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Coding for Hunger: Not Development as Usual

Dr. Maura O'Neill is the chief innovation officer and senior counselor to the administrator at USAID. Photo Credit: USAID

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.

 

Enough Isn’t Enough: Why Food Security Matters to Me

This post originally appeared on the Feed the Future website.

Roger Thurow serves as Global Affairs Senior Fellow at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

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.

Follow Feed the Future on Facebook and join the conversation on Twitter @feedthefuture.

Bangladeshi Farmers Reap Rewards from New Agricultural Techniques

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.

Strip Tillage
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.

Bed Planting
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.

USAID Hack for Hunger Winners Showcase Open Data on World Food Day

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 – Focus on Malawi

“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!

A farmer in Malawi demonstrates how she diverts water from a main irrigation channel to a row of crops. Photo: Helen Ho, USAID

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.

Live at UNGA – Day Three

To see the online conversation at UNGA, visit USAID’s Storify Feed

Day three at UNGA included two marquee events spotlighting progress to date on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.  We also announced a new partnership to expand access to contraception for 27 million women and girls in low-income countries.

With only 15 months until the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) deadline, USAID partnered on an event with the UK Department for International Development for a second year to draw attention to the importance of the global community working together to reach the MDG targets by 2015.  The event brought to life the enormous development advancements made on the way to achieving the MDGs and featured innovators from across the development community sharing transformative programs and policies.  The world has met two MDG targets ahead of the 2015 deadline – poverty has been cut by 50 percent globally and the proportion of people with no safe drinking water has been cut in half.

That afternoon, Administrator Shah co-hosted with other G8 members the New Alliance: Progress and the Way Forward event.  President Obama announced the New Alliance for Food Security & Nutrition earlier this year, in which G8 nations, African partner countries and private sector partners aim to help lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty in the next 10 years by supporting agricultural development. Initially launched in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania, at the event, representatives from the New Alliance, G8 countries and the private sector announced the expansion to other African countries, including Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and Mozambique.

Finally, Administrator Shah took part in the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children. Prior to the meeting, Dr. Shah joined the Commission Co-Chairs, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway and President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, alongside former President Bill Clinton, to launch a new partnership to make a safe, effective, long-acting, reversible method of contraception available to more than 27 million women in the world’s poorest nations. Under the agreement, Bayer is reducing by more than half the current 18 USD price of its long-acting, reversible method of contraception, Jadelle, in return for a commitment to assure funding for at least 27 million contraceptive devices over the next six years.  Dr. Shah stated, ”The US Agency for International Development is proud to have funded the development of this life-saving product. Today is a major step forward to making this product more accessible to millions of women, empowering them with the ability to make decisions about their health and family.”

As always, follow us live on Twitter to keep up with the latest developments!

From Conflict to Coping

Tisda, Mercy Corps Program Officer, in Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Erin Gray, Mercy Corps

Last summer, amidst the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in generations, Mercy Corps received encouraging news from local officials in the Somali-Oromiya region of Ethiopia.  In this area – long known for conflict, scarce resources and harsh conditions – communities that had participated in USAID-supported Mercy Corps peacebuilding efforts were reportedly coping better than they had during less severe droughts in the past.

We were intrigued, so we sent out a research team—and the findings were striking: when local conflict had been addressed, people were far better equipped to survive the drought.

To understand why, put yourself in the position of an Ethiopian herder.  When a drought hits, you can cope in several ways.  First, you will sell the weakest animals in your herd, raising cash to meet your family’s short-term needs while reducing grazing pressure on a water-scare environment. You may migrate with the remaining herd to areas where the grazing potential is better.  Along the way, you will rely on sharing access to scarce remaining water resources wherever you go.

Yet conflict can make these coping mechanisms impossible – blocking market access, freedom of movement, and access to shared resources like water. In this part of Ethiopia, population pressure and climate change had strained resources, spurring violence that in 2008-09 resulted in massive loss of lives and assets. In response to that conflict, Mercy Corps initiated a peacebuilding process in 2009 with support from USAID.  We helped participating communities focus on establishing peaceful relations, economic linkages, and joint management of natural resources.

A “resilience” approach to aid focuses on understanding, and improving, how communities cope with drought and other shocks.  Instead of just providing assistance that meets immediate material needs, a resilience approach also focuses on factors that affect a community’s ability to cope.  As Mercy Corps found last summer in Ethiopia, this often means focusing on factors that fall well outside the traditional assistance toolkit.

