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Archives for Asia

Video of the Week: Empowering Women Through Horticultural Innovations

The USAID Horticulture Project in Bangladesh aims to educate and train local farmers on innovative agricultural technologies that help diversify crops to increase nutritional value. With our partners the International Potato Center, AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center, BRAC and Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), we are working with local farmers to diversify diets and agricultural production systems with potato, orange-fleshed sweet potato, summer tomato, and nutritious indigenous vegetables. Meet some of the women farmers that have benefited from training in grafting tomato and producing sweet potato seedlings.

Learn more about our Mission of the Month: USAID Bangladesh.

Like USAID Bangladesh on Facebook and follow @USAID_BD and #MissionofMonth on Twitter for ongoing updates!

From the Field in Timor-Leste: Giving Communities a Voice in Conservation

It was a bright morning as nearly 200 people gathered in Manatuto, Timor-Leste, to share ideas about how to conserve their community’s marine resources with a team from USAID’s Coral Triangle Support Partnership. Being lucky enough to attend, I saw firsthand how this meeting of the minds linked program staff from Conservation International — USAID’s implementing partner — with the perspectives of one coastal community.

Through the Coral Triangle Support Partnership, USAID is supporting Timor-Leste’s efforts to anticipate and adapt to climate change and natural disasters, especially in coastal communities. The Timorese government is creating protected areas, called “no-take zones,” where fishing is prohibited. The goal is for fish to grow to healthy sizes, improving the chances that the species will survive. This is important not only for Timor-Leste’s fisheries, but also global fisheries. The highest fish diversity on the planet is in Southeast Asia.

Ruy Pinto, a representative from the Coral Triangle Support Partnership, shows fisherman Feliz Fernandes how to use dive equipment during a community meeting in Manatuto. Photo credit: Cristovão Guterres, USAID/Timor-Leste

Ruy Pinto, a representative from the Coral Triangle Support Partnership, shows fisherman Feliz Fernandes how to use dive equipment during a community meeting in Manatuto. Photo credit: Cristovão Guterres, USAID/Timor-Leste

Community participation in and support for this process is crucial, because so many people depend on the marine environment for income. At the meeting in Manatuto, fishermen, community leaders, women and representatives from local government raised concerns about what would happen when the fishing areas closed. They needed to be sure they could support their families. Representatives from USAID and Conservation International explained that only certain areas identified for replenishment of fish stocks would be closed, and only for a period of three years, and that during this time other areas would remain open for fishing. By the end of the meeting, there was a mutual understanding that fishing could not happen in these protected areas in order to allow the fish to regain their numbers and remain plentiful for future generations, but that in the meantime, people could still catch fish in other areas to support their families.

Timor-Leste is home to a rich variety of marine life and sits within the Coral Triangle, one of the most important areas in the world for coral and marine biodiversity. Covering just two percent of the global ocean, the Coral Triangle contains 75 percent of all coral species and 35 percent of the world’s coral reefs. In Manatuto, one of the country’s most biologically diverse areas, most people rely on fishing for their livelihoods. Unfortunately, some fishing practices damage the coral reefs and wildlife. Along with the growing effects of climate change, such practices place immense pressure on an already fragile environment.

By acknowledging community concerns and asking for their input, USAID and Conservation International are able to integrate local knowledge and customs into their work with the Timorese government. Discussions like this one strengthen community-government relationships and help establish community-based management systems that align with customary laws, called Tara Bandu, which guide people’s interactions with one another and with the environment. In the Tara Bandu process, communities set out guidelines for harvesting natural resources and the penalties for those who violate them.

“No-take zones” at Nino Koni Santana National Park in Timor-Leste. Photo credit: Cristovão Guterres, USAID/Timor-Leste

“No-take zones” at Nino Koni Santana National Park in Timor-Leste. Photo credit: Cristovão Guterres, USAID/Timor-Leste

As a result, the Timorese government’s National Plan of Action has the support of the people who are central to successful marine management practices. The plan sets out how Timor-Leste government will work contribute to the regional goals of the Coral Triangle Initiative.

One Manatuto fisherman, Feliz Fernandes, shared his excitement with me. “This meeting was very important,” he said, “so that we could hear directly from the teams how to protect our marine resources, so that in the future we can still have new species that may be already gone around the world.” Thinking about the program team’s scuba demonstration, he went on to say that he hopes to someday have his own scuba equipment, “so I can directly go and see the development of our marine resources in the protected areas.”

As a citizen of Timor-Leste, I share Feliz’s outlook. With USAID’s support, I hope my country will continue exploring these ideas to help communities in coastal areas conserve essential natural resources.

