to find out how you can join us.

This post originally appeared on the USAID blog. 

March 6, 2014

It’s very difficult to effectively manage responsibilities if you have neither the authority over nor access to the required skills, networks, resources, or decision-making power needed to complete critical tasks. Yet, that is the situation women in Tanzania’s agricultural sector face.

According to research from the World Bank, women form the majority of Tanzania’s agriculture work force—particularly in rural areas, where 98 percent of economically-active women are involved in agriculture. They prepare, plant, weed, harvest, transport, store, and process their farms’ products. In addition to these time and labor-intensive activities, women also cook meals and perform other household management tasks. These are crucial in a country where 42 percent of children under 5 years old suffer from stunted growth, due to malnutrition, and 16 percent are underweight.

Tanzanian women are keenly aware of their responsibilities and the challenges embedded therein. Limited decision-making power, unfavorable regulations, and biased sociocultural norms reduce their access to finance, land, technical training, labor-saving equipment and other productive resources. As a result, barriers are stifling their potential to be leaders of technological invention, entrepreneurship, and legal and regulatory change throughout the agriculture sector. But these challenges are not insurmountable.

In fact, with a little help from the U.S. Agency for International Development, farmers are developing their own solutions.

The Innovations in Gender Equality (IGE) to Promote Household Food Security program, in close coordination with Feed the Future projects in southern Tanzania, is helping farmers address constraints they face when working in agriculture.

This project is a partnership between Land O’ Lakes International Development , the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Development Lab (MIT D-Lab), and USAID.

It offers community-centered technology design training to smallholder farmer groups in the Southern Agricultural Corridor of Tanzania. Trainees, the majority of whom are women, develop prototypes in group settings and receive in-depth coaching from MIT D-Lab trainers.

What do the results of these technology design trainings look like?

  • Time and labor burdens are reduced. These technologies—developed by farmers, for farmers—save time and reduce drudgery, freeing up women’s availability to engage in alternative income-generating opportunities.
  • What’s impossible alone becomes possible together. When we ask IGE farmer-inventors why they never developed the technology design prototypes before that they are designing now, one answer is constant: they couldn’t do it alone. D-Lab’s community-centered design philosophy fosters teamwork from the start, which farmers credit for bringing to life the culture of innovation and invention in their villages.
  • Men and women are working together. Women’s empowerment is a community-wide endeavor, with men’s active involvement and support being a critical factor. The technologies farmers are developing are transforming women’s-only agricultural tasks into tasks in which husbands and wives work together, producing a greater overall benefit for themselves and their families.

What technologies are farmers developing?

A woman uses a palm oil extractor machine.

Mwanahamisi Goha’s palm oil technology design group, called Jitegeme group, consists of two women and three men. They collectively developed the palm oil extracting machine prototype pictured above, which can extract 20 liters of palm oil in 30 minutes. This is a major improvement, because standard models typically take four hours to extract the same amount of palm oil (a popular product on local markets) and require two people to operate instead of one. This new prototype also allows operators to sit instead of stand. (Photo by Giselle Aris)

Two women use a machine to shell peanuts.

Arafa Mwingiliera and Habiba Njaa’s peanut sheller group, Ukombozi, in Morogoro, grinds nuts using a prototype they developed with three other group members. This technology can shell up to 20 kilograms of peanuts in just five minutes—an amount of work that used to take an entire day when shelled peanuts using their bare hands. Women in southern Tanzania often sell peanuts as snacks along the roadside to passers-by and use them in place of cooking oil to season vegetables. Peanuts are high in protein and calories, making them a good source of nutrition and energy, especially for young children. (Photo by Giselle Aris)

A woman pedals a bicycle connected to a rice threshing machine.

