USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Agriculture

Shared Ag Data is a Secured Future for Vulnerable Populations

In Kahuho village, up on the foot of the Aberdare Ranges, is a potato farmer, Loise Mugure. Loise owns a two-and-a-half acre piece of land but while she could plant it all at once, she only cultivates a quarter an acre each season. She is among the 87 farmers from her village who approached M-Farm for help.

The price uncertainty on agricultural commodities has forced farmers to gamble on how much to plant each season.

Yes, these farmers had learned and embraced good agricultural practices. They have adopted new climate resilient crop varieties, even improved the health of their soils but their problems persisted. They needed information on how the markets behaved.

Local farmer sells potatoes. Photo credit: USAID

At M-Farm, we set out to five markets in Kenya to provide them with real-time agricultural price information. We went a step further and made this information readily available through SMS platform. We thought this was the ultimate solution the farmers needed. There still existed a gap. The farmers wanted to be shown the future of markets. It needed data. The data was scarce. We could only do much with the few months’ data we had gathered.

Working with farmers on a daily basis, I became frustrated too. I could not provide them with the outlooks they needed because I did not have the agricultural data to analyse and present to them.

It is exciting to have the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) dataset on Agriculture available to M-Farm. As a software solution and Agribusiness company focused on connecting farmers, we intend to integrate this dataset into our SMS information platform for our farmers.

We are processing the data to more meaningful information to farmers, then package it to suit their needs. This will help the farmers take important decisions on agricultural productivity.

What is beautiful about the FEWSNET data that the USAID has provided to our farmers is that it is from markets we know and on crops that are our staples. Finding local interpretation of the FEWSNET dataset gives us control of our situation. We can help protect food insecure populations from hunger with this data that has been made open to us.

Agricultural productivity creates benefits for everyone in the community. Photo credit: USAID

With access to the FEWSNET market price data, our farmers are richer with more useful information on the market behavior. The more the data, the more sophisticated the analysis and the presentation tool.

Connecting farmers with the right information and at the right time levels the playing field for them, creates transparency and improves their livelihoods.

At M-Farm the FEWSNET database is not just data, it is critical information that is finding its way into the lives of the primary producers who feed the nation.

NEWEST Rice Marks Latest Milestone

This post originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog

“Today, we have new tools and approaches that enable us to achieve progress that was simply unimaginable in the past: the eradication of extreme poverty and its most devastating corollaries, including widespread hunger and preventable child death.” – Administrator Shah in his 2013 Annual Letter

One such tool is genetic engineering.

To help leverage this and other advanced molecular tools for food security, Feed the Future partners from U.S. and international research communities and the private sector have teamed up to apply these tools to common challenges faced by millions of rice farmers throughout Africa.

Researchers in Uganda plant seeds in the first ever confined field trials of genetically engineered rice in Africa. Photo Credit: Jimmy Lamo, NACRRI

Their efforts are paying off. This month, for the first time in Africa, researchers in Ghana and Uganda planted confined field trials of genetically engineered rice.

The new variety includes a trait for increased nitrogen use efficiency, which helps the plant take better advantage of the scant nitrogen found in Africa’s often nutrient-poor soils. Soil nitrogen deficiencies limit yields on roughly 90 percent of the lands African farmers use for growing rice. The engineered variety could also promote responsible fertilizer use by improving the crop’s responsiveness to smaller doses of fertilizer.

The field trials are a major scientific milestone and mark the latest success in a vibrant partnership between USAID, international and national agricultural research institutions, private-sector biotechnology firms, and non-governmental organizations—a partnership that is not only generating improved rice varieties, but also enhancing African researchers’ capacity to regulate and execute advanced agricultural research.

The partnership coalesces around the NEWEST rice project, which aims to improve the productivity and sustainability of rice production across Sub-Saharan Africa by relieving key production constraints for African rice farmers. In addition to the soil nitrogen deficiencies that inspired the current field trials, saline soils also reduce rice productivity in Africa. Meanwhile, climate change is elevating drought risk across the continent.

Rice varieties that are nitrogen use efficient, water use efficient, and salt-tolerant (NEWEST) could therefore boost yields by up to 30 percent in many regions, increasing farmers’ climate resilience while also minimizing their use of fertilizer and water, reducing deforestation, and slowing expansion of cultivated lands.

