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Archives for Extreme Poverty

Hunger Season Has Arrived: So What are We Doing?

Hunger season has arrived in the Sahel region of West Africa, where millions of people are at risk of food insecurity each year. This year, the U.N. estimates that 20 million people—nearly 13 percent of the region’s population—will be at risk of hunger and will lack enough food for a healthy and productive life. Decreased food availability, inefficient markets, high prices, and improper nutrition all contribute to an ongoing cycle of hunger and poverty.

Building upon lessons learned from the 2012 Sahel crisis—one of the worst food crises in Africa the past decade—USAID is actively addressing the underlying causes of hunger while also focusing on saving lives and helping communities withstand future shocks.

Here are five ways our teams are curbing the hunger season in the Sahel:

Women participating in food-for-work activities in Tillaberi,  Niger. / USAID, Rebecca Goldman

Women participating in food-for-work activities in Tillaberi, Niger. / USAID, Rebecca Goldman

1. By Building Resilience

Drought, climate change, conflict and bad harvests are examples of the shocks that families throughout West Africa face every year. Throughout the Sahel, USAID is committed to helping households and communities mitigate, adapt to and recover from shocks. In 2013, USAID launched Resilience in the Sahel-Enhanced (RISE), a five-year initiative to address root causes of vulnerability in the region and better integrate relief and development programming. Interventions will include transfers (food, cash or vouchers) for activities that improve communities such as land regeneration, reforestation and water development; social investments — such as those in education, nutrition, and family planning; and investments that increase economic opportunities, such as livelihood diversification, value chain development, and market facilitation. Through this initiative, RISE aims to reach 1.9 million people facing recurrent crises and chronic poverty, and help ensure that these communities stay firmly on the path to development.

A Savings and Internal Lending Committee group keeps records of savings and loans. / USAID, Anne Shaw

A Savings and Internal Lending Committee group keeps records of savings and loans. / USAID, Anne Shaw

2. By Providing Access to Banking

For many people, one disaster can mean a spiral into extreme poverty. Banking services allow people the chance to financially prepare by giving them the opportunity to save for unexpected expenses. In Burkina Faso, we are working with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to reach vulnerable people through the establishment of savings and internal lending communities. As a result, more than 9,000 people will have access to small loans that will help them earn a living through activities like growing and selling peppers, or making their own peanut paste to bring to market. In addition, CRS is hosting small animal and seed voucher fairs where people can access healthy livestock and high-quality seeds for household planting.

Community members gather around a newly rehabilitated well. / Africare

Community members gather around a newly rehabilitated well. / Africare

3. By Teaching about Health and Sanitation

Each year, approximately 575,000 children in the Sahel die of malnutrition and its health-related illnesses—underscoring the urgent need to help these communities prepare for the hunger season. In Chad, we are partnering with World Vision to reduce acute malnutrition and enhance the resilience of 8,500 households in Guera Region. According to a 2012 study conducted in the region by the International Rescue Committee, diarrhea and fever are more significant factors in malnutrition than lack of food alone. The majority of the population lacks appropriate knowledge, attitude, and practice of sanitation, hygiene and hand-washing, all essential to avoiding illness and preventing malnutrition. To address this, the program provides trainings to vulnerable families on hygiene and nutrition to improve the health of young children, and pregnant women and new mothers. In exchange for participating in trainings, households receive cash-based food vouchers, giving families the liberty to choose their foods while promoting key proteins and micronutrients required for children under 5 and pregnant women.

Beneficiaries use cash transfers and food vouchers to meet their food needs. / Jessica Hartl, USAID

Beneficiaries use cash transfers and food vouchers to meet their food needs. / Jessica Hartl, USAID

4. By Using Innovative Food Aid Tools

Ongoing violence in northern Mali throughout the past year has exacerbated hunger and impeded food aid efforts. In Mali, we are working with the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) to reduce overall food insecurity through food assistance delivered from the U.S. in addition to cash transfers and food vouchers throughout Gao, Mopti, Tombouctou, and Kidal regions. Market assessments have shown a favorable environment for cash transfers and food vouchers in urban and semi-urban areas, which help families increase access to more diverse, nutritious foods in local markets. We are also supporting food-assistance-for-asset activities, in which families work to build community assets in exchange for food assistance. By using varied food assistance interventions, USAID is able to respond appropriately and best address the food needs of vulnerable families affected by conflict.

