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From the Field in Madagascar: USAID Food Security Program Improves Livelihoods

As part of USAID’s 52nd birthday celebration, USAID/Madagascar shares a story of one woman who has benefited from a food security project. 

Sitting in the shade of an old mango tree, a group of villagers is intently listening to a middle-aged woman reading aloud from a booklet in her hands. The woman is Philomène, the ‘Treasurer’ of the local Village Savings and Loans association, and she is making her weekly report to the members.

Philomène (4th from left) volunteered to keep the VSL association’s books Photo credit: CARE International/Madagascar

Philomène (4th from left) volunteered to keep the VSL association’s books
Photo credit: CARE International/Madagascar

We heard about Philomène during a field visit to a food security project implemented by our partner CRS. The team was in a small village called Ampasimbola, in eastern Madagascar. Philomène is a farmer and she has been tilling the land for as long as she can remember. She is a single mother of six children, four of which are still in school.

Although Philomène puts a lot of effort into her work, she hardly produced enough food to feed her family. It was a challenge for her to make ends meet; on occasion, her children missed school to stay home and help her do farm work, her only source of income.

When USAID’s food security program started in Ampasimbola in 2010, Philomène did not think twice about joining the Village Savings and Loans association. She even volunteered to keep the books for the group. These village-level savings banks allow members to contribute some amount on a regular basis. They can then request loans with soft repayment terms and conditions. Philomène seized the opportunity to take out a loan and start a small restaurant offering doughnuts, coffee, fish, and even second-hand clothes to increase her income.

With hard work, Philomène’s restaurant quickly thrived. She soon had to choose between continuing farm work that brought home hardly any money, or focusing on a more lucrative and rewarding activity. She decided to drop farming— a savvy decision, because not only did she make substantial profits from the sale of food but she also received payments of interest from investing her savings back into the Village Savings and Loans association.

Philomène’s livelihood has improved and she is now able to send her children to school regularly, and pay for the annual school fees, Ariary 43,000 or about $22 dollars without any problem. The hungry season, which she had earlier coped with eight out of the twelve months per year, is today but a bad dream. Thanks to her contribution to the Village Savings and Loans association, Philomène extended her hut after two years and added a kitchen and a bathroom. She proudly bought new kitchen utensils and other household equipment, and was able to decorate her home.

I’m no longer alone. In our VSL group, we’re like brothers and sisters. We counsel one another, and we share knowledge and experiences. It’s a real new life for me!” says a proud Philomène.  In her spare time, Philomène engages in development and other social activities, and the community seeks her help for advice or assistance when visitors come to the village and seek accommodation for the night. Philomène can help because her hut is now large enough to put up guests. She is now, more than ever, an important member of the community.

Follow USAID Madagascar on Facebook and Twitter for ongoing updates in the region.

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Empowering Africa’s Next Generation Through Education

Education, equal opportunity, empowering women and youth, these ideas form the foundation of our program in the Office of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad. In a recent trip with two of my colleagues to South Africa, we experienced firsthand how powerful a marriage of American and African ideas and values can be in propelling not only South Africa, but the entire continent forward.

The American writer and historian, James Truslow Adams described the American dream as one where, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone,” and while that is part of the American dream, is it part of the African dream as well? Half an hour outside the bustling city of Johannesburg, the African Leadership Academy (ALA) is instilling American values by providing its students the base for becoming entrepreneurial leaders. Each year, 100 gifted students between the ages of 15 to 19, from over 40 African countries, are accepted into ALA where they are empowered and given the tools to become the next generation of African leaders.

Bonga, a recent graduate, discusses his time at the Academy. Photo credit: Caitlin Callahan, USAID

Bonga, a recent graduate, discusses his time at the Academy. Photo credit: Caitlin Callahan, USAID

My colleagues and I were lucky to spend part of our morning with Bonga, a recent ALA graduate. It was evident in the way Bonga spoke how central the African Leadership Academy was in motivating him to continue his education, innovate, and bring economic prosperity to his community. Bonga, like most of his peers, plans to attend a four-year university and dreams of an integrated and affluent Africa. USAID assistance helps improve campus security, purchase learning resources for its library, and upgrade dormitories for student housing to prepare students like Bonga for success.

