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Will Our Generation be Responsible for Killing Off the Tiger?

Will our generation be responsible for killing off the tiger?

As the world marks International Tiger Day, the tigers’ fate seems grim. From a high of 100,000 in 1900, as few as 3,500 tigers are thought to survive in the wild today. Tiger numbers and habitat have declined by 40 percent in the last decade alone, lost largely to habitat loss, poaching, the illegal wildlife trade, and human-tiger conflict.

This tiger in the Kanha Tiger Reserve in India is one of only an estimated 3,000 left in the world. / Sandeep Sharma,  PhD, Clemson Institute for Parks, USA

This tiger in the Kanha Tiger Reserve in India is one of only an estimated 3,000 left in the world. / Sandeep Sharma, PhD, Clemson Institute for Parks, USA

The illegal and unsustainable exploitation of wildlife in Asia has pushed tigers and other Asian big cats to the brink of extinction. Today, the greatest threat to Asian big cat survival are organized criminal groups who control the burgeoning and highly lucrative illicit trade. Their operations crisscross international boundaries, making it impossible for any one country to tackle the crime alone.

As part of its continuing efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, USAID is committing nearly $900,000 to the conservation of Asia's majestic tigers.

As part of its continuing efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, USAID is committing nearly $900,000 to the conservation of Asia’s majestic tigers. / Sandeep Sharma, PhD, Clemson Institute for Parks, USA

With partners ranging from non-governmental organizations to policy makers in the United States and abroad, USAID is uniquely positioned to combat wildlife trafficking along an entire spectrum of efforts. Whether it’s decreasing demand for wildlife products on the ground, supporting research or ensuring coordinated training for customs officials on wildlife trafficking, USAID enables a holistic response to this complicated challenge at various levels.

In fact, in honor of International Tiger Day, and as part of its continuing efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, USAID is committing nearly $900,000 to the conservation of Asia’s majestic tigers. A $393,000 grant to INTERPOL’s Project Predator will focus on finding high-profile wildlife offenders running criminal networks; and $500,000 to the World Bank’s Global Tiger Recovery Program Multi-Donor Trust Fund will go towards the fund’s goal to double the number of tigers in the wild by the year 2022 through habitat protection, scientific studies and a reduction in the illegal trade of wild tigers and their parts.

These efforts are already having an impact. 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. Nepal in particular has excelled at curbing the illegal poaching of wild tigers. There were no recorded deaths in 2013, and between 2009 and 2013, the number of wild cats grew by over 60 percent.

Biodiversity is the fabric of our lives and planet, and the iconic tiger is one of its golden threads. Promoting stewardship of nature is a critical and effective strategy for fighting extreme poverty and fostering resilient societies. By supporting tiger conservation, we cut off funding streams to criminal networks intent on destroying our world and profiting from the illegal wildlife trade. We give communities alternatives to develop their economies sustainably. And, most importantly, we give the tigers a fighting chance to survive into the next generation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mary Melnyk, USAID Asia Bureau’s Environment Team Leader.

Mobilizing ‘Makers’ for a Better World

Making, with a capital “M,” is a new term used to describe an ancient act: creating physical things. Far from old-fashioned, a perfect storm of cultural and technological advances is fueling a revolution in Making.

3D printers, modular electronics, and online libraries of open-source designs empower tinkerers and inventors to bring their ideas to life with groundbreaking speed and creativity. Thousands of community hackerspaces (and Fab Labs and maker spaces) are opening their doors to Makers all over the world. Crowdfunding and low-barrier manufacturing turbocharge the innovation pipeline from invention to market.

Developing air quality sensors for monitoring urban pollution in Africa. / Marco Zennaro

Developing air quality sensors for monitoring urban pollution in Africa. / © Marco Zennaro

Today, the President celebrates a “Nation of Makers” as a powerful force of innovation and entrepreneurship across the country. And beyond the impressive promise of revitalizing American hardware manufacturing, the Maker movement offers a truly unprecedented resource: global creation.

Great ideas can come from anywhere. How many times in human history must inspiration have struck those who lacked the means to create a prototype? How many of our great ideas have gone unrealized? By democratizing the means to create, the Maker movement is poised to unlock humanity’s power of invention.

Recognizing this potential, USAID is challenging Makers around the world to create sensor technologies that can improve the lives and livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people. Our U.S. Global Development Lab has launched a “Sensors for Global Development” Fab Award in partnership with the World Bank, Intel Corporation, and the Fab Foundation.

Sensors for Development

Sensor technology is an integral part of the Maker movement. Sensors allow homemade robots to navigate through physical space. Wearable sensors like Shine give you feedback on your personal health habits. Birdi monitors the quality of the air in your home – it’ll send an alert to your phone when you should open the window. Information about our physical world is increasingly detected, analyzed, and returned to us as useful insights that can improve our lives. The development of this so-called “Internet of Things” is owed in large part to hackers and makers.

There is a vast hole, however, in the Internet of Things. Much of the developing world, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, is a sensors desert. Here, ironically, the world’s most vulnerable people stand to gain the most from improved access to critical information on essential issues like agricultural productivity and the availability of clean drinking water.

