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Archives for Agriculture

U.S. Response to Drought in Horn of Africa

Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator, USAID

Here at the port of Djibouti, thousands of metric tons of food assistance are ready to be shipped as part of the U.S. response to the massive drought currently ravaging the Horn of Africa. USAID is mobilizing nutritious split peas, along with  vitamin-fortified corn-soya blend and other commodities, from warehouses around the world to assist the more than 10 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia most affected by the drought.

The USAID-funded Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) began warning of the possibility of this crisis as early as summer 2010. Today, it has developed into the region’s worst drought since the 1950s. Consecutive seasons of poor rainfall have resulted in failed crops, dying livestock, and sky-high market prices—the cost of staple cereals are 40 to 240 percent higher in some areas. Malnutrition has reached emergency levels: one out of every two Somali refugees arriving in Ethiopia and one out of every three arriving in Kenya is acutely malnourished.

This week, USAID activated a disaster assistance response team (DART) operating out of Ethiopia and Kenya to work with the World Food Program, UNICEF, and over a dozen other organizations to coordinate emergency efforts to relieve the crisis. So far this year, the United States has provided more than $366 million to respond to the drought in the Horn of Africa, and continues to explore additional ways to assist those in need.

Learn more about USAID’s response to the drought in the Horn of Africa.

USAID-World Bank Study Explores Viability of Integrated Farming in South Darfur

USAID, the World Bank, and the South Darfur Ministry of Agriculture and Forests held a workshop in Khartoum June 26 to discuss the new report, Rehabilitation of Gum Arabic Ecosystems in South Darfur, which examines the role of farming systems that integrate gum arabic, livestock, and food grains as a viable option in South Darfur to reduce poverty, conflict over natural resources, and degradation of the environment.

Warehouse in Khartoum where women sort, clean gum arabic for export. Photo Credit: USAID/Sudan

Financed by USAID and the World Bank’s Post-Conflict Fund, the report originated from a request in 2009 by the Governor of South Darfur that the World Bank propose a plan to rehabilitate gum arabic production in South Darfur, which is the center of the Darfur region’s gum arabic industry.

Gum arabic, the dried sap of the Acacia senegal tree, is used in pharmaceutical, industrial, and food products, including soft drinks and confections. It keeps sugar uniformly suspended in carbonated drinks, binds newspaper ink to paper, and is used as a coating on medications.

Sudan is the world’s largest producer of gum arabic, providing as much as half of the world supply. The United States imports approximately 25 percent of Sudan’s gum arabic, which is exempt from trade sanctions.

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The Keys to Sustainability: Capacity Building and Country Ownership

Dr. Montague Demment is Associate Vice President for International Development at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and professor of ecology at the University of California, Davis. This item was originally posted on Agrilinks.

The big question for us all: How do we make agricultural development work and work sustainably? Perhaps the most important game-changer in my opinion is capacity building –both human and institutional – in agriculture and related sciences. Many in the development community agree that this investment was perhaps USAID’s most important and sustained contribution in its 50 years of existence, but now it has faded.

While outsiders struggle to understand how to work at the local level, deal with unfamiliar cultural and economic issues, and make appropriate connections, trained nationals can much more easily stimulate economic and social development. Their impact can be decades-long contributions and when combined with institutional capacity, can sustain development indefinitely.

While it’s true that there is brain drain, that is not the whole story. Two points: first, while some go, others stay. Some loss is no reason to abandon capacity building. We know how to minimize brain drain in the design of our training. Second, many trained individuals who leave initially return and apply their skills through joint business and research projects, investments in startups, and volunteering their expertise.

If we hold up country-driven development as a key element in our approach to FTF, then we need to support the capacity of countries to make their own wise decisions.

So if we want to set the stage for addressing poverty and malnutrition over the next 40 years, creating greater equality globally and having enough economic growth to stabilize human populations by 2050, then we need to find a way now to educate a whole new cohort of people from developing countries who will carry much of the intellectual and political responsibility for achieving those goals.

Senior Leadership Highlight the Importance of Research to the Success of Feed the Future

by Meaghan Murphy, Agriculture and Food Security Portfolio Manager at The QED Group.  This item was originally posted at Agrilinks.

