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Focus on Nutrition: Creating Inclusive Partnerships and Deepening our Knowledge

This originally appeared on DipNote.

Recently, I visited Bangladesh to find out how you feed a country that has half the population of the United States squeezed into an area the size of the state of Iowa. One thing is for certain: no one can do it alone. During my trip, I witnessed how partnerships among a broad range of stakeholders — the Rome-based UN agencies, the Government of Bangladesh, donor countries, civil society and the private sector — are coming together to change the way we address chronic hunger. The U.S. government is supporting partnerships that deliver food, including fortified vegetable oil, in conjunction with health and other interventions that help ensure our programs translate into better nutrition outcomes.

Good nutrition is crucial during the first 1,000 days — from the mother’s pregnancy through the child’s second birthday — because it affects lifelong mental and physical development, IQ, school achievement, and, ultimately, work capacity and income generation. Thus, nourishing children not only enables individuals to achieve their full potential, but creates the conditions for nations to grow and prosper. This is one of the reasons why nutrition is the critical link between Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative, the game-changing Presidential initiatives that address global hunger and maternal and child health as part of a broader strategy to drive sustainable and broad-based growth.

We know that we have to look at child malnutrition in new ways to accelerate progress toward the first Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015. We know that better targeting and implementation of nutrition programs can greatly increase the effectiveness of our assistance and, most importantly, the ability of all children to thrive. We also know, as Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton stated at the “1,000 Days: Change a Life, Change the Future” event in New York last month, that prevention is better, and less expensive, than treatment.

The U.S. government is leading programs that focus on preventing malnutrition before it occurs. Core components of this new approach aim at improving the quality and use of health services, caretaker behaviors and dietary intake. Pregnant women and lactating mothers attend monthly pre- and post-natal services and nutrition education sessions while children up to 24 months are weighed and provided with basic care. Sick or malnourished mothers and children are treated or referred for additional care. Mothers and babies receive supplementary food in addition to a household food ration. As the international community recognizes, we need comprehensive approaches that draw from a broad toolbox in order to prevent and treat malnutrition effectively.

In addition to working to improve our programs on the ground, we are increasing the quality and scope of our food assistance commodities. We recently established a pilot effort to introduce and field-test new or improved micronutrient-fortified food aid products. We are also pursuing innovation around the nutritional content, product composition, and packaging of food products delivered through humanitarian assistance programs. Congress made $14 million available to support these two efforts in fiscal year 2010.

The American people will continue to provide emergency food aid assistance to vulnerable populations. And we are working with top researchers to help ensure that the food aid provided has a high nutritional value. With Tufts University’s School of Nutrition, we are examining nutritional needs and how we can best meet those needs — be they in Bangladesh or the Great Lakes of Central Africa — where I’ve seen incredible work being done. The study includes a scientific review of current enrichment and fortification technologies, a review of methods for delivery of micronutrients and an active consultative process that involves industry, academic and operational experts. Ultimately, it will provide recommendations on how to meet the nutritional needs of vulnerable populations with food aid assistance in a cost-effective manner.

While we expect that some time will be necessary to implement the recommendations, make the necessary changes in formulations, and test new products, our purpose is clear: We are committed to delivering high-quality, nutritious food assistance to people in need. As reaffirmed in the Committee on World Food Security nutrition side event last week, nutrition science has pointed the way to interventions that are basic, low-cost and effective. There is political will to scale up nutrition, align our efforts and measure our results. As Secretary Clinton has emphasized, we must use this remarkable opportunity to make a measurable impact on child hunger and malnutrition.

Food Security Month @ USAID: Expanding Our Toolkit in the Fight Against Global Hunger

This orginally appeared on DipNote.

I am halfway around the world from Washington, and on October 6, I participated in the Indonesia Joint Agriculture and Investment Forum. I traveled to Malaysia and Indonesia this week to discuss trade, investment, entrepreneurship, energy, and of course, agriculture. I am proud to be part of President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s renewed commitment to political, economic, and educational engagement with dynamic emerging economies like Indonesia. I am especially pleased to be back in Indonesia after my successful visit this past spring, during which we discussed the issues of post-harvest loss and agricultural biotechnology.

The Indonesia Joint Agriculture and Investment Forum builds on that work by including many distinguished participants to chart a course for the future. Dr. Bayu Krishnamurti, Indonesian Vice Minister of Agriculture, Ambassador Eric Bost of the Borlaug Institute, and many other luminaries in the field have come together to discuss new agricultural technologies, investment in post-harvest infrastructure, and expanded cooperation at research universities.

