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Archives for Agriculture

Greater Private Sector Diversity Sought on USDA’s Agricultural Trade Advisory Committees

As featured in the USDA Blog

The face of America – and of American agriculture – is changing. The number of farms in the United States has grown 4 percent and the operators of those farms have become more diverse in the past five years, according to results of USDA’s most recent Census of Agriculture.  The 2007 Census counted nearly 30 percent more women as principal farm operators. The count of Hispanic operators grew by 10 percent, and the counts of American Indian, Asian and Black farm operators increased as well.  In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of minority-owned businesses grew more than 45 percent between 2002 and 2007.

To reflect the diversity of our agricultural sector and business community, USDA is stepping up its efforts to continually supplement its seven Agricultural Trade Advisory Committees (ATACs) with new members, especially those who represent minorities, women, or persons with disabilities. We believe that people with different backgrounds and views will make the work of these committees, and thus of USDA, more effective.

Applicants should represent a U.S. entity with an interest in agricultural trade and have expertise and knowledge of agricultural trade as it relates to policy and commodity-specific issues. For example, Robert Anderson of Sustainable Strategies LLC has served at different points in time on both the Fruits and Vegetables ATAC and the Processed Foods ATAC. Of his experience, Anderson said, “I had the opportunity to meet directly with the highest levels of international trade leadership in the United States and globally. Most importantly, the U.S. government actually seeks our input, listens, and responds to the needs and expectations of the U.S. agricultural industry.”

At a time when our economy is trying to rebound from a serious recession, having a voice on one of these committees can make a significant impact on the government decisions that affect our economic future. That’s because agricultural trade plays an extremely important role in the health of our nation’s economy. U.S. agricultural exports have consistently contributed to the positive U.S. trade balance, creating jobs and boosting economic growth. In fiscal 2011, U.S. agricultural exports were forecast to reach a record $137 billion, which supported more than one million jobs in America this year.

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Public Private Partnership Week: Passion Fruit, Opening the Path for a Brighter Future

Rural farmers in Paraguay are having great success selling their passion fruit through farming associations to a leading corporate juice brand. This is thanks to USAID’s support through Paraguay Productivo, a program that connects small farmers with private sector buyers.

Lucia Santos and her grandson who have benefited from the cooperative with Frutika. Photo Credit: Laura Rodriguez/USAID

Last week, I had the chance to visit some farmers in Paraguay’s Itapúa province and learn about their experiences with Paraguay Productivo and especially the leading local buyer, Frutika. I was thrilled to see the benefits of the program for myself and hear the testimony of small-scale farmer, Lucia Santos, whose life has been transformed through her production work. In the following video she says that she now has enough money to buy necessary items for her family.

USAID/Paraguay Productivo has GDA (Global Development Alliances) agreements with 20 organizations, mainly small farmer cooperatives & private firms and has generated $9.8 million U.S. dollars  in local sales and exports. Paraguay Productivo is working with Cooperatives and associations that have over 100,000 members some of them in production and many others in savings and credits cooperatives.

The program also provides technical support to farmers, including advising them on how to best produce crops. And it has helped them find buyers like Frutika, one of Paraguay’s most successful food processing and distribution companies, which buys passion fruit and other products from small farmers.

This is a win-win arrangement. The company can count on a reliable source of passion fruit and rural producers now have a reliable buyer. Since the initial agreement in 2009, approximately 300 small farmers have joined the program and started producing passion fruit and another 250 farmers are preparing to cultivate more passion fruit.

Some municipalities are joining the effort because they are investing in nursery production for passion fruit. In rural Paraguay where the poverty rate is as high as 48 %, this assistance is really helping to transform people’s lives.

Beneficiary Norma Riveros, credits her passion fruit sales to her participation in Paraguay Productivo, which ensures her and her family a regular income. They can now afford to buy a machine that helps them clear the field and improve crop yield. I also had a chance to speak to 19 year old passion fruit farmer and business student, Rolando Fretes, one of the cooperatives’ young leaders. In this video he talks about his work and explains why Paraguay Productivo is important to his community:

At the end of the day, I visited the production plant at Frutika and saw first-hand the results of the farmers’ hard labor. Frutika is one of the best-selling companies in Paraguay, and the leading provider of juices such as orange juice, passion fruit, and peach. Here, Engineer Celso Cubilla discusses the importance the company’s partnership with Paraguay Productivo to its business goals.

In short, there is no denying that this public private partnership is beneficial to Paraguay’s economy and all the parties involved: USAID, the rural farmers and Frutika.

50 Years of Partnership with Kenya – Part 1 of 4

Agriculture is the largest single employer in Kenya and counts for one fourth of the country’s GDP, but the current agricultural production methods in Kenya are inefficient, causing economic stagnation and poverty.  USAID and partners on the ground in Kenya have developed competitive programs for maize, dairy, passion fruit, and small hold farmers to help improve productivity.  These initiatives – like USAID’s Feed the Future – have transformed lives, promoted sustainable agricultural development, and improved the nutritional options for many of Kenya’s people.

In the coming weeks, we will highlight 4 videos celebrating USAID’s partnership with Kenya. The first video in this series shows the variety of agriculture programs and activities that have occurred over the past 50 years and the impact that they have had on the people of Kenya.

Women and Agriculture: Behind the Scenes

After an event on Monday with Secretary Clinton to promote food security, influential leaders discuss the important role women play in strengthening global agriculture.

