USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Agriculture

Serbia Plugs Into Cow Power

In the past, I would speed up when driving by a farm. The only thing I could think of was the awful smell that made me hold my breath. Now, I slow down and think of endless supplies of clean energy, thanks to a USAID project that is helping convert manure into renewable energy– all the while, banking on American industrial expertise.

On one farm in Blace, a town of 11,000 people in southern Serbia, 700 cows produce thousands of gallons of manure each day. But this farm’s waste does not “go to waste.”

With support from USAID’s Agribusiness Project, manure from the Lazar Dairy is being “digested” by Serbia’s first biogas plant and converted into electricity, which the dairy sells to the national electricity company, EPS, at a preferential rate applicable to renewable energy suppliers.

Lazar pays about €0.05/kWh for the electricity it purchases from EPS, but it will receive about three times as much for the electricity that it sells to power company.

Lazar Dairy Biogas Plant 5

A DAI-led USAID project supported the construction of Serbia’s Lazar Dairy new biogas plant. The plant was designed by DVO Inc., of Chilton, Wisconsin, a leading U.S. designer and builder of anaerobic digesters.

Ushering the $2 million plant from drawing board to full operation took two-years. USAID’s Agribusiness Project acted as the “matchmaker” between Lazar Dairy and DVO, Inc., of Wisconsin, a leading U.S. designer and builder of anaerobic digesters.

The dairy had faced significant problems dealing with its manure, a major pollution issue. Now, this is virtually eliminated by the digester — a sealed container — as is the odor problem. Since its inauguration in May 2012, the plant has been operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, feeding up to 1 MW of renewable electrical energy into the national electrical grid every month—enough to power more than 1,000 homes.

In addition to generating biogas that powers the generator, the leftover solids and liquids are filtered and used for cow bedding and as fertilizer. The recycling of other organic waste (such as whey from cheese production at the farm) results in a liquid fertilizer and waste heat in the form of hot water that can be used to heat buildings.

Lazar Dairy Biogas Plant 3

A DAI-led USAID project supported the construction of Serbia’s Lazar Dairy new biogas plant. The plant was designed by DVO Inc., of Chilton, Wisconsin, a leading U.S. designer and builder of anaerobic digesters.

“The introduction of the bio-digester completely changed our business operations. We now have a steady cash inflow and dispose of our waste without harm to the environment,” said Milan Vidojevic, owner of the Lazar Dairy and one of Serbia’s most successful entrepreneurs.

Bolstering technological innovations like these, which encourage economic growth both abroad and at home, while supporting responsible agricultural practices, is a priority at USAID.

“This investment demonstrates that environmentally sound production can increase profits AND provide wide reaching benefits for the whole community. The U.S. Government is proud to have facilitated this process, through which this American technology has found its way to Blace,” said the former U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, Mary Warlick.

Lazar Dairy, which employs 120 people, is an economic engine for villages around Blace. In addition to its dairy farm, Lazar buys up to 45,000 liters (12,000 gallons) of milk per day from a network of more than 2,000 local farmers within a 100-kilometer radius. Its processing plant converts this raw milk to processed milk, yogurt, creams, and cheeses.

As a result of USAID’s assistance since early 2009, the company has generated annual sales of nearly $1 million, which translates to more than $600,000 in cash payments to the 2,000 raw-milk suppliers. Should future environmental regulations in Serbia allow it, the dairy would be eligible for additional revenue through the sale of carbon credits.

Farmer-to-Farmer: The Impact You Can’t Measure

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.

This member of the Community Based Fisheries Management group increases his income and better feeds his family with bountiful fish yields, thanks to technical assistance from the Farmer-to-Farmer Program. Photo by Sk. Ahmad-Al-Nahid, Winrock International

This member of the Community Based Fisheries Management group increases his income and better feeds his family with bountiful fish yields, thanks to technical assistance from the Farmer-to-Farmer Program. Photo: Sk. Ahmad-Al-Nahid, Winrock International

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.

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Alejandro Segarra-Carmona (right) shows farmers in El Salvador how to apply sustainable pest control techniques to their crops.

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Alejandro Segarra-Carmona (right) shows farmers in El Salvador how to apply sustainable pest control techniques to their crops. Photo: Ricardo Hernandez Auerbach, Winrock International

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.

Ngila Kimotho proudly shows a bag of Dryland Seed Limited’s improved seeds that he sells in a small shop he owns in Kenya. Because of the technical assistance provided by the Farmer-to-Farmer Program, Dryland Seed Limited was able to expand its production and is now involved in processing hybrid seeds.

