Over 22 varieties of grapes were planted on the Afghan’s Ministry of Agriculture’s research farm to establish a grape foundation nursery. USAID-funded projects introduced trellising, a practice that increases the quality of grapes and overall yields.
Archives for Agriculture
In 2011, USAID, JP Morgan, and the Gates, Gatsby, and Rockefeller Foundations announced a first-of-its-kind effort to invest $25 million in the African Agricultural Capital Fund, which delivers much needed growth capital to boost the productivity and profitability of Africa‘s undercapitalized agriculture sector. NUAC Farm in Northern Uganda is one of the first agribusinesses to receive financing from this fund.
This post originally appeared on Global Food for Thought.
Barbara’s mother was desperate – there was nothing in the house to feed her children or herself. All that remained was a bag of seed that she’d been planning to sow on her small plot of land. Could the seeds be eaten as food? She could no longer look at her children whose bodies were aching from hunger.
There was one huge risk: the seeds contained potentially lethal pesticides intended to encourage higher yields. As countless mothers have done, she tested the seeds on herself. Barbara and her siblings watched fearfully as their mother ate a handful. Would she die, become ill, or just be fine?
Even if eating the seeds led to survival, there would be no crops to harvest in six months. Would they starve later? Years after this harrowing experience, Barbara palpably captured this moment in her book, Change Me into Zeus’s Daughter.
In Alabama that night, nobody got sick. But we must do better by our neighbors in the U.S. and globally.
One billion people suffer from chronic hunger and face terrible choices daily. A billion is a hard word to grasp, but imagine if every man, woman, and child in the largest cities in the U.S. – including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle, Atlanta – would never get enough to eat or had a chance to thrive.
Technology and business have recently brought dramatic global improvements in areas like health, agricultural productivity. Through social media, we can harness crowd-sourced wisdom and rapid diffusion networks to imagine a day in our lifetime where families everywhere can take pride in the accomplishments of their healthy children.
What are we seeing in this tech cauldron that’s knocking our socks off? Kat Townsend, a Special Assistant for Engagement at USAID, worked with The Chicago Council to choose six examples using big data, videos, and randomized control trials to reduce hunger. USAID showcased these examples at a Council event on food security at the G8 to demonstrate how low-cost technologies can accelerate and scale food security.
I’m especially excited about Digital Green, founded by young Indian entrepreneur Rikin Gandhi. Digital Green enables local farmers make short videos giving specific advice on many topics, with viewers rating videos just as we push ‘Like’ on Facebook. Farmers now watch nearly 2,500 relevant videos- which average 11,000 viewers per video- on their cellphones. Talk about a social diffusion network!
In September, USAID together with Nathaniel Manning – a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow from technology superstar Ushahidi - ran a weekend Hackathon for Hunger. Global teams of brilliant data geeks pounded out code on big data sets to solve hunger challenges. Palantir used data compiled by the Grameen Foundation on crop blights, soil, and farmer feedback to generate a real-time heat map that helps farmers identify where crop infestations are happening. Farmers also receive warning messages about looming crop diseases and where they may strike, giving farmers the chance to harvest early. PinApple’s website helps farmers can input their location for suggestions on the best crops to plant based on elevation, soil PH and annual rainfall.
We can’t solve food security by the mere push of a button from a programmer in Maputo or a policymaker in Bangladesh. What technology can do is bring information and tools to farmers, processors, and consumers in remote corners of the world. Data point by data point, we’re reaching those who need it most…one video and SMS at a time.
Tell us what other technologies or social media techniques you’re seeing that could defeat hunger. Disagree if you have your reasons. We all have much to learn from one another.
Leave your thoughts here or continue the conversation on Twitter. Join me @MauraAtUSAID and follow Bertini and Glickman @GlobalAgDev; USAID @usaid; USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative @FeedtheFuture; Ushahidi @Ushahidi; Project Open Data @ProjectOpenData; Palantir Technologies @palantirTech; PinApple @PinApple, Kat Townsend @DiploKat; and Nat Manning @NatPManning.
Maura O’Neill is the chief innovation officer and senior counselor to the administrator at USAID. In the public, private and academic sectors, she has created entrepreneurial and public policy solutions for some of the toughest problems in the fields of energy, education, infrastructure financing and business development. She earned her PhD at the University of Washington, where her research focused on narrowmindedness and the errors it leads to in science, medicine, business and political decision making.
This post originally appeared on the Feed the Future website.
The following is a guest blog by Roger Thurow. We asked Thurow a few questions about food security.
Traditionally centered around a big meal to celebrate good harvests and time with family, Thanksgiving is also an opportunity to reflect on what we’re thankful for and our wishes for the future. At the top of our list is the hope for a future in which no one goes to bed hungry. What is yours?
Exactly the same: a world free of hunger. Some may dismiss that as an unrealistic goal, but ending hunger through agricultural development is within our grasp. We certainly have precedent on our side, for we have seen agricultural development work in so many countries. Be it here in the United States, or in Europe, or in India or China or Brazil. So we know it can be done: We have the science, the technology, the experience. We know the “way”, but what has been missing is the “will”.
