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Working Together to Feed the World and Protect the Planet

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog.

Today, nearly one in eight people in the world do not have enough food to eat.

And studies predict that as diets change and the world’s population grows to 9 billion people by 2050, we will need to increase food production by at least 60 percent to meet the global demand for food, all in the face of increasing pressures on natural resources.

Forty-three years ago, the first Earth Day celebration began a movement to create awareness about the need to protect the world’s natural resources so they can be enjoyed by generations to come. Since then, governments and civil society have worked together to address environmental challenges and improve our understanding of how we can help protect the world’s natural resources.

Farmers in Boti, a small community in the Eastern region of Ghana, take small tree seedlings to their farm to plant. The trees will provide soil stability, increase water quality, and provide a habitat for beekeeping. Photo credit: Kyndra Eide, Peace Corps

Today’s celebration of Earth Day is an opportunity to remind ourselves and our partners of the connection between our environment, agriculture, and food and nutrition security and how we can work together to end world hunger and undernutrition. Although we still face environmental challenges, our ability to apply scientific innovation and technology in agriculture and work in partnership across different sectors can help us protect our planet and end hunger and undernutrition at the same time.

Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, is working with a variety of partners to meet the dual challenges of growing more while conserving natural resources.

  • We help smallholder farmers adopt improved technologies and management practices that can lead to more resilient crops, higher yields, and increased incomes while encouraging sustainable and equitable access to and use of natural resources like land and water.
  • We support scientific innovation and technology in agriculture and nutrition to help meet the challenge of growing more food with less water while helping farmers adapt to changes in climate and rainfall. As Secretary of State John Kerry has said, “We know that when managed well, water allows economies to thrive and children to grow up healthy.”
  • We also support partner governments to implement policy reforms and establish regulatory systems that promote open markets and science-based regulations, helping to increase agricultural productivity and reduce poverty.
  • We actively support policy coordination among major donors, strategic partners, and multilateral organizations through our food and nutrition security diplomacy efforts. For example, the U.S. Government helped guide the United Nations Committee on World Food Security process to develop and adopt Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests. And we are participating in the follow-on effort to develop voluntary principles of responsible agricultural investment. The U.S. Government is also the largest contributor to organizations like the UN World Food Program, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, which each work to combat food insecurity and undernutrition.

Feed the Future is doing all this in partnership with private sector, civil society, strategic partners and other U.S. Government initiatives that are working to build the resilience of communities vulnerable to hunger and the impacts of climate change.

Through our collaboration with Feed the Future strategic partners, like Brazil, India and South Africa, we leverage the expertise of emerging economic leaders and scale up joint efforts to achieve food and nutrition security goals. Our partnership with Brazil is helping increase the income of small holder farmers in rural areas of Honduras and providing renewable energy to 10,000 families in remote areas of the country…[continued]

Read the rest of this post.

Kazakhstan: Preserving Asia’s Bread Basket

During Earth Week, we’re exploring the connections between climate change and the environment we depend on to sustain us. We start in Kazakhstan, the breadbasket of Central Asia and Afghanistan.

“Ас атасы – нан” – Bread is the head of all foods, Kazakh Proverb

Bread is the lifeblood of the Central Asian diet, so changes in the price and availability of wheat can have significant impacts on food security in the five Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan. In Tajikistan, for example, more than 50% of daily caloric intake comes from bread. While all the countries grow at least a little wheat, it is Kazakhstan—the world’s 7th largest wheat exporter—that occupies the central role in providing this critical staple crop to the entire region.

Bread is the centerpiece of the Central Asian diet. Photo credit: USAID

Yet, climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of droughts in the wheat growing regions, increase extreme temperature events, and change seasonal precipitation patterns. These changes could significantly threaten Kazakhstan’s ability to serve as the region’s breadbasket. Climate change is expected to exacerbate challenges to food security by reducing water availability – critical for agriculture – and increasing natural disasters like droughts and floods. Harvests during drought years in Kazakhstan can be as much as six times smaller than harvests during normal years!

Despite these known trends, there is very little local awareness or concern about climate change in the region. While the Government of Kazakhstan has taken a progressive stance reducing the emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, adaptation to climate change is still a relatively new concept.