Ngila Kimotho proudly shows a bag of Dryland Seed Limited’s improved seeds that he sells in a small shop he owns in Kenya. Because of the technical assistance provided by the Farmer-to-Farmer Program, Dryland Seed Limited was able to expand its production and is now involved in processing hybrid seeds. Credit: CNFA

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 above to hear from more volunteers and visit the USAID website for more information.

Improving Agriculture to Help Lift Nigerian Families Out of Poverty

Alex Thier (far left) looks on as a Nigerian farmer checks the starch level of his cassava crop. (Photo Credit: USAID)

Alex Thier (far left) looks on as a Nigerian farmer checks the starch level of his cassava crop. (Photo Credit: USAID)

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.

a fish pond

Fish swim in one of many fish ponds at the USAID supported Timmod Farms in Nigeria. (Photo Credit: USAID)

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.

Cooking With Green Charcoal Helps to Reduce Deforestation in Haiti

An organization in northern Haiti is promoting a cooking fuel made from agricultural waste that can save trees, help farmers increase their yields and generate additional income.

“Our aim is to try to stop deforestation in Haiti by teaching people to switch from cooking with charcoal to using cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste,” said Anderson Pierre, the Supply Chain Manager for Carbon Roots International (CRI), a USAID-supported non-profit organization operating in Quartier Morin.

Workers create cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste, in northern Haiti on Dec. 12, 2013. Photo copyright Kendra Helmer/USAID

Workers create cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste, in northern Haiti on Dec. 12, 2013.
Photo © Kendra Helmer/USAID

Despite the fact that only about 2 percent of Haiti’s forests remain, it is difficult to shift habits of cooking with wood charcoal to methods that are environmentally friendly.  According to Pierre, other alternative fuels are still not well-known – or accepted.

“We work little by little, changing perceptions and providing information on the benefits of using briquettes,” Pierre said.

CRI employs smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs to produce carbon-rich char from agricultural waste such as sugarcane bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice. CRI uses this waste to create two innovative products: renewable charcoal cooking briquettes called “green charcoal,” and “biochar,” a potent natural soil additive that increases soil fertility and removes carbon from the atmosphere. CRI sells the briquettes as an alternative to traditional wood charcoal through a network of women retailers, and disburses biochar back to farmers to increase crop yields and further raise incomes.

As a result, the project contributes to the sustainability of Haitian agriculture and provides income opportunities for women entrepreneurs. It offers a comparably priced, locally appropriate green cooking fuel to the Haitian marketplace, as well as encourages the adoption of biochar as a viable tool for increasing agricultural productivity and soil resiliency.

CRI’s efforts to promote green charcoal are gradually gaining ground in northern Haiti. While they’ve been focusing on market research and production, they plan to expand to bulk sales and more roadside kiosks this spring. In December, CRI ran a public awareness campaign in Quartier Morin under the slogan “Green Charcoal is Your Charcoal”, using demonstration stands and offering free samples of briquettes.

“The Haitian consumer likes the fact that this comes from a source other than wood. People have heard about a Haiti that used to be green. They understand that deforestation is not good. If they have an alternative, they will go for it,” said Ryan Delaney, co-founder of CRI. The briquettes are 5 to 10 percent cheaper to buy than wood-based charcoal and they can be burned in a traditional cook stove, making it an attractive fuel alternative.

USAID is supporting CRI through a $100,000 Development Innovation Ventures award. The USAID award has helped CRI prove itself — it developed a network of producers, started production and created viable markets for biomass products.

“We want this to be a self-sufficient project,” Delaney said. “We have just purchased a machine that can increase the briquette production from 3,000 briquettes a day to 3 tons an hour. There is a lot of sugarcane production in Haiti providing the needed sugarcane waste…. Right now we sell small-scale, but we have ambitious expansion goals.”

Delaney estimates the charcoal market in Haiti to be valued at about $700 million a year (approximately $90 million in northern Haiti).  “The potential to scale in Haiti and beyond is enormous, as there is little centralized production of charcoal,” he said.

This month, the U.S.-based CRI expects formal operations to begin for their for-profit entity in Haiti, called Carbon Roots Haiti, S.A.  Eventually CRI wants to hand over green charcoal production to Haitians, Delaney said. ”Ultimately, we envision this as a Haitian company run by Haitians.”

Launched in October 2010, USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) holds a quarterly grant competition for innovative ideas, pilots and tests them using cutting-edge analytical methods, and scales those that demonstrate cost-effectiveness and widespread development impact. DIV uses a staged-funding model inspired by venture capital to invest comparatively small amounts in relatively unproven ideas, and continues to support only those that prove effective.