Learn more information about the Coral Triangle Support Partnership and USAID’s work in Timor-Leste.

PEER Program Impact: Addressing Global Coral Reef Health through Science and Collaboration

Indonesia lies at the center of the most diverse ecosystems of the world: the Coral Triangle. Covering just two percent of the global ocean, the Coral Triangle contains 75 percent of all coral species and 35 percent of the world’s coral reefs. It serves as a home and breeding ground for hundreds of thousands of fish and animals contributing to the food supply of the people living in the region and global fisheries.

Healthy coral reefs support commercial and subsistence fisheries, as well as jobs and businesses that support tourism and recreation. The coral reef structure also buffers shorelines against waves, storms and floods, helping to prevent loss of life, property damage and erosion.

Yellow band disease in Wanci Island. Photo credit: Courtney Couch

Yellow band disease in Wanci Island. Photo credit: Courtney Couch

Often, these coral reefs and sea creatures are referred to as the 21st century medicine cabinets because they are important sources of new medicines being developed to treat cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, heart disease, viruses and other diseases.

However, in recent years coral reefs have increasingly come under threat from climate change, overfishing, pollution and disease. In this region alone, more than 120 million people rely on reefs for their economic livelihood. Without long-term management of coral reef health, both the ecosystem and its benefactors face an uncertain future.

To tackle complex global issues such as this, USAID is tapping into the vast potential of the science and technology sector. In 2011, in conjunction with the National Science Foundation (NSF), USAID announced the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program. The program, administered by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, funds collaborative research partnerships between developing country scientists and NSF-funded American scientists. On behalf of the American people, USAID supports research to help conserve one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet and ensure the plants, fish animals and the many important roles of the coral reef are maintained for this and future generations.

Line transect in Wakatobi island. Photo credit: Courtney Couch

Line transect in Wakatobi island. Photo credit: Courtney Couch

PEER project researchers Dr. Jamaluddin Jompa, one of Indonesia’s prominent coral reef scientists and Director of the Center for Coral Reef Research at Hasanuddin University, and U.S. partner Dr. Drew Harvell, Associate Director for Environment at Cornell University’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, have set out to study the health of Indonesia’s coral reefs. The team measures declines in coral health by the prevalence of coral disease. Coral diseases, which have been on the increase worldwide since the 1970s, sometimes look like mold or rust and other times like the bleached-white bones of skeletons. They are key indicators of whether the reef ecosystem is out of balance.

The project aims to assess the impact of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) on reef resilience and coral disease containment. These no-fish reserves, which are areas protected under the Indonesian Government’s Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Program (COREMAP), serve as a sanctuary for marine life. This project will provide empirical data to show the importance of these preservation and conservation efforts. “We hope to provide additional evidence that MPAs have high impacts for the future,” said Dr. Jompa.

To ensure the reefs’ health and sustainability, long-term planning and management is key.

Focusing on local, manageable factors such as overfishing and coastal pollution, the team is developing new microbiological methods to better study their impacts—techniques which they hope will become incorporated into the COREMAP survey structure. Dr. Harvell asserts that with their findings, they will be able to evaluate how best to preserve nature while providing sustainable benefits to local communities.

The PEER program aims not only to fund researcher efforts with global impact but also to enhance scientific exchange and engagement. According to Drs. Harvell and Jompa, the collaboration has been very fruitful. For example, PEER mentoring and training has given Indonesian student researchers exposure to international science networks and state-of-the-art techniques while their American counterparts have gained international research experience.

Impacts can be seen in the classroom as well. Data gathered during the project have improved coral health case studies and curriculum in the Marine Science Department at Hasanuddin University. “As more and more students are becoming interested in coral reef education, we are building that knowledge foundation and investing in future generations,” said Dr. Jompa.

This PEER-funded project is part of a much larger effort to establish patterns of coral health worldwide. In conjunction with scientists from Australia, the team has been working on creating a larger Pacific network of coral health with comprehensive sustainability plans. Ultimately, said Dr. Jompa, “As the center of global marine biodiversity, these coral reefs belong not only to Indonesia, but to the world.”

Learn more about the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) in the Philippines, which was held on Aug. 14. 

 

Photo of the Week: Market Linkages in Bangladesh

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USAID creates market linkages to sustain traditional weaving of indigenous women. USAID’s environment activity, the Climate-Resilient Ecosystems and Livelihoods (CREL), improves diversified livelihoods that are environmentally sustainable and resilient to climate change. USAID has worked with the Government of Bangladesh and local communities to better manage and conserve Bangladesh’s natural resources and biodiversity since 1998. More resilient livelihoods and ecosystems will help Bangladesh meet development goals and move along the path to becoming a healthy, prosperous country. CREL is implemented by Winrock International.