Encouraging hands on experience and service to the community, the Academy provides students with the tools and knowledge base to work towards transforming the African continent.  ALA harnesses the entrepreneurial spirit and encourages its students to create and manage their own business ventures in a safe and comfortable environment. Since its inception in 2008, graduates of ALA have started 38 non-profit and for profit enterprises, addressing community challenges while furthering Africa’s long term stability and economic prosperity.  In support of USAID goals to promote inclusive development, this fall, the majority of students enrolled at ALA will be female. Educating a girl means that as a woman, she is empowered and more likely to participate in development efforts in political and economic decision-making.  It has also been shown that with each ten percent increase in the number of girls who attend school, a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) increases on average by 3 percent.

Through its innovative approach and integration of American ideas, the African Leadership Academy is well on its way to making a difference in Africa and USAID is proud to be a supporter. Watch the video below to learn more.

Cultivating Entrepreneurial Spirits in Youth to End Extreme Poverty

After attending the World Bank’s Global Youth Summit  and participating in several discussions on young change makers and the post-2015 development agenda, I was left with an impression that the global community is at the precipice of truly elevating the youth platform on major issues in development. This year’s summit theme was on “Youth Entrepreneurship: Cultivating an innovative spirit to alleviate global youth unemployment” and included a case competition in addition to a series of discussion panels.

Dillon Roseen (far left) is an intern in the Legislative and Public Affairs Bureau at USAID. He is pictured here at the World Bank Youth Summit with a few other participants. Photo credit: USAID

Dillon Roseen (far left) is an intern in the Legislative and Public Affairs Bureau at USAID. He is pictured here at the World Bank Youth Summit with a few other participants. Photo credit: USAID

Young professionals at USAID had the chance to engage with our international colleagues on issues facing young entrepreneurs, particularly in developing nations. We actively shared USAID resources relevant to our young colleagues on programs like the Development Innovation Ventures (DIV), Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN), Fall Semester, and USAID’s Youth in Development policy which has the goal to “improve the capacities and enable the aspira­tions of youth so that they can contribute to and benefit from more stable, democratic, and prosperous communities and nations.” At the summit, my “brothers and sisters” in development, as one panelist put it, joined us via livestream from Mexico City, Freetown, Addis Ababa, Bucharest, Juba, and many other cities around the world. Perhaps what I was most impressed with the entire day was the enthusiasm and tenacity with which these international change agents engaged the panelists during the Q&A, often jockeying for a turn to ask their potent and thought-provoking questions regarding corruption, political engagement, and technical infrastructure. Seeing their passion to contribute to and enliven the discussion proves that young people are catalyzers for changing the world and ending extreme poverty within our lifetime.

Even still, for my generation, which currently account for almost ¼ of the world’s population, there are many barriers and limitations for youth involvement, especially in developing countries. UN Envoy on Youth, 29 year-old Ahmad Alhendawi, noted that the average age for the general African population is 18 whereas the average age of politicians is over 60. With this discrepancy, it’s no wonder youth concerns appear to go unheeded. Corruption, poor infrastructure, and lack of capital, all major obstacles for young entrepreneurs across the developing world, are unfortunate and unacceptable realities that must be addressed by our leaders.

My major take away from the Summit was this: much is being done to shift conversation towards youth engagement, but there is still much to be done to translate this talk into action. I challenge the leaders in the development world to take the first step by following the example of the UN. Aid agencies and members of the international development world should appoint a designated Youth Coordinator for their respective organizations, someone who can concentrate the organization’s efforts to respond to the needs of young people so they are equipped with the knowledge and resources needed to advance the global community. To do this, he or she must work to arm young leaders not just with resumes and CVs, but with business plans and investment opportunities. Barriers must be reduced for political involvement and entrepreneurial spirits must be encouraged. USAID’s Youth in Development policy commits the Agency to do just that.