For more information on DIV and how to apply, go to http://www.usaid.gov/div. For more information on CRI visit http://www.carbonrootsinternational.org/ and see photos of CRI in Haiti on Flickr.

Read another story about how USAID is fighting deforestation through an improved cooking technology program.

Anna-Maija Mattila Litvak is the Senior Development Outreach and Communications Officer for USAID/Haiti.

Want to empower women in agriculture? Use technology.

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?

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Photo Credit: Giselle Aris

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.

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Photo Credit: Giselle Aris

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 Credit: Giselle Aris

Photo Credit: Giselle Aris

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.

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Photo Credit: Giselle Aris

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.

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.

A U.S.-African Union

Every year, heads of state and cabinet officials from across Africa gather in Addis Ababa to meet with political, civil society, and business leaders at the annual African Union Summit.  Last week, I was honored to lead the USAID delegation to my first AU Summit. The AU’s role is critical to the future of Africa.

Mark Feierstein, Associate Administrator, USAID

Mark Feierstein, Associate Administrator, USAID

Established in 2001, the African Union’s vision is to support “an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa, driven by its own people and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.”  As President Obama’s Strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa indicates, the United States is committed to achieving that same goal, which is why our decade of partnership with the African Union has been indispensable to USAID’s work.

The African Union named 2014 the Year of Agriculture and Food Security—a pillar of USAID’s strategy on the continent because of its enormous potential to lift communities out of extreme poverty. Through our Feed the Future initiative, we provide support to the AU’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program, an African-owned and -led initiative to boost agricultural productivity.  CAADP turns 10 this year, and so far more than 20 countries have developed collaborative investment plans.  While these plans are country-specific, they have been created through the African Union’s regional leadership, and their shared principles allow for the peer review, cooperation, and shared experiences that improve the quality of the individual plans—and their results.

But agriculture is the focus of just one of USAID’s collaborations with the African Union.  Together, we’ve strengthened democracy and governance by training electoral observers.  We’ve joined with the African Union Commission to reduce maternal mortality and increase youth employment and volunteerism.  We are also partners in supporting the UN Climate for Development in Africa program, providing data, adaptation planning, analysis, policy planning, and strategy development for climate change in Africa.

A highlight of my visit was sitting down at the AU headquarters with 50 young women from 15 African countries who were participating in the 2014 Young Women Forum.  These young leaders led a high-level discussion that included topics like how to create more agribusiness, land ownership and financing opportunities for women in their countries.  They also advocated for increased access to sexual and reproductive health and opportunities for higher education.  Talking with these young women, I was inspired by their deep knowledge and dedication to improving their communities, their countries and their continent.  Hearing about the gains we’ve made in our partnership with the AU and listening to the ideas of these young African leaders, I left the Summit with great optimism for the future of Africa.

Adventures in Wildlife Screening: Monitoring Wildlife Farms to Prevent Disease

Ever tried porcupine? How about wild boar? While such unusual fare may not be to everyone’s taste, there is a huge demand for wildlife meat in Vietnam, and farming of wildlife for human consumption is becoming more common. This brings wildlife into close proximity with humans and domestic livestock, resulting in a greater risk of disease crossover. Approximately 75 percent of the diseases which affect humans were sourced from animals, and of these, 72 percent originate from wild species. Recognizing the potential threat of new pandemics, USAID partners with Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to build capacity for monitoring diseases in wildlife farms.

A Predict project trainer advises how to properly collect samples at a wildlife farm in Vietnam’s Dong Nai province. Photo credit: USAID Vietnam/Laurel Fain

A Predict project trainer advises how to properly collect samples at a wildlife farm in Vietnam’s Dong Nai province.
Photo credit: USAID Vietnam/Laurel Fain

I recently participated in a surveillance training conducted by USAID’s Predict project in Dong Nai province, one of Vietnam’s top wildlife farming provinces with more than one thousand wildlife farms housing hundreds of individual wildlife species. Myself, wildlife farmers and participants from the Department of Forestry Protection (Vietnam’s park rangers) and the Department of Animal Health (farm inspectors), whose job it is to inspect farms and restaurants to make sure they’re not illegally farming or killing endangered species, gathered to learn about the most common and dangerous diseases affecting wild animals when they are enclosed, how to protect ourselves and the public from contamination when monitoring farms, and proper biosafety precautions that should be in place on livestock farms. We also learned how to collect and prepare samples for analysis by the regional laboratory. I was struck by the enthusiasm and commitment of the training participants, who all demonstrated a strong understanding of the importance of this work in protecting against infectious diseases.