As a complement to traditional breeding programs, biotechnology has developed powerful tools that could help meet these ambitious agricultural and environmental goals. To harness these tools and spur agricultural innovation, Feed the Future relies on an international, multi-sector approach:

    • As part of the NEWEST rice project, California-based Arcadia Biosciences donated the intellectual property to generate improved varieties and introduced the new traits into NERICA rice, an important African variety.
    • The biotechnology firm then transferred these initial lines to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia, which worked with Arcadia to conduct preliminary field evaluations and generate seed stocks of the most promising varieties.
    • Arcadia and CIAT then shipped the seed to research partners in Ghana and Uganda’s Agricultural Research Systems, who planted their confined field trials over the past month.
    • Throughout this process, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation coordinated activities across the partnership, helping to navigate intellectual property and biosafety regulations in the two countries and ensuring that the confined field trials adhered to legal and environmental standards.

As the field trials progress, Ghanaian and Ugandan researchers will identify which of the new, nitrogen-use-efficient rice lines perform best under local conditions. Water-efficient, salt-tolerant, and triple-stack rice varieties (which combine all three traits) are still under evaluation in California and Colombia and will be tested in subsequent field trials in Africa. The researchers then plan to optimize the best-performing lines through conventional breeding and introduce the improved traits into locally adapted, farmer-preferred rice varieties.

As part of a broad portfolio of agricultural research investments, this partnership highlights Feed the Future’s strategy to harness agricultural innovation to reduce global hunger, poverty, and undernutrition, while meeting the global challenges of food security in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner.

Working Together to Feed the World and Protect the Planet

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog.

Today, nearly one in eight people in the world do not have enough food to eat.

And studies predict that as diets change and the world’s population grows to 9 billion people by 2050, we will need to increase food production by at least 60 percent to meet the global demand for food, all in the face of increasing pressures on natural resources.

Forty-three years ago, the first Earth Day celebration began a movement to create awareness about the need to protect the world’s natural resources so they can be enjoyed by generations to come. Since then, governments and civil society have worked together to address environmental challenges and improve our understanding of how we can help protect the world’s natural resources.

Farmers in Boti, a small community in the Eastern region of Ghana, take small tree seedlings to their farm to plant. The trees will provide soil stability, increase water quality, and provide a habitat for beekeeping. Photo credit: Kyndra Eide, Peace Corps

Today’s celebration of Earth Day is an opportunity to remind ourselves and our partners of the connection between our environment, agriculture, and food and nutrition security and how we can work together to end world hunger and undernutrition. Although we still face environmental challenges, our ability to apply scientific innovation and technology in agriculture and work in partnership across different sectors can help us protect our planet and end hunger and undernutrition at the same time.

Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, is working with a variety of partners to meet the dual challenges of growing more while conserving natural resources.

  • We help smallholder farmers adopt improved technologies and management practices that can lead to more resilient crops, higher yields, and increased incomes while encouraging sustainable and equitable access to and use of natural resources like land and water.
  • We support scientific innovation and technology in agriculture and nutrition to help meet the challenge of growing more food with less water while helping farmers adapt to changes in climate and rainfall. As Secretary of State John Kerry has said, “We know that when managed well, water allows economies to thrive and children to grow up healthy.”
  • We also support partner governments to implement policy reforms and establish regulatory systems that promote open markets and science-based regulations, helping to increase agricultural productivity and reduce poverty.
  • We actively support policy coordination among major donors, strategic partners, and multilateral organizations through our food and nutrition security diplomacy efforts. For example, the U.S. Government helped guide the United Nations Committee on World Food Security process to develop and adopt Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests. And we are participating in the follow-on effort to develop voluntary principles of responsible agricultural investment. The U.S. Government is also the largest contributor to organizations like the UN World Food Program, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, which each work to combat food insecurity and undernutrition.

Feed the Future is doing all this in partnership with private sector, civil society, strategic partners and other U.S. Government initiatives that are working to build the resilience of communities vulnerable to hunger and the impacts of climate change.

Through our collaboration with Feed the Future strategic partners, like Brazil, India and South Africa, we leverage the expertise of emerging economic leaders and scale up joint efforts to achieve food and nutrition security goals. Our partnership with Brazil is helping increase the income of small holder farmers in rural areas of Honduras and providing renewable energy to 10,000 families in remote areas of the country…[continued]

Read the rest of this post.