As I left the Summit, I mulled over a quote from John F. Kennedy that Global Poverty Project Co-Founder and CEO Hugh Evans shared with us:

“We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask why not.”

What struck me the most about this quote was the realization that my brothers and sisters across the world, despite the limitations we may face, are not only living by this quote but are inspiring others to join them. I hope you’ll join me and other young leaders as our generation fights to end extreme poverty.

Video of the Week: “Artisans in El Salvador Flourish”

USAID Small and Medium Enterprises Development Program, in alliance with SIMAN Stores, recently launched “ARTEC.A.”, a Central America-wide brand to distribute handicraft products by Salvadoran artisans in SIMAN department stores throughout the region. During the months of August and September, 30 artisans will be selling their products at the 12 SIMAN stores in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala. The products include decorative handicrafts, toys, jewelry and clothing items, among others.

The USAID’s program has contributed with technical assistance to help the artisans secure sales with SIMAN, as well as innovating and improving their design, production and distribution processes. Through these initiatives, USAID/El Salvador fulfills some of the commitments made by the governments of the United States and El Salvador in the “Partnership for Growth,” specifically those related to solving the factors that cause lower productivity of tradables.

Communities in Cote d’Ivoire Benefit from USAID’s Investments

USAID is helping communities in rural Cote d’Ivoire develop economic resiliency. Through our partners SAVE the Children and AVSI, we are supporting several types of economic strengthening activities, all of which increase the productive resources available for families. Through this work, we target the families and caregivers of children orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS.

As they gathered for their savings group meeting, group members met us with a traditional welcome. Andrea Halverson. Photo credit: Andrea Halverson, USAID

As they gathered for their savings group meeting, group members met us with a traditional welcome. Photo credit: Andrea Halverson, USAID

In the mountainous, western city of Man, near Cote d’Ivoire’s border with Liberia, we met women gathering for their regular community savings group meeting. This region was one of the hardest hit during Cote d’Ivoire’s civil unrest. With poverty rates increasing over the past decade, savings groups combat a common problem in developing countries: lack of access to credit. Through these self-selected groups, members (usually all-women) will share a small portion of their money at each bi-monthly meeting, and are eligible to take loans, with interest, from this shared pool. At the end of the group sharing cycle, the amount saved is paid out to the group members. The additional money is making a difference in their lives and the lives of their children. Almost every woman uses her savings for school fees and school uniforms for her children.

Children watch as the community members cook the Attiéké, the final step in its production. Photo credit: Andrea Halverson, USAID

Children watch as the community members cook the Attiéké, the final step in its production. Photo credit: Andrea Halverson, USAID

In addition to savings groups, we also visited a community who had received start-up capital to fund a small business activity, producing a local delicacy called attiéké. Similar to couscous, attiéké is a fermented Ivoiran side dish, highly sought after in the region. Through the donation of a mill and a creative cassava partnership, the women had what they needed to start their small business. They are now making and selling attiéké. With pride, women told us of their informal distribution channels that stretched all the way to Mali. These and other investments are helping shape the future of Cote d’Ivoire, and reducing the vulnerability of Ivorian children by using profits to ensure they can enroll in school.

Meeting the President: How the United States is Helping Women Farmers in Senegal

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog

When I learned that I had been chosen to present my work with women farmers in Senegal to the president of the United States, the first thing I did was cry.

A minute later my thoughts cleared.

I have important things to tell President Obama, I said to myself, about how women farmers have benefited enormously from partnership with the United States.

Since 2002, I have been a member of a farmer organization of some 600 members—two thirds of whom are women—that works in 52 villages in the rural community of Mampatim, Senegal. I also work for a nongovernmental organization, supported by USAID through the Feed the Future initiative, that helps the group’s members succeed.

Anna Gaye prepares to demonstrate rice milling to President Obama in Senegal in June 2013. Photo credit: Stephane Tourné

Anna Gaye prepares to demonstrate rice milling to President Obama in Senegal in June 2013. Photo credit: Stephane Tourné

Farming in the valley

Since upland farming areas are traditionally farmed by men, our women members are obliged to work in the valleys, often under difficult conditions due to flooding. With little organization, many of these women worked very hard with negligible results.

