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Archives for Agriculture

Supporting Sustainable Livelihoods and Nutritious Meals

Food and nutrition are important elements across all cultures. In America there is a renewed sense of instilling good nutritional habits in children through the First Lady’s campaign against childhood obesity and the newly signed Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. At USAID, we are concerned with not only feeding those in need around the world, but making sure they have access to healthy and nutritious meals on a regular basis, as well as a sustainable livelihood.

But for many people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) like Thabit Obed, a farmer from Uganda, managing one’s health is no easy task. The infection causes or aggravates malnutrition through reduced food intake, increased energy needs, and poor nutrient absorption. Malnutrition weakens the immune system, which can hasten the progression of HIV, increase susceptibility to opportunistic infections, and reduce the effectiveness of treatment. Since food and nutrition support is such a critical component of successful HIV/AIDS care and treatment, USAID has an invested program to help those in need.

Mr. Thabit Obed, has mobilized fellow PLWHA to produce groundnuts for therapeutic food to treat malnourished PLWHA. Photo Credit: Mary Nabisere/NuLife

Thabit is a recipient of support from the USAID-funded program, NuLife—Food and Nutrition Interventions for Uganda, a program managed by University Research Co., LLC (URC) that works to improve the health and nutritional status of people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS through integration of nutritional assessment, counseling, and support (NACS) into HIV/AIDS services.

In addition to producing and prescribing food, such as RUTAFA a ready-to-use therapeutic food, the program also works to provide opportunities for farmers in Uganda to expand their businesses.

Through a partnership with RECO Industries, Ltd, a local manufacturer which produces RUTAFA, Thabit was able to expand his small coffee bean farm and begin growing groundnuts.

Thabit, an active community volunteer, became one of more than 4,000 farmers to grow groundnuts as input for RUTAFA. He was trained to support other PLWHA and raise awareness about HIV testing, counseling and treatment.

Through this program and similar partnerships, USAID NuLife has been able to help ensure HIV positive individuals who have recovered from malnutrition through treatment with ready-to-use therapeutic food are being offered an opportunity to earn a living, support their families’ and maintain a healthy nutritional status.

USAID/Uganda designed a program that not only reaches HIV positive clients with critical services and supports local industry and individual farmers, but connects those clients to sustainable livelihood opportunities producing inputs for the very product, RUTAFA, which can support their health and that of their fellow PLWHA.

Picture of the Week: Agricultural Boost in Vietnam

vietnamAgricultural research helps farmers in Vietnam grow more rice and counteract the impacts of climate change on food security. Photo is from Philippe Berry/USAID.

Improving Rural Livelihoods by Empowering African Women Researchers in Agricultural Science

With sharp minds, inquisitive souls, and iron wills, they are an 11-strong group of top-level women scientists in agricultural research with their eyes set on influencing national and regional policy to improve livelihoods in Mozambique and across Africa. Through their work, they are helping to change the face of a continent where women are seldom heard, but are always called on to give and to nurture. They are Mozambique’s scientists in the AWARD program for African Women in Agricultural Research and Development, funded by USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr. Anabela Manhica proudly exhibits a laptop received from the AWARD program. Photo Credit: USAID/Mozambique

Esperanca Chamba, who specializes in natural resources management, is one of 11 women scientists in Mozambique who were selected from among hundreds of applicants from 10 sub-Saharan countries as fellows of the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) project. AWARD was established in 2008 by the Gender & Diversity Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, following a three-year pilot program in East Africa. It is a professional development program that strengthens the research and leadership skills of African women in agricultural science, empowering them to contribute more effectively to poverty alleviation and food security in sub-Saharan Africa. The US$15 million, five-year project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID, with plans to extend to a second phase starting in 2013.