USAID is partnering with UNDP and a host of international experts and organizations to improve the climate resiliency of Kazakhstan wheat and Central Asian food security. The goal of our project is to catalyze the process of adaptation in Kazakhstan’s wheat sector, while also opening a regional dialogue around the challenges of climate change to Central Asian food security.

Flour has been a staple of food assistance to Kyrgyzstan, where over 700,000 people have been provided with humanitarian assistance from USAID since 2006. Photo credit: USAID

As the weather becomes more unpredictable and extreme in Kazakhstan’s wheat regions, climate information services that enable farmers, processors, and policymakers to take proactive measures are essential to lessening the harm of this increasing variability. USAID’s program is focusing on improving the understanding of expected climate impacts on wheat in Kazakhstan and developing the capability to provide critical information to key audiences. Our program is also working with the government, the private sector and the research community to mainstream resilience to climate change into their decision making processes, so the growth of the wheat sector in Kazakhstan happens in a way that withstands the changes climate change will bring.

The other Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan – the primary importers of Kazakh wheat – must also be prepared to respond to the impacts of climate change outside their own borders. We’re bringing these countries and Kazakhstan together to discuss risk mitigation strategies that can be taken at a national and regional level to buffer the region against the impacts of climate change on wheat production and food security.

Together with our partners inside and outside the region, USAID is working to ensure that the people of Central Asia and Afghanistan will have a stable, affordable supply of wheat far into the future. The respect accorded to bread and the role it plays in food security is too important to ignore.

Global Dialogue on Rights to Land, Resources Advancing Rapidly

My travels to Rome, Brussels, Ottawa, Tokyo and East Africa over the past year have focused on promoting a broad discussion on the necessity for good land governance to promote food security. Partners have repeatedly stressed to me the importance of land governance systems to promote investment and more transparent land transactions. These conversations are taking place parallel to increased media coverage of land issues, the G8 and G20’s focus on land and property rights, the UN Committee on World Food Security’s adoption of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (commonly referred to as the VGs), the UN’s post-2015 Development Agenda planning, and the forthcoming negotiations for the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment. Together, these highlight a clear message: property rights are central and vitally important to global development.

Two women in the village of Abeye, Ethiopia obtained land certificates through a USAID program. By establishing rights to the land they occupy, they were able to make investments to increase their food production. Photo credit: Anthony Piaskowy,USAID

As a global leader on supporting resource governance rights, USAID is out in front on this issue. Along with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the State Department and other U.S. Government agencies, we are working together with many stakeholders to improve land and resource governance systems in many countries. While USAID and MCC’s investment of more than $800 million in 32 countries are among the largest in the donor community, we seek to coordinate our efforts with partners so that the maximum benefit can be realized.

An important step in coordinating and refining our efforts will occur next week at the World Bank’s annual Conference on Land and Poverty in Washington D.C. Over 800 participants from governments, donors, academia, the media, the private sector and civil society will gather for an intense week of conversations focused on research and policy solutions to strengthen property rights for many of world’s poorest people.

In order to eradicate extreme poverty, address global climate change, and increase food security, we must secure property rights for all producers and create conditions that enable private investment to take place so that small, medium, and large producers can benefit from their investments. USAID will advance this position and play a key role next week to lead the global community towards implementing programs that reflect best practice and greater stakeholder coordination.

To follow the proceedings from next week’s conference, I welcome you to follow my comments and reactions to the more than 300 papers and presentations through my personal twitter handle, @Gregorywmyers. Additionally, you may follow reactions to the conference from our many partners by searching #landrights on Twitter.

A Record-Breaking Year for Mobilizing Private Capital for Development

Credit guarantees are a cost-effective way to get local, private financing into the hands of creditworthy borrowers. From low-income Haitians seeking to rebuild in Port-au-Prince, to women-owned small businesses in Kabul, to solar companies in Uganda, USAID is enabling private markets in the developing world to provide financing to the people who need it most.

USAID’s Development Credit Authority (DCA) worked with 45 financial institutions in 23 countries in 2012 to unlock up to $525 million in private capital for underserved entrepreneurs in developing countries. The financing, made available through 34 partial credit guarantees, is the most USAID has mobilized in a single year.