The Internet of Things: a map of connected devices around the world.  Notice the scarcity of sensors in Sub-Saharan Africa. / thingful.net

The Internet of Things: a map of connected devices around the world. Notice the scarcity of sensors in Sub-Saharan Africa. / thingful.net

Useful information streaming in from sensors in near real-time also may permit adaptive decision-making to maximize the effectiveness of USAID programs around the world.  Much in the way that the ubiquity of cell-phones has already transformed the global development enterprise, the promise of sensor networks presents a tremendous opportunity to leapfrog traditional methods of gathering important information and empowering individuals.

The Sensors for Global Development Fab Award challenges the Maker movement to get involved. We’ve called for Makers to focus their efforts on creating robust, low-cost sensor technologies that promise to help improve the livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable. By tapping into this pervasive cadre of solvers to take on society’s most fundamental challenges, we stand ready to bend the curve toward a more prosperous, resilient, and democratic global community.

Today, at the White House Maker Faire, we announced the six Fab Award finalists:

  • MoMo (mobile monitor) – a mobile device with a sensor that collects data to track infrastructure and improve accountability in the developing world. WellDone’s water MoMo identifies where village wells are broken and alerts repair teams to fix them.
  • Fresh Air in Benin – a network of air quality sensors being developed to monitor urban air pollution in Africa
  • GrowerBot – a smart sensor system for small-scale agriculture that monitors and tracks environmental conditions, providing customized guidance to help growers optimize their productivity.
  • Nano Plasmonics Biosensor – a nano-scale optical sensor for identifying organic molecules with a wide range of applications from medical diagnostics to detecting water contamination.
  • KdUINO – a low cost DIY sensor buoy system that empowers students and citizen scientists to monitor the environmental conditions of seas and rivers
  • Safecast – an open source vehicle-mounted sensor network system to empower citizens to collect and publish data, with a focus on mapping radiation levels

The finalists will compete for a $10,000 prize at the Fab10 Conference in July.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric King is an Innovation Specialist with the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Data & Analytics Team. Follow him @eric_m_king

Mapping Change in the Amazon: How Satellite Images are Halting Deforestation

This blog post originally appeared on the Global Envision blog published by Mercy Corps.

In the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, a group of scientists have become unconventional crusaders in the battle to halt deforestation. They are the engine behind Imazon, one of the most prolific research groups based in the Amazon. Imazon is now collaborating with the government of the Brazilian state of Pará to combine real time satellite imagery and advanced mapping techniques with a system of incentives and penalties to embolden indigenous communities, local governments, and farmers to protect the rainforest.

Amazon rain forest. Credit: The Skoll Foundation

The Skoll Foundation


Until recently, Pará was the epicenter of unchecked rainforest devastation. Known locally for its rural corruption and banditry, the region had been losing 6,255 square kilometers of rich biodiversity annually – an area roughly the size of Delaware. The assault threatened the territory of some of the last untouched tribes in the world, and chipped away at the Amazon’s ability to absorb 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, a critical factor in regulating the earth’s climate cycle.

But the Brazilian Amazon is vast. Patrol vehicles can’t monitor the entire region from the ground. This is particularly true for indigenous communities trying to oversee their protected lands with limited resources.

Imazon

Imazon


And without accurate and timely information about illegal logging and sawmills, authorities and community members are helpless to stop the destruction before it it’s too late.

That’s why Carlos Souza Jr., a native of Pará’s capital of Belem, got involved. Souza earned a doctoral degree in advanced image processing techniques from the University of California-Santa Barbara and recognized that this technology could be the crucial missing link to address deforestation in his home country. Souza and a small team of researchers at Imazon developed detailed maps using free satellite imagery from the NASA sensor MODIS.

The Skoll Foundation

The Skoll Foundation


But the end goal was not just to produce beautiful maps.

Souza and his team began tracking changes in deforestation. They used the information to spark frank discussions about the future of the Amazon and to push for informed action on the issue. In some cases this meant cracking down on illegal operations, and in others it meant training farmers in improved farming techniques to enable higher incomes.

Imazon

Imazon


“Using scientific methods to approach sustainable development puts Imazon in a very good position to host dialogues with different stakeholders because the information we produce is neutral,” Souza explains. “They may not agree with the results, but they know there is no bias.”

For Souza and the Imazon team, this is the real value of their program: putting detailed scientific data in the hands of the people who can create positive change.

Photo: Skoll / Map: Imazon

Photo: Skoll / Map: Imazon


And it’s started to work.

In early 2013, the Brazilian police and army from the community of Nova Esperança do Piria used Imazon’s satellite images to conduct large scale raids on unlicensed sawmills that were infringing on the Alto Guáma Indigenous Reserve, situated within the Amazon.

Imazon

Imazon


Last year, Imazon expanded its work with support from the Investment Innovations Alliance, a joint venture fund between USAID and the Skoll Foundation, in collaboration with Mercy Corps. The Alliance invested $6 million, which allowed Imazon to grow and institutionalize its cartographic monitoring system and support the expansion of the Green Municipalities Program.