The program had focused on reducing violence – but our researchers found that it also built resilience along the way. Communities that participated in Mercy Corps’ program reported greater freedom of movement and fewer barriers to accessing resources, markets and public services than did non-participating communities. They identified greater freedom of movement as the single most important factor contributing to their ability to cope and adapt to the severe drought conditions. As one herder from the Wachile community said, “It is very difficult to use or access dry reserves (grazing areas) located in contending communities in a situation where there is no peace…the peace dialogues in the area have improved community interaction and helped us to access these resources.”

Our research report – titled Conflict to Coping – confirmed the important link between conflict and resilience in this region, and demonstrated that effective peacebuilding interventions help build resilience to crises.  Participating communities showed less reliance on distressful coping strategies, especially depletion of productive assets, than other communities. Importantly, the increased peace and security has allowed participating communities to employ more effective livelihood coping strategies, enabling them to better cope with extreme droughts.

USAID Book Club: A Farewell to Alms

Fall semester @USAID banner image

As part of USAID’s Fall Semester, we will host an online book club for our readers this fall. The Impact Blog will post suggestions from our senior experts at USAID to suggest a book on important issues in international development.  We’ll provide you and your book club with the reading suggestions and discussion questions, and you tell us what you think! Our fall reading list will  explore solutions to the most pressing global challenges in international development—mobile solutions, poverty, hunger, health, economic growth, and agriculture.

This week’s choice comes from: USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah

Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 8,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.

Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 8,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.

Book: A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, by Gregory Clark

Synopsis: The source of human progress has long been a subject of debate. What makes rich countries rich, and poor countries poor? In the this book,  University of California, Davis, Economist Gregory Clark offers a provocative take on the age-old question, arguing that it was culture—rather than geography, natural resources or centuries of exploitation—that left some parts of the globe behind.

According to Clark, relative stability and effective workforces enabled certain societies to take better advantage of the Industrial Revolution’s new technologies and opportunities. Those countries with lax systems or undisciplined workers lost ground, and stayed there.

Clark’s book is skeptical of whether the poorest parts of the world will ever achieve real progress. For development professionals, it offers up a challenge to the belief that outside intervention can help bridge the vast economic divide between rich and poor.

Review:  This book impacted me because it shows how for hundreds, or even thousands, of years basic economic progress was largely stagnant. You didn’t have rapid compound increases in living standards until the Industrial Revolution when some countries and some societies got on a pathway towards growth – towards better health, longer life expectancy, higher income per person and more investment in education. Others remained on a slower-moving pathway.

That great divergence, and the study of it, is at the core of development. It is that divergence that we try to learn from and correct for. We define success in development as helping communities and countries get on that pathway towards improved health and education, and greater wealth creation.

I didn’t choose this book because I think it is the definitive story on development, but rather because I share its focus on core economic growth as the driver of divergence.

I disagree where Clark concludes that some societies failed to take advantage of the availability of modern technology because their cultures were antagonistic to development. With the right conditions in place, you can unlock a formidable work ethic from a range of different cultures and communities. The last 50 years have shown us that. By investing in local capacity and local institutions, we can leave a legacy of economic infrastructure, strong and capable leadership, and transparent, effective public and private sector institutions.

USAID’s partnerships in Latin America helped country after country develop strong institutions. The same can be said for South Korea. Unfortunately, there have been examples where aid and assistance have been provided in a manner that was not as sensitive to building lasting local capacity and institutions. This is true for all partners, not just our Agency. That’s why we’ve launched a program called USAID Forward, to refocus on working in a way that will create durable and sustained progress.

Administrator Shah is on Twitter at @rajshah. You  can also “Ask the Administrator” your questions on Crowdhall

Discussion Questions

1. Do you agree with Clark that some societies failed to take advantage of the availability of modern technology because their cultures were antagonistic to development?

2. The Nobel prize-winning economist Robert Solow has said Clark does not take into account how institutional factors, such as cronyism, inequitable taxation and ineffectual government cripple development. What role do you think these institutional factors play?

3. Clark challenges how effective outside intervention can be in helping poor nations progress. Do you agree?

4. Regardless of why some nations have fallen behind, how do you think they can bridge that gap today?

5. Has your world view changed after reading this book and how?

Get Involved: Use the comments section of this blog post to share your answers, or tweet them to us at #fallsemester

Afghanistan’s Banner Year for Agriculture (and how to get more of them)

The 2012 wheat harvest in Afghanistan is shaping up to be one of the best in the last 35 years, according to a new report by the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture.  This is fantastic news for the Afghan people and economy. Afghanistan has been one of the least food secure countries in the world due to a combination of drought, conflict, and low productivity. In 2002, under famine conditions, 10 million Afghans required substantial food aid.