Membership in our organization, known as an economic interest group, affords members like me legal recognition through which we can obtain credit. Historically, our group, called Kissal Patim, enabled us to cultivate small garden patches near village wells that provide off-season vegetables for market, as well as larger half-acre rice plots that yielded perhaps 200 kilograms during the rainy season.

But our partnership with Feed the Future got us to think much bigger. Feed the Future introduced members of Kissal Patim to several recently developed strains of seed that can produce yields as much as three times greater while using less water!

Meeting the president

On the big day, my mouth was dry as President Obama approached the booth we had set up to exhibit our activities, but he put me at ease right away. First, I demonstrated a traditional method of rice processing. I tried not to smile as he took the heavy ram from my hands and started pounding the pestle himself. “That’s painful!” the president said through his translator, examining his hands a minute later.

“That’s what women lived with every day before our partnership with Feed the Future,” I said.

That partnership brought, among other benefits, a portable, electric rice mill, which was also on display. The mill takes only 20 minutes to separate 40 kilograms of rice, which previously would take an entire day. The president was curious as to who actually owned the machine, and I explained our group manages it for our common use.

The mill, I explained, was very important to our progress. My fellow farmers and I were initially reluctant to grow more rice since the task of having to pound so much more would be huge. Our acquisition of the milling machines changed all that. We were free from the drudgery of the pestle.

The time saved also gives us more time to engage in commercial activities, such as the production and sale of palm oil and nutritious rice porridge made ​​with peanuts, not to mention time to prepare for the next growing season.

President Obama congratulated and encouraged us.

The visit was like a dream. The president of the United States! As soon as it was over, I was eager to get back to Mampatim and tell the story to my fellow women producers.

The visit had a positive impact on all our work: I feel more courageous and ambitious, and the photos I showed my colleagues inspired them to redouble their efforts in their production plots. It has created a spirit of competition among them all!

Begun in 2010, this partnership with Feed the Future through USAID’s Economic Growth Project has helped women access several new varieties of high-yielding rice, as well as introduce fertilizers that have further increased yields. Some of the plots have grown fourfold, up to an entire hectare, each of which yields and average of four-and-a-half tons. In the future, we hope to manage even larger plots.

(Translated from French by Zack Taylor)

This post is part of a series of posts by marketplace participants who met Obama in June 2013.

Additional Resources: 

The Bright Side of Taxes: More than Just a Headache

Many people equate taxes with confusing forms, incomprehensible rules, and general feelings of frustration. Others fear potential audits or vent about the ways in which their governments spend tax revenues. People pay less attention to the positive side of taxation; namely, that the resulting revenues allow a government to provide critical goods and services to citizens.

Tax revenues support both large-scale investments in areas such as health, education, citizen security, and roads, as well as community-level goods and services, like public lighting and garbage collection. Of course, efforts to improve tax collection should go hand-in-hand with advancements in public financial management more broadly. That is, beyond simply collecting more taxes, governments should improve the way they handle and invest public resources. Low revenue collection and sub-par public financial management practices have serious implications for the everyday lives and operations of citizens and businesses.

Click to read USAID's Detailed Guidelines for Improved Tax Administration in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Click to read USAID’s Detailed Guidelines for Improved Tax Administration in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For example, countries like El Salvador are facing crumbling public school infrastructure, a lack of basic medicines in public hospitals, and delayed tax refunds to businesses. Even in Brazil, a country with tax collection levels on par with the most developed countries in the world, recent protests have highlighted citizens’ discontent with the government’s management of public resources.

Along with promoting private investment, the ability of governments to collect and manage tax revenues is fundamental to reducing their reliance on foreign aid over the long term. As the Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mark Feierstein, noted in testimony earlier this year:

“The most important source of development funding for nearly any country is not USAID, or any other donor, but internally generated revenue. Absent sufficient host country funding, donors alone will not produce sustained prosperity and opportunity. That is why we are initiating new programs to help national and local governments raise revenue.”