Chamba’s example of a foiled attempt in experimental nutrition finely captures the context of women and agricultural research and development in Africa. “Most of the work in the fields is in women’s hands,” says rural extension officer Claudia Nhatembe, during a break from the sweet potato fields on the rich soils of IIAM’s Umbeluzi Agricultural Station, some 30 km outside the capital, Maputo. “It’s hard work–plowing, sowing and harvesting. For men, it’s mostly handling the plantation’s irrigation systems.”

In Africa, women like Nhatembe carry most of the burden of running the household, raising children, tending to their husbands, fetching water, collecting firewood, cooking and cleaning, and plowing and sowing. They are the pillars of society, yet are commonly ignored. “We give rural women a voice, because through our work, they will also have a voice,” says Carla Menezes, a researcher and Head of Nutrition at IIAM, who is studying alternative feeding options for small ruminants to lower production costs of animal breeding in rural households.

“Scientists are on the cutting edge of solving Africa’s food crisis. But we need to urgently address the gender gap in our scientific community,” says Akinwumi Adesina, Vice President of Policy and Partnerships of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. “We need more women pursuing careers in agricultural science because women are the face of African farming.”

Research shows that the number of women enrolling in agricultural sciences is steadily increasing, but women researchers tend to drop out as they move up the career ladder. Termed the “leaky pipeline”, this phenomenon is generally attributed to traditional, male-dominated organizational dynamics, in additional to cultural barriers to women’s education and advancement. AWARD seeks to reverse that trend.

“We need good collaboration to make sure that women are equal partners with men farmers all the way through the process,” U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said recently in Nairobi. “The AWARD program is a great example. It supports women scientists working to improve farming here in Africa and to fight hunger and poverty. And we need women represented in our laboratories, as well as in our fields.”

Recent studies indicate that the majority of those who produce, process, and market Africa’s food are women, but only one in four agricultural researchers is female. A study by AWARD and the Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators on “Women’s Participation in Agricultural Research and Higher Education”, which looked at key trends in sub-Saharan Africa, found that the overall proportion of female professional agricultural and higher education staff increased from 18 percent in 2000/01 to 24 percent in 2007/08. On a national basis, female staffing levels were particularly low in Ethiopia, Togo, Niger and Burkina Faso, whereas in Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa levels were high. However, the benchmarking survey—which was conducted in 125 agricultural research and higher education agencies in 15 sub-Saharan countries—showed that only 14 percent of the management positions were held by women.

“Only with the full involvement and leadership of women in agriculture will Africa succeed in its quest for food security and prosperity,” says Vicki Wilde, Director of AWARD and the CGIAR Gender & Diversity Program. “There is no time to lose.”

Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony in southeastern Africa, is a member of the Commonwealth and the only non-English speaking country represented in AWARD. With a population of 20 million, it was ranked 22nd out of 134 countries in the Gender Gap Index for 2010. Although the country scores poorly in terms of educational attainment (123rd), it boasts a good female-to-male ratio in terms of economic participation and opportunity. Analysts say there is an increasing trend in women’s contribution to economic growth, although there is a lowering contribution in sectors like agriculture, where there are more women but incomes are lowest.

“We know the people who matter most aren’t the financiers or the agriculture ministers or the assistance workers and partners. They are the women farmers who are the untapped solution to this problem,” says USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. “We’re working to ensure that women get equal access to services and support, such as financial services that preferentially target women and extension services delivered by female workers. To make this happen, we are investing in women producer networks and expanding fellowship programs, such as the AWARD program.”

The 11 Mozambican fellows cover a broad range of agricultural sciences, from forestry management to agro-economics and veterinary medicine, including animal production, reproduction, and nutrition. “I am inquisitive by nature. I feel enraptured by the process of looking at a problem, imagining solutions, and seeking the adequate answer,” says Paula Pimentel, a senior researcher at IIAM, who is currently studying gender relations in goat-breeding families in the remote district of Chicualacuala, about 500 km from Maputo.

