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Archives for Asia

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.

Creating Opportunity in Nepal through Education for Income Generation Project

For eighteen-year-old Sitara Bano Bagban, living in the rural village of Karamohana, Banke District in Mid-Western Nepal, educational opportunities were very limited. Extreme poverty along with conservative cultural beliefs, that require male family members accompany females outside the home, as well as extreme poverty had prevented her from getting a formal education. This is not uncommon in rural Nepal where families often depend on their children to stay at home and work to augment income. Since married women are sent to live in their in-laws’ homes, parents traditionally give priority to educating boys who will stay in their parents’ house.

Those without an education in Nepal have few options. Without the ability to read and write they  are less likely to use government services or send their children to school. Also, their ability to find gainful employment or own and operate successful businesses is hampered by the fact that they are not able to do basic mathematics, leaving them vulnerable to being cheated in the market because they are unable to count money.

During EIG’s entrepreneurial literacy course, Sitara learned how to read and write, and how to use a calculator. She also learned about proper nutrition, peace-building, and how to access loans, credits, and other government services. Photo credit: Winrock International

Everything changed for Sitara when her parents allowed her to enroll in USAID’s Education for Income Generation (EIG) project, which provides income generation training as well as basic literacy training to underserved groups. Because her brother also began to attend EIG’s entrepreneurial literacy class and agricultural training, her parents agreed that she could participate because she would have someone to accompany her.

The EIG Project, which is implemented by Winrock International, has trained 74,000 disadvantaged youth (78% of whom are women) to increase their income through employment and agricultural production. EIG uses a market-driven approach consisting of four basic activities: a nine-month entrepreneurial literacy course; demand-driven vocational training tied to job placement; high-value agricultural training linked to markets; and scholarships for people from low castes (dalits) for professional certificates that lead to employment.

After attending EIG’s entrepreneurial literacy class and agriculture training, Sitara and her family increased their productivity and income by producing higher quality vegetables in their family farm. Photo credit: Winrock International

During the class, Sitara learned how to read and write and how to use a calculator. She learned proper health and nutrition practices, peacebuilding skills, and how to access loans and other government services. In addition to literacy, Sitara enrolled in EIG’s agriculture production training where she learned how to produce off-season, high-value vegetables including nursery development, integrated pest management (IPM), micro-irrigation technology (MIT), and post-harvest handling. As a result, Sitara convinced her parents that MIT could increase their farm’s productivity. Because she was able to attend this training her family decided to install a small well and pump and which have allowed them to grow fresh vegetables for their home and to sell in the market. Sitara’s income has increased significantly and Sitara has even been able to save  a little money at the local saving and credit cooperative.

Sitara’s story is just one example of the impact this type of training has had on thousands of disadvantaged youths. These programs prepare young people to be more involved in their governments in a positive way, to get jobs that improve their country’s economy, and to ensure a better and brighter for future youth.

The Power of Energy in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan, the world’s largest landlocked country and a former Soviet nation, is rich in natural resources and pursuing an ambitious agenda in response to global climate change. With a growing economy and booming oil and gas sectors, Kazakhstan is committed to improving its energy efficiency. Kazakhstan 2030, the country’s long-term strategy for development, aims to reduce its energy intensity 25 percent by 2020.

Kazakhstan’s most energy-intensive companies attend hands-on energy management workshops on energy efficiency. Photo credit: ICF International

President Obama’s Global Climate Change Initiative provides a unique opportunity for USAID to engage with Kazakhstan directly and assist its people in reaching their goals. Through the Central Asia Energy Efficiency Support Program, USAID is helping industries in Kazakhstan comply with energy laws and implement the ISO-50001 standard: a series of requirements created by the International Organization for Standardization for an energy management system. The ISO-50001 standard provides ways to increase energy efficiency, reduce costs and improve energy performance. USAID gathered Kazakhstan’s largest energy-intensive enterprises, government officials and educational institutions in Astana on June 20, 2013, to exchange ideas on best practices of energy audits and energy resources management.