Putting Local Wealth to Work: Development Credit Authority 2012 Portfolio. Photo Credit: USAID.

An additional 39,000 small businesses will soon be able to access local financing because of the new USAID credit guarantees, reflecting the Agency’s drive to leverage private sector resources for international development. Thanks to increased employment and other benefits for the families of these small business owners and their workers, these loans will translate into more than a million people whose lives have been improved by increased access to finance.

Learn more about DCA on our website.

 

Interagency Panel on Economic Statecraft to Create Competitive Foreign Markets

Eric Postel is assistant administrator for the Bureau of Economic Growth, Education and Environment.

Last Monday, December 10, I had the opportunity to speak at an interagency panel on the topic of Economic Statecraft and Developing Partnerships with the Private Sector.

Spearheaded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Economic Statecraft is a positioning of economics and market forces at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy. The Secretary has stressed that emerging nations are increasingly dealing in economic power rather than military might as their primary means of exercising influence, and the U.S. must be at the forefront, or risk being left behind.

Our USAID Administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah, opened the event at the Woodrow Wilson Center, with remarks emphasizing the innovative work of USAID in this area – work which may not be as well-known as those in the areas of Global Health, Education and Food Security.

The panelists speak at the Economic Statecraft event. Photo Credit: Pat Adams, USAID.

USAID plays a central role in helping to create foreign markets that are competitive, transparent and integrated into the rules-based global trading system. The Agency has been successful in spearheading pro-business reforms in the last decade in six of the top 10 performers in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index. Technical assistance and support has been provided to numerous countries including Georgia, Columbia and Vietnam with reforming their laws and regulations. While a direct correlation is perhaps not possible to make, imports increased four-fold in Vietnam following the course of six years of U.S. assistance with business climate reforms.

In the last 10 years, USAID has formed more than 1,600 partnerships with over 3,000 private sector players, leveraging approximately $19 billion in public and private resources, expertise and technologies. In 2012, USAID’s Development Credit Authority was designed to use loan guarantees to unlock large sources of local capital, and approved 38 new partial credit guarantees to mobilize a record $700 million in commercial capital in 23 countries. In practice, this means that 140,000 small scale businesses will be able to access local finance – impacting more than a million people.

One of USAID’s goals is to create opportunities and economic expansion in developing countries. This approach is increasingly becoming a new model for the Obama Administration, and is one that engages far more broadly with the private sector, delivers more dividends after foreign aid is removed, and demands more transparency and good practices overall.

Our work in this area demonstrates the need to work closer than ever with our interagency partners, several of whom were also my co-panelists at the Economic Statecraft event: the Department of State, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). As one example of our interagency coordination, this past Fall, USAID entered into a new global agreement with USTDA. The agreement will enable our missions around the world to perform feasibility studies of energy, transportation, and information and technology projects. Mission Columbia is the first buy-in under the agreement, supporting a feasibility study focusing on smart-grid technologies for large power systems. I anticipate many more partnerships between both the private sector and government, as well as within the government itself in moving forward in this undertaking.

More information can be found on the Wilson Center’s website.

 

From Conflict to Coping

Tisda, Mercy Corps Program Officer, in Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Erin Gray, Mercy Corps

Last summer, amidst the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in generations, Mercy Corps received encouraging news from local officials in the Somali-Oromiya region of Ethiopia.  In this area – long known for conflict, scarce resources and harsh conditions – communities that had participated in USAID-supported Mercy Corps peacebuilding efforts were reportedly coping better than they had during less severe droughts in the past.

We were intrigued, so we sent out a research team—and the findings were striking: when local conflict had been addressed, people were far better equipped to survive the drought.

To understand why, put yourself in the position of an Ethiopian herder.  When a drought hits, you can cope in several ways.  First, you will sell the weakest animals in your herd, raising cash to meet your family’s short-term needs while reducing grazing pressure on a water-scare environment. You may migrate with the remaining herd to areas where the grazing potential is better.  Along the way, you will rely on sharing access to scarce remaining water resources wherever you go.