What drives all these women is a focus on pro-poor, community-oriented research objectives, and an awareness of the need to combine traditional knowledge with modern methods as a fundamental contribution to scientific advancements. “Learning from local techniques should always be the starting point,” says Anabela Manhiça, Senior Researcher and Head of the Technology Transfer Department at IIAM. “Rural producers have abundant knowledge. It’s always best to learn what they are doing, how they are doing it, and then add the new technology. It doesn’t work when you try to introduce something completely new.”

“These outstanding Mozambicans debunk the myth in some science circles that qualified African women researchers ‘aren’t out there’—that they don’t exist in significant numbers,” says Wilde. “Qualified women scientists are out there. These women prove it.”

Receiving the 2010 Presidential Volunteer Service Award

On December 7, 2010, USAID hosted a luncheon to honor 18 Presidential Volunteer Service Award recipients for their volunteer work under the John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer program. The program supports Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, by working to improve agricultural productivity, promote market development, facilitate trade expansion, invest in global innovation and research, promote equitable rural economic growth, and address child malnutrition. Over 13,000 volunteers, 9,848 host organizations, and 103 countries have participated in the Farmer-to-Farmer program since 1986.  Below read  the first hand account of  one of the volunteers honored.

This originally appeared on DGES International.

Mark and I are back from Washington, DC where we enjoyed a few days repose and met a host of interesting people. We were invited to DC by the Partners of the Americas Farmer to Farmer program with whom we have been working for 4 years now. The Volunteer Appreciation Event, on Dec 7th was sponsored by USAID to honor Farmer to Farmer volunteers.

The event was part of USAID’s commitment to global food security. USAID is undergoing a restructuring and is launching the Feed the Future Program focusing on agricultural development and economic growth.

It was a real pleasure for me to meet Peggy Carlson and Meghan Olivier, the two Partners staff people responsible for sponsoring and organizing my trips to Haiti. After working together for 4 years in this modern age of emails and cell phones it was nice to sit down face to face and talk. More important to me was to hug them and thank them for having my back this last year with the earthquake and last month’s riots. Even with my propensity to find myself in the center of the mess, they continue to encourage me to work with them and to return to Haiti. Blessed with such a great team of people, in DC and in Haiti, I am sure we will continue to cultivate change for many more years.

I also had the opportunity to meet and speak with other members of the Partners of the Americas group. We came up with lots of ideas for collaboration and exploration. I especially want to thank Steve Vetters, the Director of Partners, for his support and encouragement. It was very motivating.

The awards were given by Gregory Gottlieb, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Food Security at USAID and Dawn Thomas, Senior Agricultural Program Advisor for USAID. The awards come in gold, silver and bronze levels depending on the number of hours volunteered. I received a GOLD!. To some this probably suggests I’m obsessed and over doing my commitment, but in reality it is a small drop compared to the need. I just hope that each drop can send ripples of positive evolutionary growth. It would be nice if I could see this in my lifetime, but that may be asking too much.

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Refrigerated Containers Open the World’s Markets to Fresh Fruit From Afghanistan

This originally appeared on Dipnote.

On December 3, 2010, Afghan farmers and merchants took an important step forward in world trade by exporting Afghanistan’s first-ever, 40-foot refrigerated container (“reefer”) of pomegranates, destined for buyers in Canada. Subsequent reefer shipments will go to Dubai and Holland through the seaport in Karachi, Pakistan.

President H.E. Hamid Karzai inspects Afghan pomegranates ready for export as Roots of Peace President and founder Heidi Kuhn looks on. Photo credit: USAID/Afghanistan, CHAMP

Canadians will soon enjoy the juiciest and tastiest pomegranates from Afghanistan. In the past, exporting chilled fresh fruit to distant markets was impossible, because Afghanistan did not have the required cold-chain infrastructure, trade agreements, or skilled merchants. Now, however, the U.S. Government is assisting with the infrastructure and trade policy essentials for Afghan exports of chilled fresh fruit. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is bringing these components together by training farmers to produce higher quality products, and linking them with merchants who have been trained in packaging techniques, and connecting them to new international markets.