Galina Markilova, the head of the Standards Department for KazPhosphate, a large phosphate mining and processing company, reflected on the event. “This was a very productive conference, based on the specific needs of our industries. We learned a lot and will be able to better implement our energy management system with what we learned today.” Program experts conducted an energy management audit of KazPhosphate in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy/Oak Ridge National Laboratory and identified more than $1 million in potential annual energy cost savings that could be achieved. Payback periods for all measures identified were less than three years.

Despite the grave and complex nature of climate change, it is inspiring to see global plans coming to life in practical ways across Kazakhstan. The city of Aksu, located in northern Kazakhstan and home to a coal power plant with some of the highest carbon dioxide emissions in the country, is in the initial phase of adopting a clean energy plan. USAID is working closely with the local government to provide training on energy management and auditing for municipal buildings, including schools and hospitals. In a consultation with the Energy and Communal Services in the Pavlodar region, Department Chief Mr. Nurlan Mashrapov shared how these green energy changes are going to impact local lives. “We want our kids to grow up in a city with clean air and green industry. We’re grateful for the help from USAID to teach us how to implement energy efficiency in our public buildings.”

In a further effort to support sustainable and innovative approaches to carbon reduction, Kazakhstan’s Vice Minister of Environmental Protection, Marlen Iskakov, and representatives of the U.S. Government, including Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Fairfax, and USAID Regional Mission Director Anne Aarnes, formalized a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on June 25, 2013. The MOU signified an agreement to work together on an Enhancing Capacity for Low Emission Development Strategy, a long-term development plan to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. This was a groundbreaking milestone in Kazakhstan’s commitment to climate resiliency and a significant event as our countries collaborate to ensure a sustainable response to climate change.

Photo of the Week: U.S. & India Announce Innovation, Science, and Technology Awards

 

Yesterday, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah announced the Millennium Alliance (MA) winners in India. MA is a partnership between USAID, FICCI, and India’s Technology Development Board, Department of Science and Technology to support new innovations that strengthen early grade reading as well as increase access to clean and affordable energy, safe drinking water, quality health care, and a nutritious food supply to those most in need. Out of over 1,400 applications in the first round, nine awardees were announced on June 24 in New Delhi, India.

In this photo is one of the winners receiving the award certificate from Honorable Minister for Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Mr. S. Jaipal Reddy and USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah. Photo is from U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.

Financing a Clean Energy Future for India

India is just a few years away from becoming the world’s most populous country, but it’s a far cry from the world’s largest energy producer. The government of India has set ambitious targets to meet this demand and its continued economic productivity will hinge on its ability to meet them. The challenge—as well as the opportunity—is significant.

The clean energy investment fund will benefit tens of thousands of Indian families. Photo credit: USAID

For this reason, USAID’s Development Credit Authority (DCA) has pursued an unprecedented new partnership to facilitate a groundbreaking investment in Indian clean energy. Through a DCA loan guarantee, announced by Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday at the start of the fourth annual U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, our partners Nereus Capital and Northern Lights Capital Group will make a $100 million investment in clean energy production. The partnership is expected to create hundreds of additional megawatts of sustainable energy capacity and will help to advance India’s nascent clean energy industry.

Here at the Development Credit Authority, this is the first time that we’ve partnered with a clean energy investment fund. We’re eagerly pushing the envelope to find new ways to stretch our investment even farther and for greater impact. While DCA averages an already incredibly high $28 leverage ratio for every dollar we invest—in this deal, we will secure a leverage rate that is exponentially higher. Through a comparatively tiny investment, we can catalyze four to five medium-scale clean energy projects directly and up to ten to twelve indirectly in sectors such as wind, water, solar, or biomass.

This investment could eventually create as much as 300 – 400 additional megawatts of sustainable energy capacity, which is equivalent to lighting the homes of tens of thousands of Indian families. These projects will serve a variety of customers, including both households that get by on just few dollars a day as well as larger or even multi-national companies.  Through reliable access to power, these companies will be better equipped to create jobs, make large-scale investments, and contribute to economic growth.

Incredibly, we can do all of this at virtually no cost to the American taxpayer.

By thinking creatively about how we partner with private sector actors, we’re continuing to use our resources and capacity more smartly and efficiently. We’re helping to ensure that U.S. financial institutions can securely invest in this market and build a clean energy future for India.