Learn more about our Mission of the Month: USAID Bangladesh.

Like USAID Bangladesh on Facebook and follow @USAID_BD and #MissionofMonth on Twitter for ongoing updates!

Doubling Incomes and Impact in Cambodia

Working with USAID over the past three years, I have had the opportunity to see tremendous growth and change in many countries, and that impact has been particularly felt in Cambodia as part of Feed the Future, President Obama’s global hunger and food security initiative. Feed the Future supports countries in developing their own agriculture sectors to generate opportunities for economic growth and trade that help reduce poverty and hunger. Agriculture sector growth has proven to be an effective way of reducing poverty, and Feed the Future’s efforts contribute significantly to President Obama’s goal of ending extreme poverty within two decades. The initiative works with families that rely on agriculture for their livelihood, helping them grow more food, raise their incomes, improve their nutrition, and learn farming techniques that enable sustainable income and production for generations.

Asia Bureau Deputy Assistant Administrator Greg Beck remarks on the changes the Feed the Future HARVEST program has had in Cambodia. Photo credit: Suzana Sorinchan/USAID

Asia Bureau Deputy Assistant Administrator Greg Beck remarks on the changes the Feed the Future HARVEST program has had in Cambodia. Photo credit: Suzana Sorinchan/USAID

During my most recent visit to Cambodia, I was able to see these changes taking place first-hand.  I visited 62-year-old Mrs. Koy Muot, who, through techniques learned via Feed the Future, was able to increase her vegetable production and sell a portion of that as a result.  Her income doubled from one short growing season, illustrating the important felt impact this program is having. Even more compelling was her newfound ability to reinvest in her family by purchasing school books and clothes for her grandson and more seeds for her garden next season.

Mrs. Muot was able to make these changes through Feed the Future’s HARVEST program, which helps Cambodians improve on all aspects of food security, from production and access to nutrition in the country while also helping farmers adapt their production techniques to make them more resilient to climate change.  She learned about drip irrigation, water use and pest management in classes.  She was provided with basic equipment and supplies she would need to implement her newly learned farming practices in exchange for her time, land and labor.  She allowed her land to be used as the demonstration plot, with a garden on one side using traditional techniques and on the other side, a garden using HARVEST techniques.  I have to say, the difference between the two plots was remarkable.  The HARVEST side showed a lush garden full of mouth-watering vegetables, while on the other side sat a choked patch of land struggling to survive.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Greg Beck examines plants in a traditional garden along with director of USAID’s Cambodia HARVEST project, Dennis Lesnick, at Mrs. Koy Muot’s garden in Veal village, Cambodia. The traditional portion of the garden, which is underperforming, was later compared to the garden where she utilized techniques she learned in seedling transplanting, trellising, and fertilizing to increase her garden’s yields. The new methods doubled her income from the simple household garden from $30 to $66 with the harvest. This income helped purchase school books and clothes for the householder’s grandson, and seeds for her next garden. Photo credit: Suzana Sorinchan/USAID

DAA Greg Beck examines plants in a traditional garden along with director of USAID’s Cambodia HARVEST project, Dennis Lesnick, at Mrs. Koy Muot’s garden in Veal village, Cambodia.  Photo credit: Suzana Sorinchan/USAID

With her newly learned agriculture skills, Mrs. Muot was able to more than double her income, from $30 a year to $66. Now, every year, she can sell as much as 485 lbs (220 kg) of amaranth, morning glory and long-bean, and keep 100 pounds (45 kg) for her and her family to enjoy.

“After I joined the program, I learned new techniques to grow vegetables. The production now is much better than the traditional way. I consume some and sell the rest. Now I can support my children and grandchildren,” said Koy.

The Feed the Future HARVEST program works in four provinces around the Tonle Sap Lake, Pursat, Battambang, Siem Reap and Kampong Thom areas of Cambodia with some of the highest rates of poor and food insecure families but some of the best opportunities to address these issues through improved agricultural practices. Together with the help of 22 Cambodian NGOs, USAID has worked with and assisted over 47,000 households and beneficiaries including 102 schools and health centers in more than 461 villages.

I’m proud of the hard work that my colleagues at USAID in Cambodia have done with our partners there to make Mrs. Muot’s life better – and those of generations that follow her.

Learn more about Feed the Future’s work in Cambodia.