Map: Imazon, ISA, and IPAM  Photo: The Skoll Foundation

Map: Imazon, ISA, and IPAM Photo: The Skoll Foundation


Deforestation is already on the decline: after rising in the first half of 2013, the deforestation rate between August and December decreased by 70% compared to the same period the year before.

Now Imazon wants to take this movement beyond Brazil’s borders.

M24instudio

M24instudio


The launch of Google Earth Engine has allowed Imazon to share their pioneering maps with the global community and they are connecting with leading organizations throughout the region that want to integrate Imazon’s approach.

Souza is optimistic about the organization’s ability to adapt their strategies and burgeon their impact as they continue in the battle to preserve the world’s most pristine rainforests.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Huguet is the Assistant Program Officer of the Investment Innovations Alliance

Battling Climate Change’s Most Powerful Punches

When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Indonesia recently, he warned that climate change ranks among the world’s most serious problems, calling upon nations to respond to what he considers “the greatest challenge of our generation.”

As Mission Director of USAID Philippines and the Pacific Islands, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of climate change. From super typhoons, extended droughts, flash floods and other extreme weather events, these countries are often at the receiving end of climate change’s most powerful punches.

A common sight in Vunisinu and Nalase villages in Fiji—worn out concrete stilts as a result of flooding in the villages

A common sight in Vunisinu and Nalase villages in Fiji—worn out concrete stilts as a result of flooding in the villages. / USAID Pacific Islands

In late March, I visited Suva, Fiji to express the U.S. Government’s continuing commitment in the Pacific Islands region and more importantly, to help communities strengthen their resilience to disasters and climate change impacts.

We at USAID know that the most effective solutions to climate change—or any development change for that matter—are those designed by those who are affected. Hence, our new project, the Pacific-American Climate Fund [PDF], will involve partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the 12 Pacific countries.

This $24-million grant facility will support NGO projects on climate change adaptation in the areas of natural resource and water management, livelihood development, and income diversification.

Examining the proposed plan of the USAID C-CAP team to rehabilitate the drainage system that will help prevent flooding in the villages of Vunisinu and Nalase in Rewa Province, Fiji.

Examining the proposed plan of the USAID C-CAP team to rehabilitate the drainage system that will help prevent flooding in the villages of Vunisinu and Nalase in Rewa Province, Fiji. / USAID Pacific Islands

I believe that a “one size fits all” approach will not effectively support communities in their efforts to address climate change. Through this project, we expect to receive many innovative ideas—each providing a unique solution to a climate change problem experienced by each community.

Another example of the importance of engaging local communities is our Coastal Community Adaptation Project (C-CAP). USAID/C-CAP will help coastal communities become more resilient to the effects of climate change by supporting small-scale infrastructure, increasing awareness of how it affects the community, and using this knowledge in participatory mapping and land-use planning.

Drainage system in in Rewa Province, Fiji.

Drainage system in in Rewa Province, Fiji. / USAID Pacific Islands

During my visit to the villages of Vunisinu and Nalase in Rewa Province, Fiji, I had the opportunity to interact with members of the community. They shared with me the personal struggles they’ve encountered due to climate change. I will never forget the story of one manioc (taro) farmer. He has been a farmer all of his life. It’s his only livelihood and he supports his wife and three children. “One day there was heavy rain. It overflowed from the drains into my farm and I lost most of my harvest in that crop,” he lamented. “Now how am I to feed my family?”

We are working vigorously to address the challenges that families of this “Pacific Century”—aptly named by President Obama—face every day. As such, we will improve the drainage management system in Fiji, which will reduce the potential for floods to damage the community’s manioc, vegetable and coconut crops.

But our work doesn’t stop there. USAID also assists the government and civil society of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in expanding HIV prevention, care and treatment models; strengthening women, peace and security in PNG; supporting elections in Fiji; and providing disaster mitigation, relief and reconstruction in Federal States of Micronesia and Republic of Marshall Islands.

By building resilience to climate change, we aim to preserve lives—and livelihoods, which ultimately enables families to live happier, healthier lives and have the freedom to explore opportunities for a brighter future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gloria D. Steele is the Mission Director for USAID/Philippines and Pacific Islands.

Transforming Cities Today for Equitable Societies Tomorrow

The Medellin metrocable, Colombia

The Medellin metrocable, Colombia / Patrick Benning, Deutsche Welle

I recently spent 50 agonizing minutes gently swaying several hundred feet over a forested mountain in the northeast of Medellín, Colombia. I was sharing a six-person gondola on the city’s famed Telemetro, a lift system constructed to enable poor slum dwellers on the outskirts of the city to more easily access the city center. In Spanish it’s called a teleférico; for me, it was terrifying. The nonchalance with which the other passengers in the car continued their conversation about sustainable approaches to public landscape architecture only made things worse.