Ultimately, we are all here to reaffirm our commitment to fight global hunger. While there are no magic bullets in this battle, we must look to new technologies, including biotechnology, for the role that they can play in the “new green revolution.’ I believe that biotechnology, and the improved crops it can develop, will prove to be an important new element in our traditional package of tools to increase productivity and address head-on the challenges of hunger and climate change.

To that end, we are renewing several key partnerships in the area of biotechnology. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will work with the Indonesian government and the Program for Biosafety Systems to develop a new and fully functional biosafety framework in Indonesia.

We are also building on long-standing partnerships with international agriculture research centers. USAID will be supporting collaboration between the International Rice Research Institute and the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development, and other partners to roll-out Golden Rice, an important food-based approach to alleviating Vitamin A deficiency and associated serious health issues in Indonesia.

In the face of one child dying of malnutrition every six seconds, our greatest tool is increased cooperation and collaboration to develop and share the best solutions possible.

Higher Engineering Education Program Announced

Submitted by Richard Nyberg – USAID/Vietnam

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has joined forces with American universities and the private sector in efforts to enhance the quality of engineering education at Vietnam’s top technical universities. In collaboration with the Government of Vietnam, USAID is working with Arizona State University, Portland State University, and Intel Corporation as part of the new Higher Engineering Education Alliance Program valued at $2.5 million. Intel’s anticipated contribution to the program totals $1.5 million.  “This program will result in a more highly educated and motivated faculty using cutting edge curricula,” said U.S. Ambassador Michael W. Michalak. “They will train bright and successful engineers who will help Vietnam reach its rightful place in the global economy.” The three-year public-private partnership will work closely with the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) and technical universities in Vietnam to advance their electrical and mechanical engineering curricula and instruction leading to a highly-skilled technical workforce to strengthen the emerging high-tech manufacturing sector in Vietnam.

 

Former Afghan Aid Chief Reflects on Career in Foreign Assistance

After 14 months heading the largest USAID office in Agency history—in Afghanistan— Bill Frej stepped down from a long career in foreign assistance this summer. “We have completely transformed the aid program and made agriculture the number one priority,” said Frej in an interview in Washington.

Although Frej admitted to many challenges in delivering large amounts of foreign assistance in a war zone, the aid veteran is replete with success stories. Frej counts the mass enrollment of girls in schools as one of USAID’s major accomplishments in Afghanistan, explaining that U.S. assistance helped increase countrywide school enrollment from 400,000 children—only boys—in 2001 to 6.5 million today, 40 percent of them girls.

Frej said he recently travelled three hours by jeep to visit a USAID program in a village in Bamiyan at 10,000 feet. He was struck to see children, boys and girls, being taught to read, write and even speak English by a trained teacher in such an isolated place. “USAID and our development partner, Aga Khan Trust, were the first development organizations to visit this village,” he said.

Frej also points to major healthcare improvements as a result of U.S. government aid activity. “I’ve been to 28 of the 34 provinces and in almost every visit, seen midwives training. [Afghanistan] had the highest mortality rate of mothers and children in childbirth in the world and it has been completely turned around,” he said. Frej called Afghanistan one of the best success stories “anywhere in the developing world” in terms of gains in mother-child health. “USAID has a great deal to be proud of.”

Great Gains for Tiny Timor-Leste – Reflections from the Road Part 2

Development Half a World Away: Field Visit Day Two and Departure
By Frank Young, USAID’s Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia

It was the second day of our field trip to visit USAID projects in rural Timor-Leste.  That morning, we headed down the mountain to participate in a harvest ceremony of high-value horticulture crops being grown in new greenhouses supported by USAID.  It had been raining buckets over night, and we encountered a large tree that had fallen across the road, cutting off our route.  There was no way to drive around it, and it was far too heavy for even four of us to move.  I took a machete and, alongside the driver, started hacking away.  After a few minutes I let more expert people take over the chopping and instead took up dragging the large limbs to the side of the road.  Within a half hour we were back on our way.

The greenhouses in the village of Liure house row after row of massive red tomatoes and capsicum like nothing I had ever seen in size or quality.  They smelled wonderful and were virtually unblemished.  Everything was organic:  no pesticides and only organic fertilizer.  In the outside fields nearby, broccoli and cauliflower were also being grown.  Projects, like the one USAID supports there, help farmers produce locally at prices competitive with imported fresh products.