Photo of the Week: Agriculture Productivity Improvement in Bangladesh

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Did you know that  granular urea technology,  or popularly know as guti urea, is a cost-effective and environmental-friendly process that increases  vegetable farmers’  yield by 20 percent?

USAID/Bangladesh’s Accelerating Agriculture Productivity Improvement (AAPI) project, will reach 3.5m farmers in Bangladesh with this technique and save the Bangladesh Government US$84 million through improved efficiency in fertilizer input. Photo: USAID’s AAPI project

Learn more about our Mission of the Month: USAID Bangladesh.

Like USAID Bangladesh on Facebook and follow @USAID_BD on Twitter for ongoing updates!

Video of the Week: Improved Potato Farming Yields Results in Bangladesh

Since 2008, farmers in the village of Bokundia in Bangladesh have increased their potato production by 800% and sales more than $500,000. How did they do it? USAID talks about their stories in this video. Stories of associations — association of business with technology, knowledge and markets.

Learn more about our Mission of the Month: Bangladesh.

Follow @USAID and @USAID_BD on Twitter throughout August and join the conversation with #MissionofMonth.

Global Tiger Day

Global Tiger Day is an opportunity every July 29th to raise awareness of the need to protect our last remaining tigers for future generations.

A tiger in Nepal. Photo Credit: USAID

The greatest threat to tiger survival is poaching. Trafficking of wildlife is the third largest area of illegal trade after arms and drugs, often for organized crime and terrorist organizations. It also directly harms the environment and natural resources as wildlife populations decline and ecosystems are altered.

USAID is working in several countries across Asia to reverse this devastating trend.

In Indonesia, the United States is partnering with four local NGOs in Sumatra to protect Sumatran tigers from poaching, habitat degradation and conflict with humans – the most serious threats to their survival. We’re also working to preserve habitats for a number of other Sumatran species, including orangutans, elephants and rhinos, through better forestry management. The population of Sumatran tigers is estimated to be as low as 250 tigers.

In Nepal, we’re working to create a new international standard for wildlife conservation by taking conservation genetics to a whole new level. A national DNA database being created with support from USAID catalogues extremely detailed genetic data on the endangered Bengal tigers, so that law enforcement agencies can determine where confiscated parts might have originated and crack down on an entire smuggling operation. And, it helps conservationists and researchers in their work to protect the animals and their habitats.

USAID is also a partner in INTERPOL’s Project Predator initiative. Launched in November 2011, this partnership unites the efforts of police, customs and wildlife officials in support of enhanced governance and law enforcement capacity in the 13 countries in Asia where wild tigers can still be found. Last year during one Project Predator operation in Bhutan, China, India and Nepal, officials arrested over 50 individuals and confiscated big cat skins, body parts and other wildlife products. To learn more, visit INTERPOL’s Project Predator website.

With a Nudge from a Tiger project, Nepal is poised to take the Lead on Conservation Genetics

The following blog post contains content adapted from a recent article by a freelance Nepali writer, Kashish Das Shrestha, whose first report in May 2013 brought international acclaim to the Nepal Tiger Genome Project.

Globally, poaching has become ever more violent and the smuggling of wildlife parts increasingly sophisticated by organized crime groups. On his recent trip to Africa, President Obama highlighted the gravity of this problem, drawing renewed attention to the issue. Here in Nepal, the Red Panda and other wildlife parts traders being arrested by the police appear regularly in the news, sometimes with the exchange of gunfire and physical brawls.

Female Bengal Tiger with her four cubs sighted at Bardia National Park, Terai Arc Landscape. Credit: Jakob Jespersen/WWF Nepal

What law enforcement agencies often lack in their fight against wildlife trafficking is genetic data on the animals and animal parts being trafficked. Knowing where confiscated parts might have originated, or even the specific animal they belonged to, can help law enforcement crack down on an entire smuggling operation. A regionally shared database is key to giving law enforcement the upper hand, and it would also help conservationists and researchers in their work to protect the animals and their habitats. For this, standardization is integral. And the technology developed in Nepal, with assistance from USAID, might just help do that.

Over the past two years, scientists in Nepal have been building a national DNA database of the endangered Bengal tigers living in Nepal’s Terai Arc Landscape—one of the few remaining tiger habitats on earth. Multiple teams collected1,200 samples of tiger scat (the term used for feces of carnivores) from four national parks, and then analyzed and recorded a unique genetic fingerprint for each tiger.