We were all in town for the World Urban Forum (WUF), and had signed up for a tour of the city’s Metro system, rightly touted as a model of urban transit which, along with participatory budgeting and social programs that have brought parks, schools and libraries into the poorest neighborhoods, has helped to decrease violence and increase social equity in Medellín.

Despite my rare (as our guide was at pains to make clear) and unnerving experience, WUF’s host city serves as an example of an unlikely urban transformation—proof that committed reform, community participation, and wise investments in urban infrastructure and service delivery can mean drastically better city life for the 3.5 billion people living in cities today.

With an additional 2 billion more people projected to be developing world urbanites by 2050, this is of no small importance.

Kenya's notoriously dangerous city buses, or matatus.

Kenya’s notoriously dangerous city buses, or matatus / Elinrei

This was the seventh session of WUF, an event hosted by U.N. Habitat every two years to discuss the impact of rapid urbanization on communities, economies, climate change, and governments.

For USAID, WUF was an opportunity to showcase our new policy on Sustainable Urban Service Delivery, [pdf] to advance our thinking on how to put the policy into practice, and to hear from experts and officials around the world about their approaches to urban development challenges.

At the heart of USAID’s new policy lies this fundamental principle: Growing cities can help to drive inclusive development; but local governments, organizations and communities must work together to ensure that urban growth does not overwhelm local capacity to deliver basic services, and that the benefits of urbanization are felt by society’s most vulnerable.

The policy ensures that we are able to support cities to deliver transparent, accountable and inclusive services to the urban poor in ways that are politically and financially sustainable, promote resilience and support multi-stakeholder partnerships.

For example, our Climate Resilient Infrastructure Services [pdf] program is working to build the sustainability of five coastal and low-lying cities—Nacala, Mozambique; Piura and Trujillo, Peru; Hue, Vietnam; and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic—by helping them understand their climate vulnerabilities; develop and test techniques that can rapidly increase the climate resilience of water, transportation and other services; and better protect residents while preventing future development in high-risk areas. Together, the urban areas targeted by the program are home to more than 2.6 million people.

Paving an erosion-prone road in Nacala.

Paving an erosion-prone road in Nacala / Nora Ferm, USAID

In Nacala, Mozambique, which is prone to heavy rains and landslides, we are helping the city create a database that maps vulnerable areas and provide technicians with a better understanding of how weather and climate impact infrastructure services. This work will help to ensure that Nacala and other cities in Mozambique — projected to be the fourth most urbanized country in southern Africa by 2025 — can continue to serve as the country’s economic hubs and drivers of development.

Southern downtown section of Hue. Photo: Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting

Southern downtown section of Hue / Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting

In Hue, Vietnam we are helping urban planners customize and apply a tailored software tool that anticipates the effects of climate change on newly urbanizing areas and critical infrastructure. This work will help lessen the impact of events like the 2006 flood that submerged the city of 340,000 under 6 feet of flood water, paralyzing it for days. Planners have already used the tool to adjust master plans for three zones outside of the city of Hue that are expected to urbanize quickly in the coming years.

And in Afghanistan, through the Regional Afghan Municipalities Program for Urban Populations (RAMP-UP), we are working to strengthen municipalities that have long suffered from underinvestment, limited support, low revenues, and weak institutional capacity. Some of the many successes of the four regionally based projects include implementation of solid waste collection and management programs; the establishment of public-private partnerships to generate revenue and to promote economic growth; support for female entrepreneurs through business training and local craft exhibitions; and increased revenue in some municipalities by as much as 26 percent.

The many debates and conversations at WUF made clear that the work we are doing in cities like Nacala, Hue, and throughout Afghanistan and elsewhere contributes to a mounting global urban agenda that promotes equity, inclusiveness, and the participation of communities, local and national governments, and the private sector.

Cities are growing by 70 million people each year, adding urgency to our efforts. Because cities are engines of growth, if we are successful in helping to build stronger and more resilient cities, we will also be helping to bring about a world without extreme poverty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeff Szuchman is a USAID AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow working on USAID’s policy on Sustainable Urban Service Delivery and the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

10 Ways the U.S. Government is Fighting Global Climate Change (that you’ve never heard about)

Photo Credit: Daniel Byers, SkyShip Films 2011

Nepals Imja Lake / Daniel Byers, SkyShip Films 2011

1. In Nepal, rapidly expanding glacial lakes are often unstable and prone to burst their banks, washing out communities below. USAID is working with high-mountain communities to help measure the impact of melting glaciers on Imja Lake, not far from Mount Everest base camp.

Read about how we’re helping bring Andean expertise to Nepal’s glacial lake region.


Wheat farmers in Kazakhstan are learning about the expected climate change impacts on their crop.

Wheat farmers in Kazakhstan are learning about the expected climate change impacts on their crop. / USAID

2. In Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s breadbasket, USAID is working with the government to ensure wheat farmers get better weather and climate forecasts to make better planting and harvest decisions. A severe drought in 2012 slashed Kazakhstan wheat harvests by half, contributing to a worldwide food shortage that led the World Bank to issue a global hunger warning.