Mozambique Turns Potential into Progress through Leadership and Partnership

This originally appeared on Feed the Future.

You’ve heard me say it before: African nations have great potential, particularly for food security. And Mozambique is no exception. Through leadership and partnership, it’s turning that potential into real progress and opportunity.

Last week, I was honored to witness history when Mozambican leaders came together with more than 150 representatives from donor countries, civil society and the private sector to chart a bold path forward to achieve sustainable food security and nutrition.

This boy from rural Senegal isn’t old enough to go to class yet, but he can still enjoy a healthy meal of daharine, a nutritious porridge of rice, chickpeas, and peanut sauce, at a USAID-supported Community Meals program based at the local school. Photo credit: USAID

This two-day official launch of Mozambique’s  New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Maputo provided an important opportunity for participants to have an open dialogue and outline concrete next steps for ensuring mutual accountability and tracking progress at the country level over time. It also enabled discussions around reforming policies that have stifled agricultural innovation, development and growth in Mozambique. Such reforms are the key to unlocking private investment, which is critical to sustainable development.

In his opening remarks, Minister of Agriculture Jose Pacheco quoted a conversation he once had with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug, who said, “Sure, Mozambique has huge potential, but you can’t eat potential.” Pacheco went on to say that Mozambicans need to transform that potential into something useful. While the country’s poverty and undernutrition rates remain high, Mozambique has the potential to grow into a breadbasket for the region. In addition to its vast amounts of fertile land and ideal location along major trade corridors and ports, Mozambique has some of the best records of economic growth in Africa, averaging eight percent per year over the last decade.

Recognizing that donor funding is ultimately finite, the Government of Mozambique has committed to take the necessary steps to create a policy environment that fosters private sector investment in agriculture, which will help ensure the economic, social and environmental sustainability of public sector efforts. Development partners within the G8 and other countries stand ready to assist and support this policy transformation, knowing that if we want our collective efforts to truly reach scale, ensure farmers (especially women) have improved access to markets, and encourage creativity that drives innovation, we need the private sector as a full partner —not just an investor—to contribute energy and expertise to help build and extend value chains and markets across Mozambique.

The second day of the event drew strong participation from the private sector.  One local Mozambican company shared how they provided nearly $1 million in credit for inputs to smallholder farmers who saw their production increase by $10 million as a result. Through the company’s efforts, almost 43,000 smallholder farmers now receive inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizers; have access to improved production technologies; and are selling to a guaranteed market, providing the company with a constant supply of high-quality products for its processing unit.

This was just one example of the positive impact the private sector is having by collaborating with smallholder farmers in Mozambique. In 2012 alone, the private sector invested $7 million worth of agricultural inputs in smallholder farmers. As a result, these farmers received $60 million from purchases of their products, providing them with opportunity, access and incomes that will transform their lives.

In addition to bringing together representatives from diverse sectors and perspectives, the New Alliance launch event illustrated the dynamic transformation that can happen with Mozambique’s demonstrated leadership modeled on the type of country ownership envisioned in the Rome Principles for Sustainable Global Food Security and carried forth through platforms like the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). In fact, Mozambique officially launched its CAADP agricultural development investment plan last Friday.

Through Feed the Future, the United States looks forward to continuing our close collaboration with the many partners who attended the meeting as we grow and develop together through the New Alliance.

Read more about Africa’s potential in a blog about my previous trip to Ethiopia for the annual CAADP Partnership Platform meeting last month.

The Moment is Now: Modernizing Food Assistance

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. 

I just came back from hearing Administrator Shah’s speech at  Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where he outlined the bold vision for Food Aid Reform that was included in President Obama’s 2014 Budget Proposal. I sat  next to the Director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, Dina Esposito. We were both seized by the historic opportunity this proposal presents to upgrade, streamline, and recommit to our global food assistance programs—a goal that that has dangled before many of us for the last decade.

As noted by Senator Lugar, who opened today’s event, the current food aid system was created at a time of significant food surplus; at a time when shipping food around the globe made sense as a means of manifesting American generosity. But that was 60 years ago. Since then, surplus has turned to shortages, and the costs of shipping have risen exponentially. The time has come to shift our practices so we can reach four million additional children in need of food and eliminate the inefficient workaround of monetization that is currently used to convert our agricultural commodities into cash for development programs.