At this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that we are now seeing this “will” emerging in so many places. As we sit down to our traditional national feast—to celebrate our harvests and our abundance—this is the ideal time to commit to ending hunger no matter where it may be, whether here at home or in Africa or anywhere else in the world.
Even as we are seeing progress in our efforts against global poverty and undernutrition, we know there is still work to do and that we must remain focused. Why do you think this is important, and why do you think Americans should care about global hunger and food security?
First, the very word “security” is important, for how secure can the world truly be with nearly one billion chronically hungry people? During the food price spikes of 2007 and 2008, when stockpiles of major grains dwindled, prices soared, and shortages spread, we saw how quickly gaps in the global food supply can lead to widespread unrest.
Second, how stable can the world economy be when such extreme poverty keeps so many people outside the global economic and trade system?
Securing the global food system is also one of the biggest—if not the biggest—challenge facing us in the coming decades. With the planet’s population expected to increase by more than two billion people by 2050, it is estimated that we need to increase our food production by as much as 60 percent to meet this rising demand. And it is important to not just focus on increasing production, but to put nutrition—growing a cornucopia of more nutritious food—at the center of our efforts as well.
So yes, indeed, Americans should care deeply about global hunger and food security.
Also, it’s what America does—and does best. We are the world’s breadbasket, with the mightiest farmers. Spreading agricultural development has been one of America’s top “soft power” achievements of diplomacy and international relations over the decades. Think of the Marshall Plan and the Green Revolution. Now, the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future initiative continues this lineage.
Feed the Future is a key piece of the U.S. Government’s effort to reduce global hunger and improve global food security. Having spent time observing Feed the Future’s work and reporting in depth about agricultural development, what do you see as different or unique about Feed the Future?
Feed the Future has set out to reverse the neglect of international agricultural development over the past several decades. Feed the Future also recognizes that food security is not just about increasing production, but increasing the nutritional value of the food as well; it focuses on not only the necessary ingredients of growing food but also on the elements farmers need to translate their harvests into profits, determined by the countries themselves. So post-harvest issues like storage and efficient markets are central to Feed the Future. It also stresses the importance of partnerships with the private sector and the governments of developing countries as well as with universities, foundations and humanitarian organizations. These partnerships were vital to the success of the Green Revolution 50 years ago.
I see two other important aspects of Feed the Future: an emphasis on long-term agricultural development (rather than solely focusing on short-term emergency food aid relief) and a focus on the smallholder farmers of the developing world. This means facilitating access to the essential elements of farming—seeds, soil nutrients, training and micro-financing—so that the smallholders can be as productive as possible. These farmers are indispensable in meeting the great challenge of food security I mentioned earlier. If they succeed, so might we all.
And they can succeed. This is the central message of The Last Hunger Season, which brings readers into the lives of four smallholder farmers in western Kenya.
Let’s talk about your book. After spending time with these farmers in Kenya, what did you see as the role and importance of food security, particularly agriculture and nutrition, in their community?
It is absolutely vital. While reporting the book, The Last Hunger Season, I learned that securing enough food for their families is the top priority of women smallholder farmers in Africa. All things flow from that accomplishment. With greater harvests, these women farmers can conquer the dreaded hunger season and the malnutrition of their children, and also have a surplus that can provide income to pay school fees, to afford proper health care and medicine, and to diversify their crops for better nutrition.
You’ve written two books on food security now and you often blog about it in your role at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs—what first interested you in this topic and why are you so personally invested in it?
Covering the 2003 famine in Ethiopia for The Wall Street Journal. It was the first famine of the 21stcentury; 14 million people were on the doorstep of starvation, dependent on international food aid. On my first day in Addis Ababa, I received a briefing about the extent of the famine by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). One of the WFP workers told me: “Looking into the eyes of someone dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul. You see that nobody should have to die of hunger.”
The next day, I was down in the hunger zones, in an emergency feeding tent filled with dozens of severely malnourished children. What I saw in those eyes did indeed become a disease of the soul; I saw that nobody should have to die of hunger, not now, not in the 21st century when more food was being produced in the world than ever before. It was a turning point in my career as a journalist. All other stories began paling in comparison. I knew I needed to stop the usual routine of a foreign correspondent—moving from story to story, place to place—and focus on this one story: hunger in the new millennium. This led me to write my first book, with fellow WSJ reporter Scott Kilman, ENOUGH: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty.
But for me, ENOUGH wasn’t enough, so I plunged deeper into the issue of hunger and agricultural development. This propelled me to write The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change. And I intend to continue writing, taking readers into the eyes of the hungry, spreading the disease of the soul.
Do you have hope that things can change for the better? Why?
Yes, because I see a burgeoning movement, a gathering momentum, to end hunger through agricultural development. I see it in renewed American leadership, manifest in Feed the Future. I see it at universities, at faith-based gatherings, on the ground in Africa. Earlier this year, at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ symposium on global agriculture, food security and nutrition, President Obama called for an “all hands on deck” effort to end hunger in the 21st century. I see these many hands getting to work.
Half a world away from Des Moines, Iowa, where the World Food Prize “Borlaug Dialogue” International Symposium is being held this week, Bangladeshi farmers are hard at work sowing wheat and maize in their fields.
