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Archives for Agriculture

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.

Growing More Food With Less Water

When you sit down to your next meal, take a look at your plate.  How much water do you see? The obvious answer might be “little” or “none”.  But the surprising truth is you are likely consuming thousands of liters of water every time you sit down for a quick bite.

Estimates suggest the average American consumes an amazing 3,496 liters, or 924 gallons, of water every single day. That’s over 14,500 glasses of water per a person, per a day. And that represents the amount of water needed to produce the food we eat.

Experts tell us that current levels of water consumption are simply not sustainable as the global population continues to grow and climate and environmental changes impact available water resources.   Projections suggest that between 2000 and 2050 water demand will increase by 55 percent globally, meaning that the number of people impacted by water scarcity and stress will continue to rise. Already, approximately 2.8 billion people—more than 40 percent of the world’s population—live in river basins impacted by water scarcity.

What’s more, food and agricultural production—which accounts for 70 percent of all water use—is also on the decline and threatening the global food supply. As the global water resources become increasingly scarce, we must learn how to adapt to a new reality. In part, this means learning how to do more with less. Learning to use available water better, learning how to store water more efficiently, and learning how to grow more food using less water.

At USAID, we believe that we must mobilize the global community into action around this critical development challenge. We believe that we must learn how to do more with less so that all people have enough to eat and that science and technology are at the root of a sustainable, scalable solution to the global water challenge.

A farmer in Iraq grows healthy crops by using innovative irrigation techniques.

A farmer in Iraq grows healthy crops by using innovative irrigation techniques. Credit: USAID Water Office

That’s why on September 2, 2013, at the opening session of World Water Week, we announced Securing Water for Food:  A Grand Challenge for Development.  This $25 million Challenge will identify, source and bring to scale promising new low-cost innovations that use existing water resources more efficiently, improve water capture and storage technology, and reduce salinity of existing resources to ensure new sources of water for agricultural production in the communities USAID and Sida serve.

On November 27, USAID released the first call for proposals for the Challenge. During this first round of the Challenge, the Founding Partners aim to provide up to $15 million to fund entrepreneurs, businesses, innovators and scientists that are seeking to launch a new innovation or to expand an existing business in new markets.

Eligible applicants are invited to submit concept notes beginning November 27, 2013 through January 17, 2014. For full application details, go to: www.securingwaterforfood.org.

Securing Water for Food is the latest in USAID’s series of Grand Challenges for Development which seeks out innovative new technologies to critical development challenges. Learn more about USAID’s Grand Challenges for Development.

Follow @SecuringWater on Twitter to get the latest news and updates about the Challenge.

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Namibia

Traditional  tilling results in crops that are shorter and less abundant  (left) than those produced using conservation  agriculture methods (right), which include ripping and  furrowing the land, allowing it to retain more rainwater. The next installment in the USAID Pounds of Prevention series (PDF) takes us to Namibia, considered one of the driest countries in the world. By promoting four interlocking principles—known as conservation agriculture—USAID is helping to improve people’s ability to weather and recover from drought. In fact, some crop yields for farmers using conservation agriculture have increased five times over yields for farmers using traditional methods. Read on to learn more.

Giving Thanks for Progress in the Fight Against Global Hunger

Rajiv Shah serves as Administrator at USAID

Rajiv Shah serves as Administrator at USAID

This Thursday, many of us will gather around tables piled high with turkey, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. More importantly, we will pause to reflect on what we are thankful for and what we can do to help those who are less fortunate. From stocking the shelves of food pantries to wrapping gifts for children in need, the holiday season is a time of year when the spirit of compassion and generosity of American families is particularly apparent.

This has been especially true in the last few weeks, as the United States has rallied a swift and life-saving response in the Philippines, where Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 4,000 people. Our disaster response teams – civilian and military – have already reached tens of thousands of survivors. Less than ten days after the storm made landfall, we had the water system up and running in hardest-hit Tacloban, supplying 200,000 people with clean water. “Our military personnel and USAID team do this better than anybody in the world,” President Obama shared in a video message. I couldn’t agree more. In these moments of crisis, we’re proud to represent our nation’s tradition of generosity, especially as we celebrate a holiday with its roots in the spirit of gratitude.

A young boy in Tajikistan eats a healthy lunch. Photo credit: USAID

A young boy in Tajikistan eats a healthy lunch. Photo credit: USAID

At the end of the day, we remain committed to ensuring our assistance not only saves lives today, but reduces the risk of disaster tomorrow. From Syria (PDF) to Somalia, we’re working to bring long-term food security to the 840 million people around the world who go to bed hungry every night. We’re also working to reduce the high rates of poor nutrition that contribute to nearly half of all deaths in children under the age of five each year.

In the last year, we have directly helped more than 9 million households transform their farms and fields with our investments in agriculture and food security through Feed the Future. We’ve also reached 12 million children with nutrition programs that can prevent and treat undernutrition and improve child survival. While there is still a lot of work to be done, we’re helping transform the face of poverty and hunger around the world – advancing progress toward the Millennium Development Goal to halve the prevalence of hunger by 2015, a target that’s within reach if the global community continues to strengthen our focus and energy.