In President Barack Obama’s Budget, the food aid reform proposal envisions a more efficient, effective, and timely program that will reach 4 million more hungry people each year. Photo Credit: USAID

Having spent many years as part of the NGO community, I am keenly aware of the challenges presented by the monetization of Food for Peace commodities and am particularly energized by the potential to eliminate this practice.

Currently, it works like this: USAID purchases and ships Title II in-kind food aid commodities to our NGO partners overseas, who then sell them in local markets to earn the cash needed to support some of our most important development and resilience programs. Unfortunately, as Government Accountability Office studies have shown, this process on average results in a loss of 25 cents to the dollar. Moreover, it requires NGO partners to spend precious time and energy on navigating local commodity markets and negotiating sales, often in very tough environments like the DRC or Mozambique. Too often, market uncertainty leads to diminished returns, requiring additional resources to meet program goals.

The new budget reform will create a dedicated Community Development and Resilience Fund (PDF) within our Development Assistance account that will provide cash directly to our PVO/NGO partners, so they can focus instead on doing the multi-year, multi-sector development programs that are so critical to reaching and helping the most vulnerable.

In the last two years I have had a chance to visit a number of these programs, implemented by partners such as CRS, World Vision, ADRA, and Mercy Corps. In fact I visited one of these programs by CRS two years after the funding ended. In an affirming validation of the power of Food for Peace programs to transform lives, I saw firsthand how it enabled Safieta, a widow in Burkina Faso with seven children, to thrive during yet another tough dry season in the Sahel.

Above all, the Food Aid Reform proposal (PDF) is a re-commitment to USAID food assistance with greater efficiency and effectiveness. In addition to eliminating monetization, the proposal also moves Title II emergency food aid funds into the United States’ International Disaster Assistance cash account. While this change still includes an initial 55% floor for purchasing U.S. commodities, it also gives us the flexibility we need to use the right tools for the emergency at hand, whether cash, vouchers, or critically needed American food.

For full details on the U.S. government’s food aid reform, visit http://www.usaid.gov/foodaidreform.

Outcomes are Nice, But What About Measuring Them?

This originally appeared on Agrilinks.

This post, written by Alain Vidal, is cross-posted from the CGIAR Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog and the Challenge Program on Water and Food’s (CPWF) Director’s Blog.

This week we are publishing thirteen CPWF outcome stories. Just a few days after the groundbreaking ceremony of the CGIAR Headquarters in Montpellier, where French authorities were told how the new CGIAR was “big, bold and beautiful,” these outcome stories may look small, even tiny. “Islands of success” in the middle of an ambitious “ocean of change.”

What we in CPWF have learnt over the last ten years is that it is not so easy to “get people to do things differently.”  We cannot just provide ‘evidence.’ Science lays the foundation by providing deeper understanding of the problems, better ways to target interventions or new solutions (also called “innovations,” “interventions,” “strategies” or “alternatives”).  But in order to influence stakeholder behavior and achieve outcomes we need to go one step further and engage stakeholders in the process of research itself. It is through their own learning processes that people begin to change or alter how they make decisions.

But let’s consider them more carefully, because outcomes – the new paradigm for the whole CGIAR, which our program was entrusted to test at its creation ten years ago – come in all shapes and sizes. Indeed, outcomes can be defined as changes in stakeholders’ behaviors through shifts in their practice, investments or decision-making processes. They are more about change than about size.

Cambodian woman and man with irrigation drip-kits. Photo credit: WLE

For instance, in Cambodia, the story of drip irrigation farming linked to market opportunities demonstrates how improved water efficiency, primarily in the form of irrigation drip-kits, resulted in water savings, lower labor requirements and improved yields. Income of the target farmers more than doubled.

Another outcome, related to benefit sharing mechanisms in the Rio Ubate / Fuquene lake watershed in Colombia, shows how different stakeholders changed their attitudes towards one another. Combining conservation agriculture with Payment for Environmental Services, partners set up a revolving fund program managed by farmers’ associations. The fund provided smallholder farmers with credit to make an initial investment in conservation agriculture. So far, 100% of the first round of loans have been recovered. From 2006 to 2009, more than 180 hectares of land were brought under conservation agriculture, which in turn increased farmers income by 17%.

These outcomes are not the end of the road. In both instances, the initiatives further innovated and led to new outcomes. In Cambodia IDE is continuing to improve service delivery and diversify markets. The work in Colombia has continued under the guidance of CIAT in the Andes.