Read more about how we’re helping to preserve “Asia’s breadbasket.”


Ethiopian Sheep

Ethiopian Sheep / Nena Terrell, USAID

3. Cows, camels, goats and sheep are the lifeblood of pastoralist farmers in Kenya and Ethiopia. But these poor farmers live with the constant threat that a severe drought, like the one in 2009, could decimate herds and flocks. USAID is working with locals to develop livestock insurance, new water conservation practices and other measures so pastoralists can survive and bounce back from severe droughts.

Read more about how East Africa’s dryland herders are taking out a policy on survival.


Forest measurement demonstration near Lae by staff of Forest Research Institute, Papua New Guinea.

Forest measurement demonstration near Lae by staff of Forest Research Institute, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Low Emission Asia Forests project / USAID, RDMA

4. Worldwide, forest destruction generates more greenhouse gas emissions each year than do all the trains, planes and cars on the planet. Worldwide, 50 soccer fields of forest are lost every minute of every day, and forests in Southeast Asia are being cleared faster than almost anywhere on earth. In Papua New Guinea, USAID is working to teach forest carbon measurement techniques so that local people and communities can show the progress they are making conserving tropical forest.


multispectral imagery of the Nzoia River basin

The Nzoia River basin lies entirely within the Lake Victoria basin in Kenya. The SERVIR-Africa team captured multispectral imagery of the Nzoia River basin from the NASA’s EO-1 satellite on August 23, 2008 to provide baseline imagery of this frequently flooded area for future analysis. / NASA, EO-1

5. Fighting climate change requires good data. USAID and NASA partner to provide satellite-based Earth observation data and science applications to help developing nations improve their environmental decision-making as well as monitor other issues like famines, floods and disease outbreaks. We are currently working with Tanzania’s weather agency to use satellite data to map climate and weather risks and to create early warning systems, including for malaria outbreaks.

Read more about how USAID uses data to better manage land resources.


The Russian boreal forest

The Russian boreal forest / Vladimir Savchenko

6. What happens when anyone can become a forest ranger? USAID is supporting World Resources Institute with the Global Forest Watch interactive global forest mapping tool. The online tool allows people to access – or upload – near real-time information about what is happening on the ground in forests around the world.


Southern downtown section of Hue. Photo: Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting

Southern downtown section of Hue. / Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting

7. In 2006, the Vietnamese city of Hue was paralyzed for days, submerged under more than six feet of floodwater after a large rain. USAID today helps Hue and other at-risk coastal cities anticipate and address the repeated flooding and other climate impacts on roads and energy systems by helping them plan smarter cities that can weather climate events. In Hue, we are helping urban planners customize and apply a tailored software tool that anticipates the effects of climate change on critical infrastructure.

Read more about how USAID is helping build a climate-smart Vietnam.


Asma Molla with her husband Jalal, their five sons, and their two solar lamps.

Asma Molla with her husband Jalal, their five sons, and their two solar lamps. / Souradeep Ghosh, Arc Finance

8. Worldwide, more than 1.4 billion people lack access to electricity, and 2.8 billion lack access to modern cooking fuels and devices. In Uganda, India and Haiti, USAID is helping low-income people buy devices that improve their incomes and quality of life, and reduce carbon emissions at the same time by expanding the availability of consumer financing for clean energy products. We are also helping 13 companies develop and test business models that will make it easier for tens of thousands of poor people to purchase clean energy products such as solar lanterns and clean cookstoves.

Check out how USAID’s Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program is improving the quality of life of low-income populations while at the same time helping USAID partners to reduce carbon emissions.

Read more about how the Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program is bringing clean energy to people who live most of their lives in the dark.


Fish market in Gizo, Solomon Islands

Fish market in Gizo, Solomon Islands / USAID CTSP, Tory Read

9. Ever hear of the Coral Triangle? This  massive swath of ocean in between Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste is not only likely where your seafood dinner came from – it’s reefs also buffer shorelines against waves, storms and floods, helping to prevent loss of life, property damage and land erosion. But today, as much as 90 percent of Coral Triangle reefs (and the 360 million people that depend on them) are threatened by overfishing, population growth, development, pollution and the impacts of climate change. USAID helps protect this “amazon of the seas” by helping the six Coral Triangle nations better manage the most biodiverse and productive ocean region in the world.

Read more about how the Coral Triangle Initiative is helping protect this unique marine wonder and check out this photostory.


A Cofan shaman.

Strengthening their organizations has enabled the indigenous Cofan people to preserve their cultural identity and ancient knowledge / Thomas J. Müller

10. Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change. Several studies show that deforestation and illegal trafficking of species are significantly lower in indigenous territories, even when compared with natural protected areas, such as national parks and reserves. USAID is equipping indigenous populations to become active guardians of the Amazon biome in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, and is investing in youth who will continue the fight to preserve the native culture and territory as future scientists, lawyers, doctors and political leaders.