Many readers may be surprised to find that, despite recent economic and social advances in the region, many Latin American and Caribbean countries seriously struggle to collect and manage public revenues.

Last year, two researchers from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) found that tax collection rates in Latin America averaged 18.4% of GDP, or roughly half the average of 34.8% for countries (including the United States) that belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and 39.2% in the European Union. More shocking is that collection rates in Latin America are significantly lower than the 24.5% average that the researchers found in Sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, the World Bank has noted that Latin American countries lag behind international standards in various aspects of public financial management, such as procurement, budget execution, and independent oversight of public expenditures.

Increasingly in recent years, the international community has emphasized the need for countries to improve the collection and management of tax revenues. USAID is providing leadership on these issues throughout the Americas. Our programs are working with national governments in countries like El Salvador and Jamaica to strengthen tax administration and public financial management.

USAID is a key contributor to the U.S. Government’s Domestic Finance for Development (DF4D) policy initiative that encourages countries throughout the world to increase revenue collection, improve budget transparency, and fight corruption. For example, we are challenging local governments at the municipal level in El Salvador and Honduras to increase revenue collection and improve the management of those resources. We will reward the highest performers with additional resources for key investments related to citizen security in their communities.

Today, USAID released a new publication entitled “Detailed Guidelines for Improved Tax Administration in Latin America and the Caribbean” that will enable tax administrations (i.e., the IRS equivalent in each country) to assess their own performance against leading practices in a variety of areas, including taxpayer registration, filing and payments, collections, and audit, among others. This tool will also help USAID staff and other donors engage with tax administrations on potential areas of technical assistance and prioritize interventions.

At USAID, we want to see all countries reach a level of development where they no longer require development assistance. Helping ensure that governments can mobilize domestic resources and invest them in their own development is a key step toward reaching that goal.

Learn more about USAID’s work in improving tax administration in Latin America and the Caribbean

From the Field in Pakistan: The Cattle Whisperer

With six children to feed and not enough money to make ends meet, each day was a trial for Bushra Yasmeen. On some days she didn’t have enough money to take her children to the doctor, on others there wasn’t enough money to support their education. Being a seamstress in a remote village in the Punjab was not taking her anywhere.

To seek advice and help, Bushra frequently turned to community elders who gathered in the evenings to talk about the day and what was happening in the small village they all shared.

Livestock extension worker Bushra Yasmeen poses in her clinic in Pir Mahal in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Bushra received training and basic supplies from USAID’s Dairy Project  Photo credit: USAID Dairy Project

Livestock extension worker Bushra Yasmeen poses in her clinic in Pir Mahal in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Bushra received training and basic supplies from USAID’s Dairy Project
Photo credit: USAID Dairy Project

It was at one such meeting that she heard that some people from the city — from USAID’s Dairy Project —  were coming to the village the next day to talk about training women to take better care of cattle. In rural areas of Pakistan, this work is done mostly by women. Through this project, USAID is improving animal health-care services in 1,500 villages in the Punjab by providing support and guidance to women like Bushra.

Always on the lookout for an opportunity to better support her family and help her husband, Bushra was eager to see what the training was all about. Based on her enthusiasm and energy, and the knowledge she displayed during the selection process, the USAID Dairy Project team selected her for training as a livestock extension worker.

During the month-long training program, Bushra learned about animal disease prevention and basic livestock management, including the need for timely vaccinations against mastitis (inflammation of the udders, one of the most common diseases among dairy cattle) and hoof-and-mouth disease.

With the training and a medical support kit provided by USAID, Bushra started providing basic treatment to the cattle in her village, earning more than she had as a seamstress.

“I have earned 10,000 rupees in two months by attending to 180 cattle cases in my village,” says a beaming Bushra.  She no longer has to think twice about money when her children need school supplies or medical care. In addition, Bushra has set up a clinic providing preventive and basic medical care to the animals owned by the dairy farmers in her village. The steady income means that she can reinvest in her clinic as well.

Learn more about USAID’s work in Pakistan. Like USAID Pakistan on Facebook and follow them on Twitter (@UsAidPakistan) for ongoing updates in the region!

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