Yet conflict can make these coping mechanisms impossible – blocking market access, freedom of movement, and access to shared resources like water. In this part of Ethiopia, population pressure and climate change had strained resources, spurring violence that in 2008-09 resulted in massive loss of lives and assets. In response to that conflict, Mercy Corps initiated a peacebuilding process in 2009 with support from USAID.  We helped participating communities focus on establishing peaceful relations, economic linkages, and joint management of natural resources.

A “resilience” approach to aid focuses on understanding, and improving, how communities cope with drought and other shocks.  Instead of just providing assistance that meets immediate material needs, a resilience approach also focuses on factors that affect a community’s ability to cope.  As Mercy Corps found last summer in Ethiopia, this often means focusing on factors that fall well outside the traditional assistance toolkit.

The program had focused on reducing violence – but our researchers found that it also built resilience along the way. Communities that participated in Mercy Corps’ program reported greater freedom of movement and fewer barriers to accessing resources, markets and public services than did non-participating communities. They identified greater freedom of movement as the single most important factor contributing to their ability to cope and adapt to the severe drought conditions. As one herder from the Wachile community said, “It is very difficult to use or access dry reserves (grazing areas) located in contending communities in a situation where there is no peace…the peace dialogues in the area have improved community interaction and helped us to access these resources.”

Our research report – titled Conflict to Coping – confirmed the important link between conflict and resilience in this region, and demonstrated that effective peacebuilding interventions help build resilience to crises.  Participating communities showed less reliance on distressful coping strategies, especially depletion of productive assets, than other communities. Importantly, the increased peace and security has allowed participating communities to employ more effective livelihood coping strategies, enabling them to better cope with extreme droughts.

Thinking Across Borders in Southeast Asia

Earlier this month, I traveled to Cambodia to join Secretary Clinton at the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Ministerial meetings where we launched “LMI 2020” – a deepening of the United States’ commitment to  Southeast Asia through a set of new activities aimed at strengthening regional coordination on development challenges facing the Lower Mekong region. 

“LMI 2020” seeks to advance knowledge and understanding of the environmental and health implications of economic and infrastructure development along the Mekong River, one of the most bio-diverse fresh-water ecosystems on the planet, as well as to strengthen the capacity and coordination of government, civil society and academic/research institutions in the region on these issues.  These new assistance programs support the LMI pillars of environment, education, health and connectivity which are co-chaired respectively by Viet Nam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.  But one of the most exciting outcomes was the formal welcome of Burma as a full participant in the Lower Mekong Initiative and the adoption of a fifth pillar on Agriculture and Food Security that Burma will co-chair.

The Lower Mekong Initiative was launched in 2009 as a framework for addressing the transnational challenges posed by infrastructure development along the Mekong River and a way to share information and analysis and to improve coordination amongst the countries in the region as well as donors.  Hence a parallel effort, bringing together the “Friends of the Lower Mekong” (FLM) around the table with the Mekong countries, has also become a critical way of aligning programs and policies.  I was struck by how far our partnerships under the LMI framework have progressed in the three years since it was launched. LMI partners now regularly discuss challenges with each other, at the highest political levels as well as in technical working group meetings, on issues such as the impact of proposed hydropower projects on the main stem of the Mekong River, or the need to coordinate to fight emerging pandemic threats.

After several days of productive meetings in Phnom Penh surrounding the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial meetings, I then traveled to Siem Reap  to participate in  the Lower Mekong Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy Dialogue, which USAID co-hosted along with the State Department and the Royal Government of Cambodia’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs to highlight the role of women in the fostering sustainable development in the Mekong region. Secretary Clinton gave an inspiring speech on women’s rights as workers and the need to ensure opportunities for all girls and women. USAID has committed to support women leaders in the region to build a network to address critical transnational issues, such as environmental resources management.  Listening to the dynamic and vibrant women participants at the conference, it was clear to me that the potential in the region to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth could not be achieved without the full and active participation of women.

For more information, see the fact sheets on LMIthe Asia Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative (APSEI) and more at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/index.htm

Mexican Diaspora Leader Gives Back Green

The Impact Blog interviewed Luis Aguirre-Torres, CEO of GreenMomentum and recipient of the White House’s Champion of Change award. He partners with USAID in his homeland of Mexico to help foster green companies. 