Serbia Plugs Into Cow Power

In the past, I would speed up when driving by a farm. The only thing I could think of was the awful smell that made me hold my breath. Now, I slow down and think of endless supplies of clean energy, thanks to a USAID project that is helping convert manure into renewable energy– all the while, banking on American industrial expertise.

On one farm in Blace, a town of 11,000 people in southern Serbia, 700 cows produce thousands of gallons of manure each day. But this farm’s waste does not “go to waste.”

With support from USAID’s Agribusiness Project, manure from the Lazar Dairy is being “digested” by Serbia’s first biogas plant and converted into electricity, which the dairy sells to the national electricity company, EPS, at a preferential rate applicable to renewable energy suppliers.

Lazar pays about €0.05/kWh for the electricity it purchases from EPS, but it will receive about three times as much for the electricity that it sells to power company.

Lazar Dairy Biogas Plant 5

A DAI-led USAID project supported the construction of Serbia’s Lazar Dairy new biogas plant. The plant was designed by DVO Inc., of Chilton, Wisconsin, a leading U.S. designer and builder of anaerobic digesters.

Ushering the $2 million plant from drawing board to full operation took two-years. USAID’s Agribusiness Project acted as the “matchmaker” between Lazar Dairy and DVO, Inc., of Wisconsin, a leading U.S. designer and builder of anaerobic digesters.

The dairy had faced significant problems dealing with its manure, a major pollution issue. Now, this is virtually eliminated by the digester — a sealed container — as is the odor problem. Since its inauguration in May 2012, the plant has been operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, feeding up to 1 MW of renewable electrical energy into the national electrical grid every month—enough to power more than 1,000 homes.

In addition to generating biogas that powers the generator, the leftover solids and liquids are filtered and used for cow bedding and as fertilizer. The recycling of other organic waste (such as whey from cheese production at the farm) results in a liquid fertilizer and waste heat in the form of hot water that can be used to heat buildings.

Lazar Dairy Biogas Plant 3

A DAI-led USAID project supported the construction of Serbia’s Lazar Dairy new biogas plant. The plant was designed by DVO Inc., of Chilton, Wisconsin, a leading U.S. designer and builder of anaerobic digesters.

“The introduction of the bio-digester completely changed our business operations. We now have a steady cash inflow and dispose of our waste without harm to the environment,” said Milan Vidojevic, owner of the Lazar Dairy and one of Serbia’s most successful entrepreneurs.

Bolstering technological innovations like these, which encourage economic growth both abroad and at home, while supporting responsible agricultural practices, is a priority at USAID.

“This investment demonstrates that environmentally sound production can increase profits AND provide wide reaching benefits for the whole community. The U.S. Government is proud to have facilitated this process, through which this American technology has found its way to Blace,” said the former U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, Mary Warlick.

Lazar Dairy, which employs 120 people, is an economic engine for villages around Blace. In addition to its dairy farm, Lazar buys up to 45,000 liters (12,000 gallons) of milk per day from a network of more than 2,000 local farmers within a 100-kilometer radius. Its processing plant converts this raw milk to processed milk, yogurt, creams, and cheeses.

As a result of USAID’s assistance since early 2009, the company has generated annual sales of nearly $1 million, which translates to more than $600,000 in cash payments to the 2,000 raw-milk suppliers. Should future environmental regulations in Serbia allow it, the dairy would be eligible for additional revenue through the sale of carbon credits.

Eye in the Sky Moves Mountains in Development

THE WORLD IN HIS HAND: Him Lal Shrestha, a Remote Sensing Analyst at the USAID-funded SERVIR Himalaya initiative, explains how data is transmitted from a satellite and informs the Government of Nepal on how best to make use of their land. Photo by Richard Nyberg, USAID

THE WORLD IN HIS HAND: Him Lal Shrestha, a Remote Sensing Analyst at the USAID-funded SERVIR Himalaya initiative, explains how data is transmitted from a satellite and informs the Government of Nepal on how best to make use of their land.
Photo by Richard Nyberg, USAID

When Him Lal Shrestha wants to know what is happening on the ground affecting Nepalese farmers, he shoots a glance up—way up to an orbiting satellite. That great big white ball on the top of his building helps bring life-saving data down to earth. Here’s how.

Shrestha is a Remote Sensing Analyst at the USAID-funded SERVIR Himalaya initiative. He showed me around his facility and explained how satellite imagery can tell us what is happening to land in Nepal and across the countries surrounding the scenic Hindu Kush Himalayas.

Pointing to his screen, he explains how land cover, particularly in agriculture and forest, in many areas of Nepal is being depleted — a serious issue that will affect how local people plant, harvest and survive. It’s also a huge concern for government officials who are trying to thwart potential calamities that could make things tougher for people just trying to make ends meet.

Screenshot on the SERVIR Himalaya website shows land cover trends over time.

Screenshot on the SERVIR Himalaya website shows land cover trends over time.

Shrestha describes what he sees on his screen. “In the case of Nepal, from 1990 to the current year, we see remarkable pressure on the land cover changes,” he said. “Land cover is a function of population growth; because of population growth, there is urbanization. So ultimately there is pressure on the forest coverage,” he said, adding that the survey work is important internationally because “we are discussing reducing emission from the deforestation and degradation.”