This year, however, something is different. For many farmers, new techniques supported by USAID are helping to reduce costs, achieve better yields, and earn higher profits. Something as simple as planting crops in raised beds or reducing tillage can have an outsized effect on crop yields and earnings.
Stamping out rural hunger and poverty in Bangladesh is not some distant dream. It is a real and attainable prospect, and with support from the U.S. Government’s global food security initiative, Feed the Future, we are doing our part.
To watch how the simple but powerful techniques we support are changing the lives of Bangladeshi farmers, check out the three embedded clips below on strip tillage, bed planting, and saving water and overcoming salinity. The longer version of the video (20 minutes)—”Save More, Grow More, Earn More“—is also well worth a view.
How do farmers produce a profitable crop with hardly any irrigation at all? Farmers in Bangladesh are showing the way by planting into mulch, and using simple machines that plow only a small line in their fields, into which seed and fertilizer are dropped at the same time. These easy-to-implement practices conserve precious soil moisture and improve their investment in fertilizer.
Farmers across Bangladesh are putting the problem of high irrigation costs and water scarcity to bed—literally. Using the simple and effective technique of planting their rice, wheat, maize and legume crops on raised beds, farmers are getting more crop per drop and reducing irrigation requirements by up to 40 percent.
Overcoming Salinity with Conservation Agriculture
Despite increasing fuel and irrigation costs, as well as crop-damaging soil salinity, innovative farmers in Bangladesh are conserving soil moisture and overcoming salinity with conservation agriculture. By not fully plowing their fields, using appropriate machinery to sow their crops in lines under a layer of water-conserving mulch, and rotating between profitable crops, farmers are beating the odds to achieve profitable maize, wheat and legume yields.
On Friday, September 14 across seven time zones, technicians, designers, storytellers and development experts poured into USAID’s Innovation lab with one shared purpose: food. They joined an online gathering of advocates across five countries for the chance to help tackle critical food security challenges in developing countries by participating in USAID’s Hack for Hunger.
Working throughout the weekend teams applied open data to build products that addressed key challenges outlined by USAID, USDA, and food security stakeholders months prior. On Sunday afternoon a panel of judges expert in food security, open data, entrepreneurship, and open government evaluated the teams based on incorporation of open data, how easy their project was to use, and its relevance to food security.
Winning teams include established organizations like Grameen Bank and Palantir Technologies, small startups including Digital Green, Sonjara, and GeoWiki; and proof-of-concept upstarts like PineApple project and Grower’s Nation. Visit PineApple’s website and input your location to be provided with suggestions of optimal crops to plant based on known, elevation, soil PH and annual rainfall data. Grameen data on crop blights generate a heat map that Ari Gesher of Palantir labs describes “gives some sense of where maggots and soy beans are colliding, and where the maggots are winning” With this data a text-message can be sent to farmers to warn them of outbreaks of diseases that can affect their crops. The Geo-Wiki Project combines Google Earth data with crowdsourced information to identify land grabs and offers a platform for non-technical volunteers to help combat illegal actions that affect food security.
But, the hacking doesn’t stop. Teams continue refining their applications, adding in monitoring & evaluation tools like SMS-based Q&A plugins, incorporating still more detailed data, and partnering with similar organizations to bring products to scale. Tomorrow is October 16, World Food Day, and Assistant to the Administrator Paul Weisenfeld and Chief Innovation Officer Maura O’Neill will join winning teams onstage at the Iowa Hunger Summit, the kick-off to the week-long World Food Prize events, and showcase products built at Hack for Hunger.
USAID has a long history of working with frontier technologies. Hackathons, crowdsourcing cleanups, and other events are just the latest in engaging tech advocates. USAID Administrator Raj Shah has issued a call to action: “Our Agency must serve as a platform that connects the world’s biggest development challenges to development problem-solvers – all around the world.”
We’re looking ahead to a “Development Datapalooza” that the White House plans to host in early December to announce new datasets and showcase products and organizations that use USAID and development data and build innovative products for greater development impact. As with any tech and hackathon event, anyone is welcome to get involved.
Visit http://idea.usaid.gov/opendata to learn more about Hack for Hunger.
“Pounds of Prevention” is a series of short articles that illustrate how disaster risk reduction works and why it is important. Take a behind-the-scenes look at aid work in action, long before the disaster occurs. How is that possible? Read on!
Today’s installment, Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Malawi highlights our work in the southern parts of the country where prolonged dry conditions and macroeconomic forces have combined to drive up food prices, making it especially difficult for poor and vulnerable households to grow or buy enough to feed their families.
Throughout the past decade, however, USAID has worked to improve people’s ability to weather and recover from these types of shocks. In partnership with a variety of groups, USAID is helping farmers to access capital and credit, conserve water and soil, grow different crop varieties, and construct small-scale irrigation systems.
Today’s Video of the Week comes from the State Department. Narrator Matt Damon discusses U.S. efforts to turn the tide against global hunger and increase agricultural production around the world through Feed the Future. This video was shown last week at the “Feed the Future: Partnering With Civil Society” event in New York.