Amina Hussein, Veronica Hogo and other members of the rice thresher technology design group, Lupiro, test their prototype, which they designed using locally available and affordable materials. This technology can thresh 15 to 20 100 kilogram bags of rice per day without crop loss due to spillage (which occurs when farmers thresh rice by hand). The productivity levels achieved by this prototype are a massive improvement compared to traditional hand threshing, from which farmers yield only two to three 100 kilogram bags of rice per day with up to 5 percent of crops lost to spillage. Rice is one of the main staple crops of Tanzania, and, along with maize and horticulture, is one of the Feed the Future target value chains. These value chains are essential to Tanzania’s food security, which has motivated many farmer technology design groups to develop prototypes that bolster their productivity. (Photo by Giselle Aris)

A woman laughs as she sits in front of a machine with a fan in it.

Stella Malangu, a member of the rice winnower technology design group, Jitambue, in Morogoro, smiles after using the prototype she helped design and build. It generates wind to separate rice from chaff and other unwanted particles and pests before storage. When farmers in this group winnowed rice using traditional methods, which required them to stand and be in constant motion, they were able to clean one 100 kilogram bag of rice per day. With their new prototype, these farmers can now winnow six 100 kilogram bags of rice in just three hours. This technology has dramatically reduced time and labor burdens! And it has even led male community members to become involved in what was previously only women’s work. (Photo by Giselle Aris)

What’s next?

Every technology needs investors. Even in cases where inventors have designed functional prototypes, they still require:

  • Resources and skills to transform prototypes into successful commercial products
  • Media attention to accelerate the time it takes for locally popular products to become nationally and regionally renowned and adopted
  • Policy change to address major constraints for women working in Tanzania’s agriculture sector

IGE is working in each of these areas to ensure technology continues to help transform the lives of smallholder farmers in Tanzania. For more information on how you can get involved, visit our website.

This post originally appeared on the USAID blog. 

February 24, 2014

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the University of California Davis (UC Davis) launched the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Chickpeas housed at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR). The 5-year, $4 million genetic research program will create more and stronger varieties of chickpea to increase smallholder farmer productivity.

Chickpeas are the third most widely grown legume crop (after soybean and bean) and of particular significance in developing countries, where it provides a crucial source of income, food security, and nutrition to poor farmers. The crop’s ability to “fix” atmospheric nitrogen also contributes to soil fertility.

According to Dr. Asnake Fikre, crop research director at EIAR and project lead in Ethiopia, “Enhancing the value chain of chickpea production and, thereby, improving the livelihoods of small holder farmers in Ethiopia are among the expected outcomes of this project."

The potential gains are particularly large in Ethiopia. As the largest chickpea producer in Africa, more than one million of the country’s rural households cultivate chickpea. In recognition of the crop’s potential benefits, the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) prioritizes chickpea in its current five-year strategy. The strategy aims to double the country’s 2010 yield by 2015 with the help of Ethiopian scientists and farmers, global researchers, brought together through the Chickpea Innovation Lab.

Dennis Weller, director of USAID’s mission in Ethiopia, emphasized the program’s significance. “In funding the new Chickpea Innovation Lab,” he said, “We expect that new genetic resources and improved varieties developed by this program will improve Ethiopia’s agricultural productivity and help improve livelihoods and wellbeing in Ethiopia’s rural highlands where chickpea is cultivated.”

Under the project, researchers plan to improve the yield, climate resilience, nutritional value, and nitrogen-fixing properties of chickpea varieties selected in consultation with local farmers. According to Doug Cook, professor at UC Davis and director of the USAID research project, “Developing chickpea for increased resilience to climate stress and other high value traits will be greatly accelerated if we can expand the range of genetic adaptations available to breeders,” and the project’s strategy to incorporate new variation from wild species aims to do precisely that.

The new Chickpea Innovation Lab is the latest of 23 USAID-funded Innovation Labs awarded under Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. Led by UC Davis, the new research consortium includes, in addition to the EIAR, the University of Southern California, Florida International University, and Turkey’s Harran University.

About Feed the Future. Feed the Future is the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth and trade that increase incomes and reduce hunger, poverty and undernutrition. More information:

This press release originally appeared on the USAID website. For a copy of the press release in Amharic and for full remarks from the mission director, please view the original release.


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