USAID, through its Commercial Horticulture and Agriculture Marketing Program (CHAMP), has facilitated the shipment of fresh fruit through Karachi to international markets. In August, CHAMP assisted Afghan merchants with the first-ever reefer shipment of chilled grapes to India by road. Shipments through Pakistan are now an option due to recent changes in Afghanistan-Pakistan trade policy. The chilled fruit was packed in refrigerated houses built with funding from local merchants, and the governments of the United States and India.

The incentives to adopt new practices lie in increased profits. Pomegranate growers receive price increases of 136 percent for their higher-quality fruits. Merchants have seen enough increase in profits that they are continuing to use the new marketing techniques without CHAMP assistance. After testing the market with CHAMP assistance in 2009, merchants shipped 28 reefers of grapes to Karachi. Following the trial to India this year, merchants are planning to continue chilled grape shipments next year.

Afghan farmers, merchants, and government officials are optimistic that this year’s marketing trials will yield results that will sustain the expansion of pomegranate, grape, and other fresh fruit exports. USAID and collaborating merchants are planning to test fresh fruit markets in Australia, Ukraine, Germany, and Russia next year.

U.S.-India Collaboration: Unlocking Opportunities in Agribusiness and Improving Lives

After nearly 60 years of U.S. assistance to India, the two nations are taking development cooperation to new levels. This was one of the core messages President Barack Obama took to his first official state visit to India earlier this month, where he was accompanied by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah.

On November 7, a demonstration of this strategic partnership convened in a momentous occasion for USAID — an Agriculture and Food Security Exposition in Mumbai. Administrator Shah had the honor of escorting President Obama, along with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, through an array of innovative agricultural exhibits on display at St. Xavier’s College.  The event, co-hosted by USAID, USDA, and the Confederation of Indian Industry, provided an exciting opportunity for the notable trio to visit with Indian farmers who shared how new, pioneering tools and technologies are increasing their productivity.

One farmer demonstrated how he receives crop information on his cell phone, while another showed how he obtains information on market rates at village Internet kiosks, enabling him to better negotiate the sale of his produce.

A woman farmer using a small metal tube to strip corn cobs showcased the work of India’s Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering. The Institute has been working to create more compact, lighter versions of common farming tools to increase the productivity of female farmers. A memorable moment was when the President picked up the tool, turned to the reporters, and said in jest, “Look at this. It’s like an infomercial.  I want one of those!” After a brief chuckle, he commented on the importance of the tool in reducing women’s labor time up to 30 percent.

Alongside the expo, Secretary Vilsack and Dr. Shah hosted a roundtable discussion with Indian agriculture experts, where they heard about the most promising agricultural innovations to address the gaps that remain in India’s agriculture sector.  The take-away: strengthened collaboration will unlock new opportunities for U.S. and Indian agribusiness.

The United States and India plan to extend these innovations to other countries to promote global food security. Their partnership is emblematic of one where peer nations work side by side to develop the kinds of innovations and solutions that can help improve the lives of more and more people, not only in India and the United States, but also around the world. USAID will play a key role.

From the Field

In Nicaragua, we will co-sponsor The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations’ two-day fair from November 11-12th in Managua to continue the celebration of World Food Day. The purpose of this activity is to bring attention to the serious problem of world food security.  As the second poorest country in the hemisphere, the issue of food security is critical for Nicaragua.

In Iraq, we will hold training as part of the Iraq Legislative Strengthening Project (ILSP).  The training will focus on 1) Legislative Drafting Training, 2) Analyzing Law 56 of 1977 “collecting Governmental Debts”, 3) Basic Report Writing and 4) Motivation and Team Building.

In Kyrgyzstan, we will open a Food for Peace food distribution site.  This event will support transparency of food distribution and also support reconciliation and trust among ethnic group beneficiaries.