Helping people understand forest cover and other development challenges at home and across borders is the goal of this USAID effort in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Some of the tools help people detect forest fires hidden behind mountain ranges and send SMS messages to firefighters so they can speed off in pursuit in less than an hour.

Dr. Rajiv Shah meets local scientists at SERVIR Himalaya.

Dr. Rajiv Shah meets local scientists at SERVIR Himalaya.

“It is hard to fix a problem that you cannot see,” said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah during a recent visit to Nepal. Dr. Shah believes that by harnessing science and technology, “we can put critical information in the hands of the people most affected by natural disasters.”

Other tools keep a big eye on glacier melts leading to water flows and help monitor food production and estimate crop yields to better inform the Nepal government so they can make critical decisions ahead of time to avoid famine and all the suffering that comes with it. Similarly, other governments in the region can use satellite imagery of land conditions within their borders to make informed decisions.

Top: Imja Glacier in 1956.  Bottom: By 2012, the Imja glacier had receded dramatically, leaving behind a lake 110 m deep and containing over 60 million cubic meters of water.

Top: Imja Glacier in 1956.
Bottom: By 2012, the Imja glacier had receded dramatically, leaving behind a lake 110 m deep and containing over 60 million cubic meters of water.
Photo Credits: (Top) Erwin Schneider, Courtesy of the Association for Comparative Alpine Research, Munich. (Bottom) Alton C.Byers, The Mountain Institute

According to Bronwyn Llewellyn, Environment Team Leader at USAID Nepal, a lack of transparency in decision-making is an issue to tackle across the region. “Science and technology can help a lot with that transparency. It’s a tool that is accessed by everyone online. By creating tools that cross boundaries, you are creating a language of science that can be used across the borders. So everyone is looking at the same tool and making the same decisions.”

So what’s USAID’s vision for this science-based development mapping toolkit? Governments across the region need the big picture. And the satellite data it collects enables them to track global climate change and make more informed decisions about land and water use that impact their countries’ future.

Meeting Water, Food and Health Needs in Kenya

On this World Water Day 2014, I am encouraged by how USAID’s water programs around the world contribute to integrated approaches that meet the objectives of the Agency’s Water and Development Strategy, as well as the Feed the Future and the Global Health Presidential Initiatives. During my recent work in Kenya with the USAID team at Kaputir and Kalimngorok, I was able to see first hand the efforts to strengthen Kenya’s resilience to disease, climate change, drought, floods and water shortages.

Across Kenya, USAID’s AIDS, Population, and Health Integrated Assistance Plus (APHIAplus) program is working to strengthen and improve healthcare systems. In Kaputir, the APHIAplus Integrated Marginal Arid Regions Innovative Socialized Health Approach (IMARISHA) project supports a health clinic and a Community-Led Total Sanitation project.

Photo Credit: Martin Mulongo

Photo Credit: Martin Mulongo

As I walked up a slight slope to the village of Kaputir, the first thing I saw was the gigantic masonry water tank that holds 13,000 gallons of water situated next to a one-story, concrete block clinic with maternity, pharmacy, consultation and emergency rooms. The front of the clinic has a small porch on which children and adults sit in a long line, partially shaded from the sun, waiting for their turn to receive basic medical care. The clinic staff proudly showed me their microscope, as well as their solar-powered refrigerator used to store medicines and blood samples.

Photo credit: Martin Mulongo

13,000 gallon water tank in Kaputir (Photo credit: Martin Mulongo)

Also as part of APHIAplus IMARISHA, the nearby community of some 6,000 people is working to achieve “open defecation-free” status. For example, the house right next to the clinic is leading the charge by being the first to add a pit latrine; it has a slab covering the hole, surrounded by a thatched fence and a “tippy-tap” handwashing device with water and soap.

In the same community, another project implemented by the Millennium Water Alliance, through their partner World Vision, supports a large water storage project connected to a nearby borehole. The combined efforts of these programs ensure integrated water, health, sanitation and hygiene services, which in turn reduce the prevalence of diarrhea, a major contributor to childhood mortality.

As we drove into the Kalimngorok area, we looked out at the flat, brown, dry landscape with few bushes and no rivers or streams in sight. At first glance, I wondered how one could grow anything here. In the distance I saw a large water catchment, built to capture and store rainwater for both human and livestock consumption and irrigation. A secondary benefit of the catchment is that water has seeped through the earthen floor, helping to restore groundwater underneath. At the base of the catchment, the community has installed a substantial metal pump on a concrete slab to draw water from the restored aquifer. In the surrounding fields, farmers experiment with different crops resistant to drought, using soil tillage techniques to increase the capture of rainwater when the rains arrive.