As part of the training, we went out into the field to practice our new skills. My team visited one farm that produced non-endangered species of wildlife to be served in the family’s restaurant next door, including wild boar, turtles, porcupines, civets, snakes, and rats. Farm owner Mai Thi Thanh was very interested in hearing advice from the team on improving her systems, and expressed pride and concern about keeping her stock healthy. The trainees excitedly collected samples from every animal present, with some expert supervision from our trainers. The second farm we visited belonged to one of our own group of trainees, who was eager to show us his farm and to hear our suggestions for improving hygiene on his farm. He raised mouse deer, porcupine, and wild boar that had been interbred with domestic breeds.

Finally, back to classroom to compare notes: between both groups, we collected 162 samples from bears, several types of primates, rats, two species of porcupines, boars, deer, and civets. We learned from the regional laboratory specialists how these samples will be analyzed for a wide variety of infectious diseases, and brainstormed on future training needs and next steps.

I feel quite fortunate to have been able to observe this process up close, and could honestly congratulate the group on their dedication to keeping the rest of us safe from emerging pandemic threats. The participants from the Animal Health and Forestry Protection departments can now add this health feature to their normal surveillance for illegal wildlife trade. We’ll all be very interested to hear the results of the tests done on these samples and on the more than 5,400 samples previously collected by the USAID-supported project in Vietnam this year.

Read more about USAID Vietnam’s work to prevent infectious diseases.

Webinar to Highlight How Extension, Technology, and Behavior Change Combine to Improve Agriculture and Nutrition

This blog post is by John Nicholson, SPRING Knowledge Management Manager, JSI Research and Training Institute, and Kristina Beall, SPRING SBCC Project Officer, The Manoff Group.  SPRING is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and helps to strengthen country efforts to scale up high-impact nutrition practices and policies.

Leveraging the power of social capital and technology, Digital Green has pioneered the use of low-cost, community videos as an agriculture extension tool that allows farmers to record and share successful techniques with other farmers in their community. The work began as a part of Microsoft Research India’s Technology for Emerging Markets team in 2006, eventually spinning off into the non-governmental organization (NGO), Digital Green. This young, dynamic NGO has already helped produce over 2,600 videos that have been shared with more than 150,000 rural households across India, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Ghana. Digital Green’s grassroots approach — producing context-specific videos by the community and for the community—improves the efficiency of existing agricultural development efforts by a factor of ten times, per dollar spent.

Example of Digital Green video production

Example of Digital Green video production

USAID’s global nutrition project, Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING), is partnering with Digital Green in Odisha, India, to test the feasibility of adapting this video-based methodology specifically to promote high-impact maternal, infant and young child nutrition, and hygiene practices. Under the SPRING/Digital Green model, a local NGO partner – VARRAT – has worked in Keonhjar District of Odisha to produce 10 videos that showcase key nutrition and hygiene behaviors, often celebrating early adopters of these important nutrition practices. Videos are shared among small community women’s groups on a weekly basis using portable, battery-operated pico projectors. A robust suite of analytic tools, coupled with feedback from community members, then provides Digital Green and its partners with timely data to better target both production and distribution of videos. The collection of 10 nutrition- and hygiene-specific videos produced under this collaboration can be viewed along with the corresponding adoption analytics on the Digital Green website.

On December 17th, SPRING will host a webinar examining the Digital Green work through a multispectral lens, focusing on their unique approach and the growing partnership to scale-up technology to improve both agricultural and nutrition outcomes. Visit the SPRING website for more information and to register for the webinar.

This webinar is part of SPRING’s continuing collaboration with the Bureau for Food Security and Bureau of Global Health to identify promising approaches to better link nutrition and agriculture.

Cash-for-Work Builds Livelihoods

It invades the farmlands in the Kelafe district of the Somali Region of Ethiopia, and it has been identified as the single most important factor contributing to livelihood vulnerability of local communities. What is it? This invader is the Prosopis juliflora weed. Prosopis juliflora forms impenetrable thickets of low branches and thorns that prevent cattle from accessing watering holes. The weed uses scarce water, causes soil erosion and loss of the grasslands that form important habitats for native plants and animals.

A view of Prosopis juliflora. Photo credit: Save the Children

A view of Prosopis juliflora. Photo credit: Save the Children

The weed had taken over the community’s farmland to the extent that it displaced many households who relied on the farmland for their living. Due to frequent occurrence of natural shocks such as drought and floods, coupled with huge weed encroachment, the community had lost the ability to clear up its farmland without external support. USAID, through Save the Children, is now implementing a project to build resilience in the drought-affected districts of Gode, Adadle and Kelafe in the Somali Region. The project addresses rehabilitation and protection of productive farmland and diversification of livelihoods. One of the key interventions in this project is cash-for-work.