You have been extremely successful in helping companies become green, why is it important for you to give back to your native country of Mexico?

After several years of living abroad, I found myself in a position to give back to the country that gave me an education and inspired me to continue moving forward. I have a personal believe that the future is something we work towards and not something that simply one day magically appears. Before I always imagined a better future than what the present turned out to be; today, I understand that the future will only be different if we take an active role in making it happen. What better place to reinvent the future than my country of origin.

What is the Cleantech Challenge and how did it come about?

The Cleantech Challenge was originally conceived as a green business plan competition. However, today it has become an open forum for investors, entrepreneurs, government and development agencies to share ideas on how to develop clean technology, how to finance it and how to accelerate its implementation. It was first conceptualized after a conversation with the Director of the UNEP a few years ago, when he challenged me and my team to do something different that could impact the Mexican economy. A few weeks later, the Cleantech Challenge was born.

What would a surge in green companies in Latin America mean for the region?

We are currently seeing a surge in green companies in Mexico. This has been echoed by other countries like Colombia, Chile and Argentina, among others. For all these countries, it represents an opportunity to become part of the world’s new green economy. As it has happened in other countries, it could also lead to a surge in investment opportunities and the development of new government policies. This could accelerate economic growth through the creation of new business and job opportunities, having therefore a direct impact on the competitiveness of the region as a whole.

Do you think Latin America faces unique challenges regarding greenhouse gas emissions compared to the rest of the world?

Latin America faces a series of challenges regarding climate change. It has to develop new and more reliable mechanisms for financing the implementation of adaptation and mitigation programs. Specifically, it has to find a way of fighting climate change without negatively impacting economic growth and increasing the region’s competitiveness.

The White House just honored you with a Champion of Change award, what does this mean for you?

This has been a great experience. I feel humbled and forever grateful to those who from the beginning believed in this project. The recognition from the White House means the world to us, not only because it validates our efforts during the past four years, but also because it has allowed us to share it with the American people and the rest of the world. It has inspired me to continue working and to work towards newer and bigger things.

To read more, visit the White House’s Champions of Change webpage.

Picture of the Week

Closeup photo of a cow's nose.  Photo credit: Jyldyz Niyazalieva, Kyrgyz Agro-Input Enterprise Development Project

Through the USAID-funded Kyrgyz Agro-Input Enterprise Development Project, production of biofertilizer out of organic waste was organized on a dairy farm in northern Kyrgyzstan. Natural biofertilizer, rich in biologically active substances and microelements, is derived in the process of anaerobic fermentation. This initiative helps to implement environmentally-friendly techniques and promotes organic farming in Kyrgyzstan.

From June 19-June 22, 2012, USAID joins delegations from around the world at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro, to mark the 20th anniversary of the historic Earth Summit.

Photo credit: Jyldyz Niyazalieva, Kyrgyz Agro-Input Enterprise Development Project

Video of the Week

You’re invited to join Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development, which is a multi-year initiative focused on promoting affordable, clean energy solutions for farmers and agribusinesses throughout the developing world. Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development supports market-driven approaches that link modern energy service providers with farmers, processors, input suppliers, and traders. These approaches aim to further integrate clean energy technologies in the agricultural sector to increase production, employ new value-added processing techniques, and reduce post-harvest loss. This Energy Grand Challenge for Development was launched last week at the Frontiers in Development conference and includes an online ideation community that you’re encouraged to join through www.PoweringAg.org– find it by clicking on “Join the Community.”

Powering Agriculture: A Grand Challenge for Development is implemented under the Grand Challenge for Development program that invites innovators everywhere to apply science, technology, and creative business models to address obstacles in the path of human development. USAID and its partners – the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Duke Energy, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) – seek to catalyze a movement of solvers to identify clean energy solutions to intensify the agriculture sector, enhance food security, and decouple food production from the use of fossil fuels. For more information on how to join the community now, share ideas, review the pre-solicitation notice, and apply for a grant starting July 12th, please visit: www.PoweringAg.org.

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