WFP Irrigation project in Turkana -Kalemngorok

WFP Irrigation project in Turkana -Kalemngorok (Photo credit: Martin Mulongo)

We also visited USAID’s Turkana Rehabilitation Program in Kalimngorok, implemented by the United Nations World Food Program, which integrates rainwater harvesting technology and food production through a range of water management practices. I walked through the fields observing construction of on-farm contour bunds (embankments) that capture rain as it falls on fields and increases yields, and the building of water pans (shallow retention ponds that store water for irrigation and watering livestock).  The program also promotes improved nutrition by establishing fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, diversifies income through bee keeping, and reduces environmental degradation through establishment of micro-catchments.

At both Kaputir and Kalimngorok, I am left with the sobering firsthand realization of the challenges of assisting thousands of people in this arid environment. But I am also left with a sense of optimism. We saw progress in action in capturing and storing water, providing healthcare, navigating the lack of an electrical grid and producing crops in such an arid environment. USAID/Kenya’s approach of layering, integrating and sequencing its technical interventions and projects brings hope that over time these activities could be expanded and provided at scale, changing the lives of thousands of people for the better.

Cooking With Green Charcoal Helps to Reduce Deforestation in Haiti

An organization in northern Haiti is promoting a cooking fuel made from agricultural waste that can save trees, help farmers increase their yields and generate additional income.

“Our aim is to try to stop deforestation in Haiti by teaching people to switch from cooking with charcoal to using cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste,” said Anderson Pierre, the Supply Chain Manager for Carbon Roots International (CRI), a USAID-supported non-profit organization operating in Quartier Morin.

Workers create cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste, in northern Haiti on Dec. 12, 2013. Photo copyright Kendra Helmer/USAID

Workers create cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste, in northern Haiti on Dec. 12, 2013.
Photo © Kendra Helmer/USAID

Despite the fact that only about 2 percent of Haiti’s forests remain, it is difficult to shift habits of cooking with wood charcoal to methods that are environmentally friendly.  According to Pierre, other alternative fuels are still not well-known – or accepted.

“We work little by little, changing perceptions and providing information on the benefits of using briquettes,” Pierre said.

CRI employs smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs to produce carbon-rich char from agricultural waste such as sugarcane bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice. CRI uses this waste to create two innovative products: renewable charcoal cooking briquettes called “green charcoal,” and “biochar,” a potent natural soil additive that increases soil fertility and removes carbon from the atmosphere. CRI sells the briquettes as an alternative to traditional wood charcoal through a network of women retailers, and disburses biochar back to farmers to increase crop yields and further raise incomes.

As a result, the project contributes to the sustainability of Haitian agriculture and provides income opportunities for women entrepreneurs. It offers a comparably priced, locally appropriate green cooking fuel to the Haitian marketplace, as well as encourages the adoption of biochar as a viable tool for increasing agricultural productivity and soil resiliency.

CRI’s efforts to promote green charcoal are gradually gaining ground in northern Haiti. While they’ve been focusing on market research and production, they plan to expand to bulk sales and more roadside kiosks this spring. In December, CRI ran a public awareness campaign in Quartier Morin under the slogan “Green Charcoal is Your Charcoal”, using demonstration stands and offering free samples of briquettes.

“The Haitian consumer likes the fact that this comes from a source other than wood. People have heard about a Haiti that used to be green. They understand that deforestation is not good. If they have an alternative, they will go for it,” said Ryan Delaney, co-founder of CRI. The briquettes are 5 to 10 percent cheaper to buy than wood-based charcoal and they can be burned in a traditional cook stove, making it an attractive fuel alternative.

USAID is supporting CRI through a $100,000 Development Innovation Ventures award. The USAID award has helped CRI prove itself — it developed a network of producers, started production and created viable markets for biomass products.

“We want this to be a self-sufficient project,” Delaney said. “We have just purchased a machine that can increase the briquette production from 3,000 briquettes a day to 3 tons an hour. There is a lot of sugarcane production in Haiti providing the needed sugarcane waste…. Right now we sell small-scale, but we have ambitious expansion goals.”

Delaney estimates the charcoal market in Haiti to be valued at about $700 million a year (approximately $90 million in northern Haiti).  “The potential to scale in Haiti and beyond is enormous, as there is little centralized production of charcoal,” he said.

This month, the U.S.-based CRI expects formal operations to begin for their for-profit entity in Haiti, called Carbon Roots Haiti, S.A.  Eventually CRI wants to hand over green charcoal production to Haitians, Delaney said. ”Ultimately, we envision this as a Haitian company run by Haitians.”

Launched in October 2010, USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) holds a quarterly grant competition for innovative ideas, pilots and tests them using cutting-edge analytical methods, and scales those that demonstrate cost-effectiveness and widespread development impact. DIV uses a staged-funding model inspired by venture capital to invest comparatively small amounts in relatively unproven ideas, and continues to support only those that prove effective.

For more information on DIV and how to apply, go to http://www.usaid.gov/div. For more information on CRI visit http://www.carbonrootsinternational.org/ and see photos of CRI in Haiti on Flickr.

Read another story about how USAID is fighting deforestation through an improved cooking technology program.

Anna-Maija Mattila Litvak is the Senior Development Outreach and Communications Officer for USAID/Haiti.

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