“Knowing more accurately how many tigers are in the wild, and where they live, is critically important to protecting them and their habitats at national, regional and global levels,” said Bronwyn Llewellyn, Environment Officer at USAID/Nepal. “This project offered the potential to address most of these questions in a non-invasive way that was potentially more cost-effective than the existing conventional practices, such as camera trapping or tracking pugmarks.”

Designed by the Center for Molecular Dynamics in Nepal and supported by USAID, the Nepal Tiger Genome Project (NTGP) is setting a new standard for wildlife conservation with applicability for other endangered species worldwide.

What is unique about the NTGP is not the way the samples are collected, but rather the way in which the data from those samples have been catalogued. The technology developed for the project is very sophisticated and detailed, with up to 17 different genetic markers for each animal. These selected genetic markers not only provide extremely detailed information on each individual animal but also the population as a whole, including genetic health and population diversity. The standard, until now, has usually been nine genetic markers.

This sort of groundbreaking work has huge promise. “A potential next step following the work of the NTGP could be the development of a regional platform of tiger genetic fingerprints for conservation management and wildlife enforcement in the South Asia region,” said Ari Nathan, the U.S. State Department’s Regional Environment Officer for South Asia. Indeed, the regional wildlife crime meeting organized earlier this month in New Delhi by Interpol recognized the need for a centralized DNA database of endangered wildlife, including tigers, and noted NTGP as an example of the kind of technology and platform to emulate, including its searchable database with geo-reference capability. 

Later this year, the Center for Molecular Dynamics in Nepal will start working on a massive genetic catalog of Nepal’s biodiversity. The Center has also established itself as a natural partner for several international researchers and research institutions in Nepal, like Stanford University.

Back at the Nepal Tiger Genome Project lab in Kathmandu, work on the project is wrapping up. The lab was buzzing with young scientists hunched over computers and other equipment on a recent stormy monsoon afternoon. A scene promising unprecedented innovation for conservation or beyond, given a nudge from a tiger project, is now poised to take on a lot more.

 

Read Stuti Basnyet’s first blog on NTGP here: Tracking Tigers for Conservation

Harnessing the Power of Regional Cooperation to Drive Progress in Southeast Asia

It occurs to me that it might be tough to explain why a USAID senior representative would travel to one of the richest countries per capita in the world to talk about development issues. I mull this over as I prepare to meet Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia, Greg Beck, in the “Abode of Peace,” the small sultanate of Brunei Darussalam on the North Coast of Borneo.

The explanation – which will become clearer in a moment – is that transnational development challenges require multilateral solutions. On July 1, Beck, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, made the journey to tiny Brunei for high-level meetings between the United States and the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). USAID’s presence with Secretary Kerry highlights the strong development and diplomacy partnership driving U.S. foreign policy in Asia.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (center) and USAID Assistant Administrator for Asia Greg Beck (right) at the Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial. Photo credit: William Ng, State Department

While in Brunei, Beck and Kerry participated in the sixth Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Ministerial Meeting. The LMI is a partnership between the United States and the five countries of the Lower Mekong River basin (Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam), which share common challenges and opportunities stemming from the river that connects them.

“If people do the wrong things upstream with this river, it can destroy the livelihood of the people downstream,” Secretary Kerry said during the meeting. “It sustains the lives of over 70 million people. …In order to meet these challenges, it is essential that we redouble our efforts to balance the demand for resources with sustainability and to develop cooperative approaches.” [Complete transcript available here.]

“We currently support a number of activities that can assist LMI partner countries in addressing shared water challenges,” Beck said. “For instance, our Water Links program facilitates partnerships among water service providers to expand clean water and sanitation and strengthen climate resilience, as well as address the anticipated impacts of climate change from private power infrastructure development.”

Assistant Administrator for Asia Greg Beck (left) with ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh. Photo credit: Jennifer Collier Wilson, USAID

USAID engagement alongside State’s diplomatic presence in Southeast Asia is helping to support equitable growth in this dynamic region in the areas of agriculture and food security, connectivity, education, energy security, environment and water, and health. The way we’re doing this, as exemplified by Kerry and Beck’s participation in the Brunei meetings, is by helping to improve communication between countries and encourage regional solutions to the numerous development challenges that impact the entire region.

During the Brunei meetings, I was reminded of the power of regional forums to be catalysts for progress when the foreign minister of Burma – next year’s chair of ASEAN – formally invited the U.S., ASEAN and LMI delegates to next year’s meetings in the Burmese city of Nay Pyi Taw. A few years ago, no one expected that Burma would be in a position to host these annual meetings in 2014. Regional cooperation can be a powerful promoter of positive change.

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