The main lesson that we have learned is that outcomes take time to generate, are iterative and not linear. There are not magic bullet solutions in getting to outcomes.

Over the coming months CPWF will be capitalizing on its ten-year research for development experience. Identifying ways to achieve ‘islands of success’, in all their shapes and sizes, is just one way CPWF can contribute to CGIAR’s envisioned ‘ocean of change.’  In its quest to reach millions, CGIAR must focus on the essentials: working through partnershipsengaging with development actors, building trust and listening to the problems at hand rather than just identifying big science-based solutions. What other lessons can we offer to help contribute to this change?

Read the outcome stories…

Learn more about what USAID is doing to meet CGIAR objectives.

African Nations Lead the Way on Country-owned Development

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog.

Forty years ago, Africa was exporting food. Today, it is a net food importer. But there’s no reason African countries can’t achieve greater growth in the agriculture sector to lift their people out of poverty and contribute to global food security.

By 2050, it is projected that we’ll need to increase food production by up to 60 percent to meet the growing world population’s demand for food. And we’ll have to do so with less water and potentially less land than we have now. Enter Africa—with 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, largely farming-based economies, and vast natural resource endowments, Africa has the potential to feed not only itself, but the world.

Progress in the most impoverished parts of our world creates food stability and new markets. Photo credit: USAID

In 2003, African nations came together under a common vision to increase Africa’s growth, development, and participation in the global economy through agriculture-led development. The African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program was born out of this vision—a program aimed at improving economic growth and food security by addressing key policy and capacity issues affecting the agricultural sector and by increasing government spending on agriculture by 10 percent and agricultural productivity by six percent in each country. CAADP, as it is called, would reverse underinvestment in agriculture and put Africa on a new course toward sustainable development and a greater role in the global economy.

The world followed suit in 2009, urged on by food price spikes in 2007 and 2008 that threatened global gains in poverty reduction. Recognizing the urgency of food security, G8 leaders, led by U.S. President Barack Obama, committed to increasing investments in agriculture, which had steadily dropped in past years.

What followed was a new way of doing development, driven by countries themselves rather than donors, and embodied in the Rome Principles for Sustainable Development. CAADP itself is a country-led and country-owned process. Donor commitments, such as ours, follow the lead of African countries and the priorities they’ve set for achieving their own agricultural development and food security.

So far, more than 20 countries in Africa have developed country-owned investment plans that involve not just government ministries but a broad collection of local stakeholders including the private sector and civil society. One of the tremendous innovations of CAADP, as a regional platform, is the process of peer review of these plans, encouraging learning across the continent that ultimately improves the quality of the plans.

We’ve seen tremendous advances in the way development is being done through CAADP, such that other regions outside of Africa have taken up the process. And we’re thrilled to have been a part of a broader donor network supporting the growth of CAADP and building our own plans for investment around strategic priorities outlined by the countries, both through the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative and the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. The sustainability of our programs depends on having country ownership so we’ve built our approach to food security in Africa around CAADP.

This week, I traveled to Ethiopia for the annual CAADP Partnership Platform meeting. This year’s meeting emphasized a number of the themes we stressed last year in the New Alliance: policy actions to stimulate greater private investment in agriculture and mutual accountability for results. [continued]

Read the rest of this post.

 

Fields of Hope in Burkina Faso

As I rode through the dry, dusty countryside of Burkina Faso in late February, I began to wonder how any plant could thrive in the constant heat, and with seemingly little water. Considering the 2012 food crisis, when late rains led to poor harvests and resulted in widespread food insecurity across the Sahel, I wondered how farmers were able to make this dry, hard land produce anything.

With only four months of rain a year – on average 20-35 inches total – farmers are often dependent on this little rain to produce enough food to feed their families and earn enough income to purchase food in the dry season. It’s a delicate balance – too little rain, and their crops fail; too much rain, and their crops fail.

The importance of water particularly becomes stark when you visit communities that lack a good water source. Families have little to eat because they can’t grow enough due to lack of water; children are in poor health because the water source is not sanitary.

Women in Kofogou repairing a dike. Photo credit: USAID

Yet across eastern Burkina Faso, in areas where USAID’s food assistance programs have been working for the last 10 years, green fields are bringing hope to thousands of families, even during the dry season.