Featured in this short video:

Kathy Spahn, President of Helen Keller International; Dr. Jose Granziano da Silva, Director General Elect of UN FAO; and Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever.

This Week at USAID – September 12, 2011

Administrator Raj Shah participates in a panel discussion about “Leveraging Malaria Platforms to Improve Family Health” during the The Summit to Save Lives, which is presented by the George W. Bush Institute.

Later in the week, Administrator Shah heads to Haiti to meet with USAID Mission staff and to visit an agricultural training center.

The World at 7 Billion People: Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg speaks at the National Geographic Society Headquarters to raise awareness around global population issues related to women and girls.

Assistant to the Administrator Susan Reichle talks about USAID’s progress towards implementing President Obama’s Policy Directive on Global Development at a town hall hosted by the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.

From Emergency Aid to Economic Empowerment

Last week, I traveled with four of my USAID colleagues to a drought-stricken area of Ethiopia as part of a larger visit to the Horn of Africa region. The worst drought the region has seen in 60 years has put more than 12.4 million people in Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Ethiopia in need of urgent assistance.

One purpose of our visit was to observe the drought emergency, but we were also there to determine how to better merge USAID’s drought recovery programs with long-term development programs like Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s multi-agency global food security initiative. It all seems simple enough, but the more we saw, the more we realized the complexities of our work.  As difficult as it is to feed people in the midst of a crisis, it is much harder to prepare them before a crisis so food aid will not be required in the first place.

The Bokko Health Center in Ethiopia’s East Hararghe Zone is a lone outpost in the battle against this drought. There we found 10 skeletal children clinging to their mothers, trying to take in as much therapeutic food as they could. I have seen many severely malnourished children over a career spanning 30 years, but it never gets any easier to see a child who is two years old but weighs only 10 pounds. You just can’t help but compare your own children’s robustness with the hard circumstance of these kids. Our job is to make sure these kids get the right foods to keep them alive and give them the chance to grow.

After three more stops to view a health center and two USAID-supported projects in topsoil restoration and pastoralist market support, we began to work our way back to Addis Ababa. We stopped at the small farm of Wozro (Mrs.) Terunesh.  A thin woman and a widow, with the distinctive neck tattoos of Oromia, Mrs. Terunesh is the quintessential entrepreneur. With help from a USAID-supported Land O’Lakes dairy livestock program, she now has two cows that give milk and help support her. But she hasn’t stopped there; she has moved on to raising chickens. She also formed a women’s group that uses drip irrigation to grow tomatoes and onions that bring in more income. Most importantly, she is the master farmer who teaches some 50 other local women how to be better farmers. She had the drive to improve her circumstances, and fortunately USAID could give her the training that she needed to go even further than she could have on her own. With women making up 70% of the agricultural workforce in many African countries, projects like the one helping Mrs. Terunesh are essential to lessening gaps in gender equality, women’s empowerment, and the welfare of women and girls.

Our trip took us from drought to terrace to land tenure to livestock to diversified smallholder. Seeing it all firsthand, we felt that we better understood how USAID is helping a very diverse set of actors improve their livelihoods. Ethiopia still faces the deepening pain of this drought, which continues to cause many children to struggle for their lives. But we are working to reach more and more of these children through our comprehensive programs, from therapeutic feeding to dairy, to make a lasting difference. Ultimately, we aim to help them develop the resources and capacity so that in the future, they are more resilient to the more frequent droughts plaguing the Horn of Africa.

New Invasive Species Database: Supports Food Security and Public Health

By James Hester, Director of USAID’s Office of Natural Resources Management

African farmers lose more than $7 billion in maize crops from the invasive witchweed, according to estimates by the United Nations. Overall, agricultural losses to invasive species may amount to more than $12 billion for Africa’s eight principal crops. African farmers are not alone in this challenge – worldwide, invasive species are among the larger causes of reduced food production and post-harvest losses.

In addition, invasive species can be major vectors for human and animal diseases that were previously not found in a region.  Malaria, West Nile virus, Rift Valley fever, and Lyme disease are just a few of the many diseases that are spreading as the insects that carry them find their way into new regions and countries.

Africanized bees, fire ants, snakehead fish, kudzu, carp, water hyacinth, and thousands of other species are spreading to countries where they are not native, and in which few or no natural predators exist – creating serious economic and social issues.

To get a handle on this problem, USAID, along with a large group of partners, have collaborated to develop an innovative, international invasive species compendium – a scientific database of invasive species, animal diseases, and affected areas around the world.  This new internet-based system is available for public use at no cost.  It presently contains a bibliographic database of about 1,500 invasive species, along with more than 65,000 records and full text documents, both of which are updated weekly.

This is a living compendium, and it will continue to grow over time. It is structured to help scientists with expertise in invasive species communicate with each other, and to support each other – from across the globe if necessary – as they work to address the problems created by invasive species.  It also includes common names in addition to the Latin taxonomic names, as well as other non-technical materials so the general public can take advantage of the depth of knowledge this new website offers.

The website features a library with sections on the characteristics of invasive species, the way they are dispersed, and the impacts they have on economies, habitats, and societies. It also addresses how to detect, manage, and control invasive species. This video introduces the database and explains how to use it.

USAID, along with USDA and other international donors including the U.K. Department for International Development, the Canadian International Development Agency, and Australian Aid, among others, all helped fund this project. USAID’s partner in developing the technical database was CABI – a private, international organization with 46 member countries dedicated to the generation, accessibility, and use of knowledge for sustainable agriculture, environmental management, and human development.

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.

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