With an eye to the future and to overcome these perennial challenges, USAID and the Government of Afghanistan have made support for agriculture a top priority of our efforts in Afghanistan. This support has been instrumental in enabling Afghan producers to capitalize on favorable conditions through programs that increase farmer’s productivity. For example, our IDEA NEW (Incentives Driving Economic Alternatives-North, East, West) program has trained over 300,000 Afghan farmers on agriculture productivity and provided technical expertise for almost 6,000 businesses. Watch this short video.

Afghanistan requires an estimated seven million metric tons of wheat to feed its population. Wheat is especially critical in Afghanistan as it accounts for a substantial proportion of average nutritional intake. Without enough wheat, Afghans are either forced to purchase more expensive imported wheat or reduce their consumption. Reduced consumption leads to widespread undernourishment which in turn affects child mortality and growth, educational attainment, and worker productivity.

The Big News: the prediction for this year’s harvest is 6.7 million tons of wheat, or 94% self-sufficiency. A primary reason for this record harvest is favorable weather conditions and rain and snow melt at the right times in the planting cycle. Significant investments by American taxpayers in Afghanistan have also been critical. Improving irrigation has allowed farmers to get more water to their fields at the right time. Improved seed distribution and hands-on programs to introduce improved cultivation techniques has made the land more productive. And improved storage and transport infrastructure allows a lot more of the produce to get to market. Each of these improvements adds up to a big difference, and Afghanistan’s farmers increase their crops and their family nutrition and income.

Now the challenge is to make these gains sustainable. In Nangrahar, USAID is working with “agro-entrepreneurs” to build packaging facilities and pave the way for increased exports. In the south, melons are being exported to India and Pakistan thanks to improved roads and trade agreements that allow for transport of goods where before most produce spoiled on the way to market or didn’t have markets to reach.

This year of success does not diminish the need for the US and Afghan governments to stay focused on addressing the long-term food security challenge in Afghanistan.  USAID’s agriculture strategy is working to reduce the influence of weather and increase the self-sufficiency and resiliency of Afghanistan’s farmers.

Alex Thier serves as assistant to the administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs.

Building Our Legacy

Originally posted at Feed the Future.

A week ago, against the backdrop of the Olympics, I witnessed history. I was there not for the Games, but for the Global Hunger Event, which was co-hosted by U.K. Prime Minister Cameron and Brazil Vice President Temer.

The event brought civil society and private sector partners together with leaders from across the globe—and even a few Olympic heroes including in incomparable Mo Farah—to commit to championing for change against global hunger.

At the top of the list of priorities that emerged: Making significant gains against undernutrition before the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Just as is true for Olympians to be at their best, we know that adequate nutrition—especially in the critical 1,000-day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday—is key to a healthy, productive life. However, two billion people in the world, including nearly 200 million children under 5 years of age, suffer from undernutrition and its irreversible effects.

The good news? We can change this. And we are already taking the steps needed to do so.

Through Feed the Future, we support countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur inclusive economic growth that increases incomes and reduces hunger and poverty. We are integrating nutrition and agriculture programs, and have set ambitious targets that contribute to the World Health Assembly’s new global goal to reduce the number of stunted children by 40 percent by 2025.

If it sounds like a big undertaking, it is. We have the know-how and tools to make a difference. But we can’t do this work alone. We need strong global partnerships to champion that our generation’s legacy should include the not “heroic,” but simply “human,” act of ending huger.

It’s why we work with partners like Pepsi, HarvestPlus, DSM, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition to foster private sector-led innovation and public-private partnerships that can strengthen agriculture value, spur productivity, and develop more nutritious foods that are accessible to the poor. And we know that our civil society and NGO partners are critical to making this a reality.

That spirit of partnership is what drives the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which was announced by President Obama just prior to the G8 Summit this year. A commitment by G8 nations, African partner countries and private sector partners to support agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa, the New Alliance aims to lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty in the next 10 years.

What I realized at the Global Hunger Event was that the momentum we’ve all created—through Feed the Future, the New Alliance, and this event—is real. Next year, the G8 presidency will transition from the United States to our friends in the United Kingdom, and I couldn’t be more thrilled that food security and nutrition, as evidenced by the Global Hunger Event, will continue to be a clear priority.

In the days ahead, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania will host workshops to kick off New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition Cooperation Frameworks. These workshops will bring host-country government partners, African and G8 country government officials, international donors, private sector partners, and civil society groups together to focus on the implementation of actions to accelerate country plans and priorities for improved food security and nutrition.

The fact that so many leaders from so many sectors are committed and working together toward a common goal is groundbreaking. It is the stuff of history. In our day-to-day routine, it’s easy to get caught up in the details and miss the big picture: We’re making progress on incredibly urgent and important issues like hunger, poverty and undernutrition.

If we all continue to champion these efforts, and work alongside our colleagues, partners, and heroes to fight hunger, what will our legacy be?

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