My final stop was the Timor-Leste Coffee Cooperative’s coffee sorting and bagging operations.  I walked into a long, narrow area housing 700 women, who sorted out coffee beans with even the most minor flaw.  Those beans are sent elsewhere to be made into instant coffee.  I then watched the beans being loaded into 160 lb. bags, which are carried one by one and put into large shipping containers for export.

On my final day in Timor-Leste, Mark White, the Charge’, and I spent an hour with President Ramos-Horte, a Nobel laureate who led the struggle for the country’s independence in the 1990s.  Later, we met with the Finance Minister and discussed prospects for replicating and scaling up our successful agriculture projects (beyond coffee) for national scope and impact.  We then dashed to a meeting with the donor community, where I got a candid reading of the relationship between donors and the government and what their plans are going forward in terms of assistance.

Finally, I had lunch with Mission staff to talk about my impressions of my four days in country and about what is going on in Washington that is of relevance to them—and, most important, to listen to their thoughts and concerns.

When I returned to Washington, jet-lagged and aching from the long flight, the cup of coffee I sipped never tasted so good – and it brought back vivid memories of the outstanding work USAID has done and continues to do in tiny, distant Timor-Leste.

Reflections From the Road — Part One

Great Gains for Tiny Timor-Leste – Reflections from the Road

Development Half a World Away: Arrival and Field Visit Day One
Submitted by Frank Young, USAID Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia

I touched down at the one-building international airport in Dili, Timor-Leste, on July 24 and was met by Mission Director Mark White. As we dashed to his car, he told me that he had determined that Timor-Leste is the farthest USAID Mission in terms of travel time from Washington, D.C. My stiff back concurred.

We left the next day for a two-day field trip outside Dili. First stop was the major coffee-drying operation of the Timor-Leste Coffee Cooperative (CCT), operated by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA), which has been building this sector with USAID support since 1994. Acres of green Arabica beans were spread out on plastic sheets—it was the height of the harvest season—as workers used long-handled spreaders to continuously turn them over to dry in the hot sun. It’s labor-intensive work for the almost 3,000 person workforce that earns about $3.50-$5.00/day.

Later, we headed up 5,000 feet into the mountains of central Timor-Leste to the village of Maubissee, where the major collection and washing operation of the coffee cooperative is located. I learned en route that the cooperative will export $11-12 million of green beans this year from Dili’s port to buyers that include Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, and occasionally Caribou Coffee. The operation pumps about $14,000 a day into the local economy through its labor force.

Coffee production is one of USAID’s long-term success stories in Timor-Leste. Our investment is paying dividends now in employment, agricultural development, and economic growth for Timor-Leste. Coffee production has done so well, in fact, that USAID support is no longer needed (the cooperative agreement ends this year). However, we still support several other areas of NCBA’s work in Timor-Leste, as I would see at my next stop.

Late in the afternoon I visited one of CCT’s health clinics and learned that the government of Timor-Leste relies on these clinics in the coffee-growing areas where it is not yet able to deliver services. With USAID’s support, and revenues from coffee operations, the clinics are able to offer free health services to everyone in the coffee-growing regions, not just the members of the cooperative.

The entire staff of the Maubissee clinic gathered, and I told them how impressed I was by what they are able to do for the community in the small but well-equipped clinic and how thankful I was for their dedicated service and passion to serve the people who so badly need what they offer. The Timorese head of the clinic, Ms. Marcy, began to cry. I suddenly felt badly that somehow I had offended them with the few words of Tetum I uttered. No, they tell me; no one had come this far to thank her and the staff personally for the long hours they put in day after day.

Reflections from the Road – Part Two

Supporting a Sustainable Economy in Northern Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, USAID is supporting activities that increase economic opportunities, enhance respect for human rights, strengthen rule of law, improve responsive governance, and foster political reconciliation.  In recent years Sri Lanka has gone through major transitions. More than two decades of fighting prevented Sri Lanka from reaching its potential. The goal of this work is to help members of all ethnic groups rebuild their local communities, find jobs, and participate in the country’s development.

Our USAID Mission in Sri Lanka has recently forged four new business alliances with Sri Lankan private companies, under USAID’s Public/Private Alliance (PPA) Program (PDF). These partnerships are expected to create 10,000 full-time jobs in northern Sri Lanka.  By helping to create jobs, USAID is assisting communities who have suffered through decades of conflict to have sustainable income and increased business opportunities.

An alliance between USAID and a Sri Lankan construction consortium will establish seven mobile training centers for construction craftsmen in the Northern Province.  Training will be provided to 5,000 people over a period of six months including three months of on-the-job training.

Another alliance has been established with a leading garment textile firm in Jaffna which manufactures and exports denim textiles.  This alliance will create 1,800 full-time jobs over three years.