Peter McPherson, President of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, opened the Feed the Future Research Forum welcoming the over 300 participants in the room. He highlighted the 10 themes raised through the e-consultation process that will be taken on through the forum, encouraging participants to think with specificity in the work sessions and throughout the three days, about the framework and partnerships needed to address them.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah reinforced this forum as an opportunity for the US government and USAID to continue deep listening, engagement with and learning from the convened community of experts. He challenged participants of the Forum to bring a lens of strategic focus and also discipline to identify the few “big ideas” and breakthroughs needed to guide the FTF research agenda.  He highlighted a new Leadership Initiative, announced earlier in the day which will support higher education initiatives and institutions, leadership development and capacity building. Administrator Shah proposed several hypotheses to be considered over the coming days, including a focus on dramatic change in four systems globally: 1) Rice and wheat system in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, 2) the Maize mixed systems of Central and Southern Africa, 3) Sudan and the Sahel, and 4) the Ethiopian Highlands. Also encouraged was a hard look at what type of research is invested in and an alignment of funding allocated to these priorities. Other hypotheses emphasized crop research (with focus on climate resistance), animal research, and research on human nutrition, as well as the importance of both public and private sector engagement in moving these forward. Finally, Shah highlighted the combined excellence of USAID and USDA  and the importance of strong partnerships moving forward for the common goal and purpose of Feed the Future.

Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director at the National Security Council, highlighted why this initiative is such a priority to President Obama and this administration and where it came from. She reinforced the theme of engagement and the critical role expertise from the broad community represented in the room will continue to play at all stages. Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of USDA closed the session highlighting both the great opportunity and enthusiasm of having such focus and attention on this issue from the very top as well as the very real challenges and the very difficult resource decisions facing us all.  Both underlined the emphasis on focus, partnership, and demonstrable wins to keep the support and continued momentum in place.

Innovating Our Way to a Second Green Revolution

Robert D. Hormats serves as Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs. Originally posted on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State official blog.

Nearly one billion people — one seventh of the world’s population — suffer from chronic hunger. Because of extreme hunger and poverty, children, adults, and indeed entire societies are prevented from achieving their full potential. But, through the work of many, progress is being made.

Today, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Ambassador Kenneth Quinn of the World Food Prize Foundation, and I honored the former President of Ghana, H.E. John Agyekum Kufuor, and the former President of Brazil, H.E. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, as recipients of the 2011 World Food Prize. Their commitment and visionary leadership have propelled Ghana and Brazil toward meeting Goal 1 of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals — to reduce the prevalence of poverty and hunger by half by the year 2015.

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the World Food Prize. It recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. In preparations for the awards ceremony, I was reminded of the visionary work of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the founder of the World Food Prize, and the crucial impact of innovation in addressing global hunger. Dr. Borlaug’s life story and dramatic successes merit our ongoing respect and appreciation, and should inspire use to better address the food security challenges that we face today.

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Investing in Women to Defeat Hunger in Malawi

Submitted by guest blogger Anita McCabe, Country Director, Concern Worldwide, Malawi

As the hot, dry breeze wafts through the lakeside district of Nkhotakota, Malawi, a group of women sing as they take turns to water their near-ripe crop of maize. Further downstream, another group is busy making seed beds in preparation for another crop.

Like many women in developing countries, these women face a particular set of responsibilities and vulnerabilities when it comes to providing food for their families. Not only are they the primary caregivers, they are also the producers of food and the income earners. Women farmers in rural areas of Malawi grow, buy, sell, and cook food in order to feed their children. In fact, in all the countries in which I’ve worked during my time with Concern Worldwide, I’ve seen how very hard women must work to ensure the survival of their families, and the burdens they bear.

Women produce between 60 and 80 percent of food in developing countries, and they hold the key to tackling hunger and malnutrition. A woman’s nutritional status is critical not only to her own health but also to her ability to work, and her ability to ensure that her children are properly nourished and healthy.

Nkhotakota has suffered from recurring drought and flooding, and the people here know the consequences. “As a woman, it hurts to see my children cry with hunger” says Grace Kalowa from Thondo village. “It’s more painful as a mother to tell them that I don’t have any food to give them. In their eyes I am supposed to provide for them but knowing that I can’t do anything is heartbreaking. That feeling of desperation is what brought us together as women to drive hunger away from our families.”

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USAID Joins Netherlands, Agriculture Organizations to Boost Southern Sudan Agriculture

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah today in Juba, Sudan, signed a communiqué on behalf of the U.S. Government to help boost private sector engagement in agriculture in southern Sudan, where the vast majority of people rely on agriculture for their livelihood.  In spite of enormous potential of the agriculture sector, most southern Sudanese farmers grow only enough to feed their families, but not to earn an income.

Listen to part of his speech at the event:

USAID, the Netherlands, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and the International Fertilizer Development Center signed the communiqué, agreeing that they will help develop southern Sudan’s commercial agriculture sector by increasing agricultural productivity, supporting agribusinesses, and improving agricultural research and technology through:

  • Expanded use of quality seed and integrated soil fertility management
  • Development and expansion of an agro-dealer network
  • Revitalization of local agricultural training and research centers
  • Development of policies and regulations that support business development, sound regulatory practices, and innovation
  • Development of institutions that promote and support market infrastructure and information systems
  • Increasing farmers’ and entrepreneurs’ access to finance.