Picture of the Week: Increased Agricultural Productivity in Haiti

A farmer shows an example of a pepper grown at a farm that is part of a USAID WINNER project in Kenscoff, outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Oct. 6. Photo Credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

A farmer shows an example of a pepper grown at a farm that is part of a USAID WINNER project in Kenscoff, outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources program or WINNER for short, is a five-year, $126 million program funded by USAID to increase productivity in the country’s ailing agricultural sector.  Photo is from Kendra Helmer/USAID.

Haitian Farmers Seeing Sprouts of Success

Cherilien raised a potato into the sunlight for a gathering crowd of Haitian farmers and visitors to see. Cherilien explained that he normally produces 110 pounds of potatoes each year, but this year he produced 440 pounds.

Cherilien disappeared into the group of farmers as another Haitian farmer, Marisette, chimed in, “We used to not have good yields, but now we have good yields.”

Cherilien, Marisette, and other farmers joined representatives from USAID and the government of Haiti at the Wynne Farm, a mountaintop training facility for farmers in Haiti, to discuss their successful Spring 2010 crop season. USAID announced that crops averaged an increase of 75 percent over the previous year for sorghum, corn, beans and potatoes.

The good news is giving farmers hope despite the recent decline in Haiti’s agricultural sector. Sixty percent of Haitians are employed in agriculture, and still, a whopping 23 percent of Haitian imports are food. Experts cite many reasons for the struggling sector from erosion and deforestation to Haiti’s mountainous geography.

A photo taken at Wynne farm by my colleague, Kendra Helmer, shows rows of vegetables wrapped around a mountain ridge. The landscape looks like something out of a Salvador Dali painting, and one can imagine that farming these steep slopes challenges even the most sure-footed agrarians.

So, how did the farmers who gathered at Wynne Farm defy the odds? Because they are hard working, of course, but also because they are participating in the Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources program. WINNER, for short, is a five-year, $126 million program funded by USAID to increase productivity in the country’s ailing agricultural sector.

WINNER advisers at Wynne Farm work with Haitians to teach them innovative farming techniques, strengthen farmer associations, and provide access to expertise and vital supplies (seeds, fertilizers, credit and tools). Among the more impressive features of Wynne Farm is the greenhouse, the training ground for farmers to learn innovative techniques like vertical agriculture.

WINNER works in other parts of the country, too, with more than 250 community-based organizations that represent 50,000 small farmers. The program is increasing food productivity, dredging and widening rivers, constructing small dams and water catchments, treating ravines, and reforesting the land.

Mark Feierstein, USAID’s new Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, was present at Wynne Farm to announce the exciting news about WINNER’s increased productivity, but truth be told, he seemed more interested in hearing from farmers like Cherilien and Marisette than talking himself. One thing he made clear was that agriculture will remain a priority for USAID’s work in Haiti – a sentiment that seemed to conjure a sense of relief and hope among the farmers.

This Week at USAID – October 11, 2010

Administrator Shah opens a weeklong training for over 80 USAID communications staff from USAID Missions all over the world.  These communicators are in Washington, D.C. to engage with senior officials about elevating development, particularly the first-ever national development strategy issued by a U.S. President and “USAID Forward”, the Agency’s change management agenda.  Sessions featured during the week include: a meeting with staff from the National Security Council, a joint session at the annual State Department Public Affairs Officer’s conference, and a panel discussion with leading foreign policy journalists at the Newseum.

Administrator Shah travels to Des Moines, Iowa to speak at the Borlaug Dialogue, which is held each year in conjunction with the awarding of the World Food Prize.  The theme of the conference is: smallholder agriculture, “Take it to the Farmer“.  Dr Shah will focus on how you take interest in fighting poverty to the smallholder farmer.  He will also promote progress under Feed the Future, the Administration’s global hunger and food security initiative.

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