Cash-for-work helps local communities meet their basic needs and also revitalize communal resources such as farmland, rangelands, and communal ponds. Following a participatory planning process, the community in Kelafe district identified clearing the invasive plants from the farmlands as its top priority. Through cash-for-work interventions, the community successfully cleared more than 420 hectares. As a result, about 1,000 households gained access to farmland occupied by the weed for more than a decade. Each household was given the opportunity to cultivate a quarter-hectare of the cleared land, including Abdi Farole.

Abdi, the father of seven children (three boys and four girls), lost his farmland to the weed like many other members of his community and supported his family mainly on relief food assistance. “I was surviving by burning charcoal, collecting firewood or working for others on farm weeding. Most of the time, I was away from my family because I was out doing labour,” he said.

After the land was cleared, he planted maize and sesame in his quarter-hectare using intercropping and, in 2013, had his first harvest from this field in more than a decade. He kept some of his harvest for his family’s consumption, loaned some to relatives, and sold the remainder. Since the harvest, Abdi’s family’s living condition has considerably improved. “My family’s life has significantly changed after my first harvest. I am now able to feed my children three times a day with diversity of diet that I was not able to do before. My children go to school dressed in uniforms and having their own books, pens and other learning materials, which they were lacking before,” said Abdi.

But Abdi’s story doesn’t end with the first harvest. He has already started irrigating his farm for the second season, planting sesame with the seed from his first production. While irrigating his plot, he enthusiastically expressed his interest in keeping his land cultivated as he knows that keeping the land cultivated prevents the invasive shrub from reappearing.

The cash-for-work scheme has also helped the local community to meet their basic needs and, at the same time, regain their key source of livelihood from the invasive plant. Moreover, the project is reducing the community’s vulnerability to future shocks. Abdi’s success demonstrates how community livelihood recovery can revitalize a traditional economic social support system, leading to improved community resilience.

Farmer Field Schools: A Safe Place to Discuss Gender-Based Violence

From November 25th (International End Violence Against Women Day) through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), USAID joins the international community for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. During this time IMPACT will highlight USAID’s work to combat gender-based violence.

Gender-based violence affects people everywhere, including the predominantly agrarian rural communities where USAID and its partners work to improve agricultural production.

Farmer Field Schools, where men and women smallholder farmers teach each other about appropriate farming techniques, are a common and long-standing approach to improving their production.

Tanzanian Greenhouse

Through the introduction of low-cost greenhouses and high-quality seeds, tomato farmers receiving support from USAID’s Tanzania Agriculture Productivity Program are seeing significant increases in yields. Pictured here, a man and woman work together outside one of these greenhouses. Photo Credit: Fintrac Inc.

In Bunda District in Western Tanzania, a USAID partner, Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR), is finding that Farmer Field Schools can be a forum for men and women to discuss sensitive issues such as gender-based violence.

One group relayed the following story:

Kizom Farm Field School (FFS) group member Saada cultivated cotton this year with her children. She sold the cotton for Tsh 400,000 (about $266) and planned to use the money to start a ‘mgahawa’ (tea shop) in the centre of the village as an additional source of income.

Before she could proceed with her plans, her husband Amos seized the money. Having discussed human rights in her FFS group and being fully aware of her basic human rights, Saada stood up to her husband and demanded that he return the money. He then beat her. She reported the incident to her FFS group. As a result, a delegation of the FFS group leadership visited the husband.

Amos claimed that women in this society have no right to own money so the delegation, including his wife, spoke to him at length about equal rights for all of society and the fact that Saada has every right to hold and control cash, and most certainly the cash she earned from the cotton. Furthermore they told him that Saada has the right at all times to be treated with respect and live free from violence.

Amos apologized to the FFS delegation and to Saada, and said that he would not beat or take money from her again. The money was already gone – spent on other women, Saada figures — but their relationship is now on a new footing. Saada has further stressed to her husband that she has the right to equal ownership of everything in the household. Amos will now be held to greater accountability for his actions. Not only is Saada fully aware of her rights, she has her whole FFS group of women and men ready to back her up – and has served as an inspiration to members of her community.

CPAR’s experience with Farmer Field Schools demonstrates the importance of providing an opportunity to discuss topics such as gender-based violence, even when it is not directly related to the group’s original purpose.  Having a place for women and men to talk and learn together, in this experience, created an environment of support for human rights and freedom from violence.

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