“Any effort to transform agriculture has to be comprehensive,” Shah said.  “The days of doing a small demonstration project in one part of a county and calling that agricultural development must be over.” Noting that he met with smallholder farmers from surrounding villages before the event, he added, “It is the smallholder farmers, most of whom are women, who will determine whether or not this effort succeeds.”

The event was held at Rajaf Farm, a commercial farm near Juba, which is financed by three British and seven Sudanese partners on land that was previously not being farmed or otherwise utilized.  They agreed with the population of adjoining Rajaf Village to help establish a community farm that the villagers will plant and manage, with assistance from the commercial farmers.  The collaboration has brought employment and agricultural training to the village residents, who previously did not earn a daily wage.  Now they earn 3 Sudanese pounds (approximately $1) per hour ($8 per day) to work at Rajaf Farm and are learning technical skills.

From the Field

In Haiti, on May 1st, we inaugurated a rural agricultural research center to celebrate Haiti’s National Agriculture and Labor Day.  Click here for more information on the initiative.

In Afghanistan, CNN will report on eco-projects.  One project that may be highlighted is USAID’s Afghanistan Vouchers for Increased Productive Agriculture (AVIPA) project.  Through this project, we will train farmers on how to mechanize their rural farms in order to increase yields and productivity.

In Jamaica, we will hold a workshop in partnership with Global Deaf Connection to provide business and work readiness training for the hearing impaired.

“What Do Rising Food Prices Mean?”

About the Author: Robert D. Hormats serves as Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs. Originally posted on Dipnote, the U.S. Department of State official blog

The United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization released figures this month showing that global food prices have risen 41 percent since June, primarily due to a combination of bad weather and an increase in global demand. The report has raised concerns about the possibility of a global food crisis, as occurred in 2007-2008. In response to that crisis, the international community, led by the G-8, committed to increase focus on food security and reverse the decade-long decline in assistance for agricultural development. That was the right solution then, and it remains the right solution now. The United States is a proud partner in this effort and is committed to supporting developing countries’ efforts through our $3.5 billion Feed the Future initiative.

Global food security is a top priority for the United States. We are deeply concerned about the pressure that rising prices put on the ability of the poor to purchase food. We are closely watching food prices and their impact on the poor, we are coordinating closely with other governments and international organizations, and we are taking steps to achieve long-term sustainable solutions to food insecurity.

First, it is important to recognize that there are important differences between the current situation and 2007-2008. World food prices have been increasing over the past six months, due to weather-related production losses and strong global demand. The growing demand is fueled by rapid expansion of middle-class households in emerging markets. Despite localized weather-related impacts, the supply side story is not dire: global wheat production is the third largest on record and carry-in stocks are 50 percent higher than in 2007-08. Good harvests of staples in Africa and Latin America have kept local prices of these products low. Record world rice production and the largest carry-in stocks in eight years have resulted in only moderate changes in rice prices. And finally, delivering these record harvests is affordable: ocean freight rates are less than half of the levels seen three years ago.

We learned a lot from the food crisis of three years ago, including the policies it takes to ensure food supplies without making the situation worse. We are working bilaterally and through multilateral institutions, such as the UN food agencies, the G-20, and APEC, to encourage all nations to pursue policies that facilitate agricultural growth and reliable trade flows. It is vital that we all maintain transparent, functioning markets and avoid export barriers, panic purchases, and inordinate increases in stocks, moves which will drive prices higher rather than temper them. Governments understandably want to ensure affordable food supplies for their people. They can best do this by putting in place targeted safety nets for the most vulnerable, and consider reducing import tariffs and taxes.

The long-run answer to meeting increasing global demand for food is agricultural growth, increased productivity, and improved markets, and this requires conditions that encourage investment in agriculture, particularly in the developing world. Many technologies, such as biotechnology, conservation tillage, fortification, drip irrigation, integrated pest management, and new multiple cropping practices, are raising the efficiency and productivity of agricultural resources, as well as the quality of agricultural outputs. By investing in agriculture using these technologies wisely, nations can reduce poverty and increase consumers’ access to nutritious and diverse foods. This is precisely the goal of Feed the Future — to support countries’ aspirations for inclusive economic growth, resilience to crisis, and ultimately food security.

Picture of the Week

Small grants from USAID helped equip about 7,200 people from villages in conflict-affected Northern Pakistan with the tools they needed to re-start their livelihoods, like livestock, seeds, and fertilizers for farmers, and tool kits for plumbers and carpenters, and sewing machines for tailors and seamstresses. Photo Credit: Usman Ghani/USAID

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