Increasing Economic Growth without Increasing Emissions

Growth requires energy, and the Philippines, one of Asia’s fastest rising economies, foresees an ever greater need for more energy to maintain the pace of development for its 94 million residents.

Yet increased energy use comes at a cost, in the form of increased greenhouse gas emissions, which puts the country in a conundrum: How can a country continue its economic growth yet make it both equitable and sustainable in the long term?

The Philippines is especially conscious of global warming and climate change. An archipelago of more than 7,107 islands, it is ranked the world’s 10th most vulnerable countries to climate change, with Manila the world’s second most at-risk city. Typhoons batter the country regularly, so the Philippines in particular is keen to avoid the prospect of more extreme weather and rising sea levels.

Eric Postel delivers remarks at a recent meeting with climate change and economy officials from the Philippines, EC-LEDS partners and the Department of State. Photo credit: Caryn Fisher, USAID Asia

Mitigating climate change provides the international community then a chance to at least reduce the risk of such disasters. As the Philippines Deputy Chief of Mission to the United States Minister Maria Andrelita S. Austria said, “The more we work on climate change, the less we’ll need to work on disaster assistance.”

Since 2010, USAID, through efforts such as the Enhancing Capacity for Low Emission Development Strategies (EC-LEDS) program, has been partnering with countries such as the Philippines to find alternative development pathways that lower greenhouse gas emissions trends and increase the resilience of communities and economies to climate change impacts. These programs are part of the U.S. Government’s continuing commitment to encourage developing economies to move towards a low carbon economic growth pathway, which is integral to long term, sustained development. Under EC-LEDS, the Philippines is partnering with the United States in strategizing on how to enable low emission economic growth.

“This program is an important diplomatic priority for the U.S. government. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern views this as an opportunity to enhance key diplomatic relationships with partner countries, furthering our global goal of limiting temperature increase to no more than two degrees Celsius,” said Assistant Administrator Eric Postel of USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment to a Government of Philippines delegation visiting the United States recently.

The climate change and economy officials from the Philippines met with EC-LEDS partners at USAID and the Department of State, who both lead the program, as well as experts from other U.S. Government interagency partners, think tanks, and industry organizations. 

Greg Beck, USAID’s Asia Bureau Deputy Assistant Administrator, said, “While we in the United States and the Philippines both work together to improve the Philippines’ international competitiveness, it is equally important that the Philippines pursues its economic targets through a low carbon pathway. The United States government is committed to providing the necessary technical assistance in enhancing capacity for low emission strategies.”

For the Philippines, EC-LEDS focuses on three areas: 1) supporting the development of the country’s greenhouse gas inventory, which will help determine where emissions are coming from and provide a baseline to measure any increase or decrease in emissions over time; 2) building the in-country capacity to use analytical tools to choose the most cost-effective actions to reduce emissions; and 3) helping Philippines take actions that address climate change, such as identifying promising sources of renewable energy, improving forest management, and supporting local Eco-Towns.

EC-LEDS builds upon a long history of partnership between the United States and the Philippines, which was solidified when the Philippines was chosen to join three other countries (El Salvador, Ghana and Tanzania) under President Obama’s flagship Partnership for Growth, or PFG. Under the PFG, both governments are working hand-in-hand to address the most serious constraints to economic growth and development in the Philippines.

The partnership theme carries over to EC-LEDS, as the partner countries themselves drive the process. “By design, a LEDS is a country-specific strategic plan to promote climate-resilient economic growth and reduce long-term greenhouse gas emissions trajectories. U.S. support and technical assistance is tailored to those development priorities identified by our partners,” Beck said.

The noteworthy Philippine commitment to this partnership is fueled in part by having seen the lasting devastation climate change can have after weather-related disasters move on. The country’s government created a Climate Change Commission in 2009 after discovering that typhoon-related costs that year amounted to 2.9% of the Philippines’ GDP, according to Mary Ann Lucille Sering, the Commission’s head.

“We believe that the twin goals of economic prosperity and environment protection are achievable and LEDS is the effective mechanism to reach those goals,” said Beck.

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