Where land was previously infertile or unproductive, land rehabilitation, particularly in the lowlands, has meant farmers are now able to grow high value crops such as rice during the regular harvest season. This provides much needed food and income, especially in comparison with the small yields from cowpeas, sesame, millet and sorghum grown in small household plots. During the dry season, many families are even able to grow onions, tomatoes, green beans, and other crops on these rejuvenated lands to bring in extra income to support their families.

Water was key to these successes. In every community we visited, families identified water as the main constraint to food security. But where USAID partners Catholic Relief Services (CRS), ACDI/VOCA and Africare were able to create or improve water sources, or teach farmers how to capture rain during the rainy season, communities were thriving.

In the hamlet of Kofogou, one woman spoke to us about how for the first time she was able to cultivate rice herself, instead of buying rice, because she now had a plot on the lowland she and other community members redeveloped through Food for Work. Food for Work is work done by community members in exchange for food. On her 0.15 hectares of lowland she now produces ten 75-KG sacks of rice, providing food for her family and a source of income when she sells some of the rice she has parboiled.

I heard similar stories throughout my visit to Burkina Faso. All communities that have been successful identified water access and lowlands development as keys to their success. In Wattigué, the rice producers group “Teeltaaba”, or “Support Each Other”, was organized last year for the 37 farmers working on the newly redeveloped lowlands. In its first year of production on the lowlands – before the 2012 food crisis – the producers group harvested over 15 tons rice. The group sold a portion of this to traders in the larger towns of Kaya and Ouagadougou, rather than individually as small batches to traders in nearby Tougouri as they had in the past. This resulted in better prices. The group’s 2012 sale of rice netted $1,800 income for the 37 farmers. This doesn’t even count the additional tons sold to local women for parboiling and rice collected from each farmer in the community to help feed 68 kids for 3-4 months at the school canteen. Read more on Wattigué.

Rassomde water irrigation system which is shown providing water to their fields of onion and tomato. Photo credit: USAID

Rassomdé community most struck me. Located in Gourcy province northwest of Ouagadougou, Africare had worked in Rassomdé until 2010, at which time their development food assistance program closed. In traveling to Rassomdé, we hoped to see communities faring better than others which weathered the 2012 food crisis, as a result of Africare’s previous assistance. We were not disappointed.

As we drove up to their fields, we saw 30 hectares of green – onions and tomatoes grew everywhere. Their proximity to a reservoir helped. With Africare’s assistance, communities developed these 30 hectares of land, making multiple canals to bring water from the reservoir to the fields. Today, three years after Africare’s departure, producers can pay their expenses and still earn a net income of $617 per household from vegetable gardening in the off-season. Read more on Rassomdé.

While significant challenges remain because of a lack of water or lack of access to water, what we saw demonstrated to me that lasting positive changes are possible, through helping farmers and their communities. I am encouraged that these efforts in Burkina Faso are similar to what’s being done across the Sahel in USAID’s development food assistance programs. These changes are exactly what will lift communities out of a cycle of crisis and lay the foundation for their continued growth.

Celebrating the One-Year Anniversary of the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog

Last March, Feed the Future launched a tool to measure women’s empowerment in agriculture—the first of its kind.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index—developed by USAID, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI)—tracks women’s engagement in agriculture in five areas: production, resources, income, leadership, and time use. Unlike any other tool, it also measures women’s empowerment relative to men within their households, providing a more robust understanding of gender dynamics within households and communities.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (or WEAI) makes empowerment a solid and quantifiable concept Feed the Future and partners can work toward. It also helps us improve the way we do our development work. We’re using the tool to systematically assess and improve our food security programs in regard to women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Azaratu Fushieni walks through her soy field. She has benefited from the assistance of a Feed the Future project, which helped her improve her agricultural practices and use better inputs. Photo credit: Elisa Walton, USAID

We asked Emily Hogue, the acting team leader for monitoring and evaluation in the Bureau for Food Security at USAID, to reflect on the one-year anniversary of this innovative tool, which she helped create.

1. How is Feed the Future currently using the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index?

We’re using the WEAI to track changes in women’s empowerment that occur as a direct or indirect result of Feed the Future programs. There’s a couple of different ways we do that. First, in our focus countries, we’re monitoring changes within the targeted geographic regions where Feed the Future works to track the contribution our food security programs make to women’s empowerment. Second, we’re collecting WEAI data within our impact evaluations on specific activities to learn more about the approaches we’re using and how effective they are. This helps us understand and assess how different approaches impact women and men and identify which program approaches are showing the most promise so we can expand their use.