We know that hunger is not hopeless. It is solvable. If we continue to invest in smallholder farmers – especially women – and support good nutrition during the critical 1,000-day window from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday, we can meet the global challenge of sustainably increasing agricultural production for a growing population. By scaling up promising innovations from farm to market to table, we can tackle extreme poverty by the roots and shape a future of prosperity and progress.

This week, we’re thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this collective global effort and wish you and your families a happy Thanksgiving.

Want to be part of the solution to hunger and poverty? Find out how you can help contribute to typhoon relief efforts in the Philippines or learn more about how to get involved with Feed the Future. Led by USAID, Feed the Future draws on the agricultural, trade, investment, development and policy resources and expertise of 10 federal agencies. Learn more about USAID’s long history of leadership in agricultural development.

Reclaiming Refuse to Help Generate Reliable Power

This originally appeared in Feed the Future newsletter

Energy and agriculture are closely linked: reliable access to affordable power is a key component to developing a country’s agriculture sector and giving agriculture-based businesses a chance to grow. That’s why Feed the Future is working in Liberia to reverse decades of devastating civil conflict and rebuild a sustainable energy infrastructure that can support better market opportunities for smallholder farmers and agricultural processors.

After fourteen years of war, all sectors of Liberia’s economy were heavily damaged. By the end of the conflict in 2003, Liberia was not producing a single kilowatt of electricity for the entire country, and even today, only about 10 percent of the capital city of Monrovia is on the public electric grid. Outlying rural communities depend on privately owned gasoline or diesel-driven generators for their electricity, which makes Liberia one of the most expensive and environmentally unfriendly electricity generation systems in the world.

To address this serious challenge to development, Feed the Future is working to expand the use of renewable energy to rural areas of Liberia where agriculture is concentrated. Since June 2013, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s program to support Liberia’s energy sector and its flagship Feed the Future program in the country have been working with the Government of Liberia and local partners to establish a biomass energy center that can turn palm oil, palm nut and coconut shell byproducts, among other types of organic refuse, into an affordable and reliable supply of electricity. The pilot center is based at the Booker Washington Institute (BWI), Liberia’s first vocational and agricultural school.

Biofuels not only have the potential to displace carbon emissions from fossil fuels that contribute to climate change, but they are also significantly more accessible to smallholder farmers in remote rural areas who are already growing the crops (like palm and coconut) whose byproducts can be converted into fuel through a process called gasifying. With the right infrastructure, organic biomass can supplement the use of fossil fuel to help bring costs down in the agriculture sector. The gasifiers have already allowed BWI to complement its other sources of energy with renewable energy.

This innovative technology shows promise for agricultural processors in particular who cannot regularly afford costly fossil fuel for generators to power processing equipment. As the model is increasingly adopted in Liberia, Feed the Future will promote private sector investment that can expand access to affordable and renewable energy for some of Liberia’s most vulnerable populations.

Resources:

USAID in the News

Devex featured a piece about USAID’s new approach to tackling urban policy through the use of crowdsourcing. A public comment period will be made available on November 7 as a part of the Sustainable Service Delivery in an Increasingly Urbanized World program. By soliciting public opinion, USAID hopes to find new ways to encourage the formation of local solutions that will allow the agency to partner with city governments and community groups to build on expertise and bolster development efforts.

The Times of India reported on a USAID grant that was awarded to three Indian companies to help them share successful low-cost agricultural innovations with African countries. The grants come through the USAID India-Africa Agriculture Innovations Bridge Program, which seeks to improve food security, nutrition, and long-term sustainability by sharing Indian innovations with farmers in Africa who will benefit from them.

Administrator at at The George Washington University’s Feeding the Planet Summit, where he announced the Feed the Future Innovation Labs. Photo credit: Joslin Isaacson, HarvestPlus

Administrator at at The George Washington University’s Feeding the Planet Summit, where he announced the Feed the Future Innovation Labs. Photo credit: Joslin Isaacson, HarvestPlus

AllAfrica covered USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah’s announcement of 10 new Feed the Future Innovation Labs that will partner with American universities to tackle the world’s most challenging agricultural research problems. A part of the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, these labs will work to address the challenges of climate change in agriculture and research ways to produce food in an environmentally sensitive manner to ensure global access to nutritious and safe foods.

Zawya reported on a joint effort between USAID and the Caterpillar Foundation, which seeks to provide intensive technical training to youth in Jordan. The program equips trainees with the skills to fill technician-level positions in key industrial sectors of the Jordanian economy. Rana Al Turk, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) Jordan Country Director says that the program aims to fill job positions, “while providing youth with a comprehensive employability approach that includes the technical training and soft skills they need to enhance their employment prospects and lead successful lives.”

Citizen News featured a story on a USAID-funded program that provides students in Kenya with laptops to enhance their educational experience. According to Jaribu Primary School headmaster Mohamed Gedi, the project has triggered a spike in the performance of the 300 hundred students that benefit from the laptops.

The Express Tribune reported on USAID’s hand over of a state-of-the-art Expanded Program on Immunization Coordination and Planning Resource Center to the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation, and Coordination in Pakistan. The center is equipped with technology and software that will allow the government to track vaccine supplies throughout the country. USAID Health Office Director Jonathan Ross, who inaugurated the center, reaffirmed the U.S. Government’s commitment to improving health indicators in Pakistan through continued health development assistance.

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