To help young people affected by conflict get jobs, build greater capacity and fill workforce gaps, USAID is teaming with leading English language training companies to establish professional IT and English skills development training centers in each of the five districts in the Northern Province.  Courses in Business Process Outsourcing and English Language Skills will be offered at no charge to over 3,000 under- and unemployed students who will then participate in on-the-job training programs with private firms.  This program will be working with the marginalized population in Jaffna who have, for the last 26 years of conflict, not been exposed to even basic IT technology.

USAID is working with a major garment manufacturer to expand its operations to northern Sri Lanka.  This alliance is expected to initially employ 750 full-time staff and market its finished apparel to international clothing firms. Emphasis will be placed on supporting widows, single mothers, and families with disabled members.

“I am confident these new alliances together with the previously established alliances will be significant catalysts to spur development in the North,” says USAID Sri Lanka Mission Director Rebecca Cohn.

Addendum: The USAID-supported project in northern Sri Lanka to provide IT training to under- and unemployed Sri Lankans affected by the country’s long conflict, will not include training in Enterprise Java. USAID’s partner in the project, a Sri Lankan company, initially requested to teach Enterprise Java to students that may qualify. However, after conducting due diligence, the partner found that the training programs must focus on fundamental computer skills, as the majority of prospective trainees lacked even basic experience with computers. Thus, training provided under the USAID-funded project will focus exclusively on building basic IT competencies. The reference to “Enterprise Java” in the Embassy’s press release was inadvertently included as a holdover from initial discussions.

This Week at USAID – July 26, 2010

Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Management Drew Luten will testify before the Commission on Wartime Contracting on Subcontracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Administrator Shah and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke will appear before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations for an oversight hearing on corruption in Afghanistan.

Chief Innovation Officer Maura O’Neill will participate in a briefing entitled: Innovation to Catalyze Development: Leveraging Research in Foreign Assistance, which is organized by the Global Health Technologies Coalition and the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.

Administrator Shah will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere about: The Crisis in Haiti: Are We Moving Fast Enough?  He will also brief the Congressional Black Caucus about efforts in Haiti.

USAID – From the Field

In Zambia USAID has partnered with World Vision to implement The Community Based Prevention Initiative for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, Youth and other Vulnerable Populations Program to strengthen community response and leadership for HIV prevention and improve the quality of life for orphans and other vulnerable, at-risk children.  USAID and World Vision will work with the Zambian government to strengthen community response and leadership for HIV prevention; improve the quality of life for orphans and other at-risk children through educational, psychosocial, food and nutritional support and by improving their access to health care, child protection and legal services.

The American people’s response to HIV/AIDS in Zambia has contributed significantly to the scale up of HIV prevention, care, and treatment services. Notable among the successes has been a significant number of community-based care programs for orphans and vulnerable children, care and support programs for people living with HIV/AIDS, increased access of pregnant women to Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission services, establishment of a network of trained volunteer caregivers and peer educators, a significant number of Zambians accessing Anti-retrovrial Therapy and a decrease in the prevalence of HIV from 15.6 percent to 14.3 percent between 2001 and 2007.

In Indonesia a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Information Computer Technology (ICT) lab at the Al-Ahliyah religious junior secondary school (Madrasah) in Karawang, West Java.  The event highlights a public/private partnership to support quality and relevance of education through strengthening the use of ICT in education.  The school will receive a state-of-the-art computer lab, with equipment, software and educational resources from private sector partners.  USAID is providing teacher training and support, The Office of Defense Cooperation has also provided resources for construction of the lab building and donated staff time and resources.

Long-Term Investments to Bring Real-Life Improvements to People of Pakistan

A summary map on the activities announced or underway in Pakistan.

During Dr. Raj Shah’s whirlwind two-day visit to Pakistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the ongoing Strategic Dialogue between the two countries, the U.S. announced more than $500 million in new development assistance for Pakistan. 

The new projects include the completion of two hydroelectric dams in South Waziristan and Gilgit-Baltistan that will supply more than 34 megawatts of additional power to 280,000 residents in those areas, the renovation and construction of three medical facilities, economic growth programs and seven projects to improve water distribution and efficiency in the country. Much of the assistance will be delivered by USAID.

The United States shares with Pakistan a vision of a future in which all people can live safe, healthy, and productive lives. Dr. Shah spoke with press about USAID’s role in Pakistan, saying that “Our commitment is broad and deep,” and one that encompasses programs ranging from health and energy to economic growth and agriculture. 

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