2. What’s happened over the past year with the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index? What’s new?

In 2012, we collected data for the WEAI through population-based surveys in 16 of the 19 Feed the Future focus countries, alongside other Feed the Future indicators. We’re collecting data in the additional three focus countries in early 2013. This has allowed us to calculate baseline values for the WEAI so we can measure change from these baselines in future years. USAID and partners are also analyzing the large amount of data collected in the surveys to learn more about the relationships between empowerment, poverty, and nutrition, as well as relationships between WEAI indicators. Through our analyses, we’re also exploring how to further refine the tool to make it as practical and broadly useful as possible.

The WEAI team (USAID, IFPRI, and OPHI) produced a number of materials over the past year to support use of the tool, such as a brochure (PDF), a video, a webinar, and a discussion paper (PDF). So far, we’ve trained more than 600 people on how to use the tool—and that doesn’t include the number of people who have viewed our webinar training.

USAID is also funding the WEAI Resource Center at IFPRI, which offers assistance to users on fine-tuning the questionnaire for new contexts, tabulating and analyzing data, and interpreting the WEAI data to inform program design. Through IFPRI, WEAI partners selected four dissertation grants, funded by USAID, for research related to the WEAI. This research is helping build evidence on how women’s empowerment relates to other development outcomes, such as improved nutrition.

We’re excited to roll out a new instructional guide this week, published by IFPRI, that provides detailed information to users on how to use the WEAI questionnaire, analyze the WEAI data, and use the findings of the WEAI to inform program design.

3. How are you using the WEAI to improve the way Feed the Future works?

We created the WEAI as a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tool to track the effects of our programs over time, but one of the most exciting uses of the WEAI has been as a diagnostic tool to identify constraints women face in the agriculture sector. Because the WEAI examines several dimensions and uses direct measures of empowerment rather than proxies, it can identify specific obstacles to women’s advancement in agriculture, such as limited access to credit or limited involvement in leadership roles. Once we identify those constraints, we tailor our programs to address them.

We’re currently examining WEAI baseline data to better understand the primary constraints and how our programs are addressing them. Then, we use the WEAI to track change over time in those specific areas, along with all five dimensions. We’re closely tracking how our programs impact equality and empowerment so we can strengthen and replicate practices that work well and reorient programs that aren’t working.

4. What has been the development community’s response to the WEAI?

Many development partners have expressed interest in using the WEAI for tracking their own programs.  Several international organizations like the International Fund for Agricultural Development, non-governmental organizations like CARE International, and a number of universities are planning to use or are already using the tool for program monitoring and research.

The WEAI team is developing tools and guidance to help our partners use and replicate the WEAI beyond Feed the Future’s focus countries and the targeted regions we work in. With the help of our development partners, we believe we can greatly increase the potential for learning through the WEAI. What started as a fairly modest effort to develop a monitoring tool for Feed the Future has greatly exceeded our expectations and provided the development community with a robust and accessible instrument to tackle one of the most complicated development challenges.

5. What’s next for the WEAI in its second year?

Now that we have a tremendous amount of data on the WEAI, most of our focus for 2013 is on analyzing and learning more about the context of empowerment in the areas where we work, as well as how the WEAI is working as a tool. The WEAI Resource Center and M&E partners are helping us conduct analyses to make this learning happen.

In 2013, we will also be designing and collecting baselines for a few impact evaluations of Feed the Future activities that use the WEAI. The WEAI team has many other materials in the works, so stay tuned in the coming months for baseline reports and a few case studies interpreting the results of the WEAI in our baselines. We’d also love to hear from others about how they are using and learning from the WEAI, so please let us know* about any work you will be doing in 2013 related to the WEAI.

While just a first step to improve learning and programming in this critical area, the WEAI signifies the commitment of the U.S. Government to prioritize empowerment as an essential development outcome that we will measure and strive to achieve.

Celebrating Peace Corps Week: Those Extraordinary Ordinary Volunteers!

This post originally appeared on Feed the Future.

This week, we’re celebrating our partner agency the Peace Corps during its annual Peace Corps Week. Today marks the anniversary of when John F. Kennedy signed the executive order to establish the Peace Corps. The following is a guest blog post by Jean Harman of the Peace Corps, highlighting Peace Corps volunteers’ contributions to Feed the Future’s goal to reduce global hunger, poverty and undernutrition.

Ever since John F. Kennedy and Sargent Shriver created the Peace Corps in 1962, it had been my dream to be a volunteer. But by the 1980s, having finally completed my undergraduate degree at 29, I thought I was too old. Turns out, I wasn’t too old for two years of volunteer service and I began my Peace Corps experience as an agriculture volunteer, helping villagers in Zaire (what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), raise sheep, goats, rabbits, and other small animals.

Peace Corps launched my career in food security. When I returned to the States, I went to graduate school and began a 25-year career as a resource and agricultural economist. Over the course of these years, I learned how many different facets there are to sustainable food security; a variety of issues help create or foster food security in households and communities. I’ve worked in trade, agriculture, natural resource management, and development, to name a few.

A Peace Corps volunteer trains his local community in Malawi on the nutritional benefits of growing soy. Photo credit: Peace Corps

Volunteers are never called ex-volunteers, but rather returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). And we’re a diverse lot, with more than 200,000 RPCVs today. We often hear about RPCVs of note—a former Cabinet member, the president of a university, members of Congress—but there are a lot of extraordinary ordinary volunteers as well.

Take for instance, Elaine Bellezza, who served as a Peace Corps teacher in Cameroon. She ended up helping her community develop an artisanal cooperative, which made bowls, bags, tools and other items out of leather, gourds and other local agricultural products. Through this cooperative, women in the community went from earning about $2 a month to between $60 and $100. Yes, this is food security! Increased income means more money to spend on quality foods. And women’s income is more likely to be spent on food and children’s goods, so increased women’s income can significantly impact food security and improve nutrition.

Elaine returned to the United States in the mid-1990s but was soon overseas again, this time working in Mali. She eventually opened a high-end boutique of household articles and furniture. As a part of the private sector, Elaine worked with a range of women’s cooperatives in Mali. She developed a staff capable of taking over the business for her and running it as a cooperative-owned, woman-led business in Mali—even to this day!

Elaine never left Africa or economic development for long. She now works as a consultant in a variety of countries. An extraordinary ordinary volunteer.

There’s also Gordon Hentze, who served as a “fish” volunteer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was my mentor when I started my Peace Corps assignment, even as his own service was drawing to an end. We quickly discovered when I arrived at my village that we had both attended the same college and lived close to each other in Oregon. Gordon worked with farmers to build fish ponds for raising fish to eat at home and sell for income. Another facet of food security: sufficient food to eat at home and income to purchase additional foods, pay school fees, or buy medicine when it’s needed.

Gordon returned to Oregon after the Peace Corps. He owns a family farm in Junction City where he grows fruit, vegetables and nuts. He also caters to people who want to process their own fresh food: He developed small-scale processing equipment so a family can process its own fruits, vegetables and nuts in household-sized quantities. Innovation—a skill Gordon developed as a volunteer and now uses to foster food security through his business as a farmer in the private sector. Another extraordinary ordinary volunteer.

While many Peace Corps volunteers are extraordinary ordinary people, the same could be said of their service. Helping start a local cooperative. Training business owners. Teaching people to fish. These tasks are ordinary when taken at face value. But when you see each as a contributor to global food security, they take on an extraordinary quality. A local cooperative in a developing country that raises incomes of women so they can invest more in their children and families, sending both their sons and daughters to school. A business owner whose business sells nutritious foods and supplements in a community that sorely needed jobs and access to these items. A family that improves its diet with fish and is able to sell extra fish on the local market, sharing the nutritious value of the fish with the community and making extra money to invest in the family business, children’s education, and healthcare for all family members.

All this is happening thanks to the extraordinary ordinary work of Peace Corps volunteers at the grassroots level of agriculture and economic development. Seemingly ordinary tasks, carried out by individuals in partnership with developing communities, that are helping lift communities out of chronic hunger and poverty and into sustainable food security.

Peace Corps volunteers have been working on food security issues in their host countries for decades. Recently, Peace Corps teamed up with the U.S. Agency for International Development to work on food security issues under Feed the Future. In name, this designates the volunteers as Feed the Future Peace Corps Volunteers. In action, it provides better coordination between USAID and Peace Corps’ agriculture and economic development efforts and enables Feed the Future to benefit from one of Peace Corps’ major competitive advantages: grassroots development activities that support global food security.  

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