Food baskets in Mauritania. / Counterpart International

Food baskets in Mauritania. / Counterpart International

5. By Preventing Child Malnutrition

Malnutrition is the underlying cause of one out of three deaths of children under 5 in the developing world. Often, families have access to healthy foods, but are unaware of how to feed their children properly. In Mauritania, we are working with Action Contre la Faim (ACF) to prevent malnutrition and improve food security in the Guidimaka Region. ACF, alongside local organizations, will promote appropriate feeding practices for infants and young children through cooking demonstrations and nutrition education for community members, including mothers, fathers, religious leaders, and local health workers. Community volunteers will conduct frequent screenings to identify children at risk of malnutrition and refer those in need of treatment to health centers.

So far this year, we have already provided more than $205 million in humanitarian assistance to the region to ensure food is available and ready to be distributed to people in need before the height of the agricultural lean season — which ranges from June through September depending on the country.

But humanitarian assistance will not solve the larger problem. USAID remains committed to helping people across the Sahel build longer-term resilience  and providing them with the knowledge and tools to break the cycle of crisis—and hopefully one day, avoid the hunger season altogether.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Dina Esposito is the Director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace and Jeremy Konyndyk is the Director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

Extraordinary Efforts in U.S. Food Assistance Underway as Extreme Food Insecurity Stalks South Sudanese

It was raining hard as we slipped and slid through the narrow muddy lanes between the dilapidated plastic-covered shelters that are home to roughly 3,600 displaced persons. Here in the town of Bor in Jonglei state South Sudan, I traveled to see for myself the conditions of some of the 4 million people who require emergency food aid. The political crisis that erupted last December in the capital, Juba, has triggered a brutal conflict that has caused more than 1 million people to flee their homes.

Protection of civilian site in Bor, South Sudan. / USAID

Protection of civilian site in Bor, South Sudan. / USAID

At the U.N. compound in Bor, I saw where thousands of people have sought shelter and protection as fighting has devastated their homes and livelihoods. I marveled at how some of the children, despite having endured crowded conditions here for many months, sing a song of welcome, and at the teacher who tells them education is their future and that all things are possible if only they study. This undaunted hope during such extreme hardship and uncertainty is inspiring.

At this U.N. compound and others like, it is estimated that 95,000 people have settled. At least here, in these facilities they are receiving some aid and protection from the conflict that rages around them. Outside of these compounds, there are an estimated 750,000 South Sudanese in hard- to-reach places that have not yet seen much assistance or protection due to conflict and the onset of seasonal rains that render nearly two thirds of the country inaccessible by road.

Because conflict disrupted the prepositioning of food throughout the country before the rains set in, the U.N. and its partners are now mounting a major air operation across the three most conflict-affected states in an effort to mitigate famine.

WFP airdrops in South Sudan.  /  WFP/Guilio D’Adamo

WFP airdrops in South Sudan. / WFP/Guilio D’Adamo

USAID is taking five major steps to help the people of South Sudan:

  • As the potential scale of the crisis began to emerge in February 2014, USAID shipped 20,000 metric tons (MT) of U.S. food to the region. By May, when U.N. officials alerted the world to the possibility of famine, Food for Peace put that food into action, rapidly moving it to the U.N. World Food Program’s South Sudan program.
  • At the South Sudan Humanitarian Pledging Conference in Oslo, Norway in May, $112 million of the almost $300 million pledged by the U.S. Government was for food assistance. These funds go toward 29,600 MT (enough to feed 1.8 million people for a month) of in-kind food aid to WFP, and regional purchase by WFP and UNICEF of specialized nutritious foods.
  • As part of our Oslo pledge, the United States provided $8 million to support a dramatic scale-up of emergency air operations. This is one of the first times USAID will use its new authorities in the Farm Bill for activities that “enhance” in-kind food programs. By providing a generous and early contribution to the U.N. to begin leasing aircraft to deliver food, USAID helped to ensure the air assets needed for expanded operations are in place as the rains begin.
  • USAID is tapping a seldom-used special authority in the Farm Bill—the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust—to respond to extraordinary, unforeseen and expanding need with additional food aid.
  • In March and April, USAID doubled its monthly procurement of U.S.-manufactured ready-to-use food products to prevent and treat malnutrition so it can speed these products to South Sudan for use later this year and next.

These extraordinary efforts will help bring emergency food assistance to hundreds of thousands of people in need, and remind the South Sudanese people of the compassion and generosity of the American people as they face the most extreme crisis this young nation has known since its independence in 2011.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dina Esposito is the Director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace

Why Fighting Gender Violence is Also Fighting Hunger in the DRC

Ms. Namuhindo demonstration her new writing skills./Rachel Grant, USAID

Ms. Namuhindo demonstration her new writing skills. / Rachel Grant, USAID

Ms. Rurayi Namuhindo, pictured above writing her name, is proud of her reading and writing skills. They are giving her a new lease on life, as she can now help her children with homework and use her newfound skills when selling her bread and soap. Ms. Namuhindo and others are just a few of the empowered women I met recently while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The people of the DRC have faced so many challenges, which are unfathomable to someone growing up in the developed world – years of conflict, occasional natural disasters, and poverty.

The lives of women are especially hard.

Today, armed conflict, sexual violence, and abuse continue to be widespread. Some 2.6 million people have been displaced, and 6.4 million lack enough food to be able to eat every day.  Eastern DRC is said to be the “rape capital of the world,” according to a 2011 American Journal of Public Health study.

So how does this relate to that country’s food crisis?

Women play a critical role as agricultural producers, yet most of their work goes unrecognized.

They lack access to land and other resources, limiting their ability to fully participate in the agricultural sector. Though women suffer among the highest rates of gender violence in the world, their attackers often go unpunished. In fact, attacked women can even be rejected by their families, and left to fend for themselves.

If the DRC can alter its behavior towards women, these women can stay in their communities. Just being able to stay put means they can increase production on their land, earn incomes, and put food on their families’ tables.

Tackling gender inequities is key to resolving any food insecurity in the communities where we work.

In my role as East, Central and Southern African Division Chief for the Office of Food for Peace, I have visited my fair share of countries in crisis. With a history of working in 150 countries over the last 60 years, Food for Peace has helped many countries recover from crises and thrive. And for the last several decades we have worked to tackle the root causes of chronic food insecurity in places like the DRC – through interventions to increase agricultural yields, develop new ways to earn an income, or empower women, for example.

I came away from the DRC feeling an immense sense of accomplishment and hope in our work, particularly around elevating the role of women. Women Empowerment Groups are a critical aspect of some of our programs. These groups provide women with literacy, numeracy, and business skills training while helping them to start projects to generate income such as soap making, bread making, or breeding of small livestock.

Intermittent evaluations of these programs tell us that we are having an impact, supporting the abundance of evidence that indicates that if the status of women is improved, then agricultural productivity will also increase, poverty will be reduced, and nutrition will improve.

These skills elevated Ms. Namuhindo’s status at home and increased her role in decision making; she is now seen by her husband as a breadwinner and partner. The pride I sensed in her as she explained the life-changing effect on her left an indelible impression on me.

Similarly the role-play dramas led by Gender Discussion Groups left me convinced that gender-sensitive activities are crucial to promoting change. Groups of men and women come together to discuss issues affecting their households and community, including alcoholism, domestic violence, treatment of boys as compared to girls, and division of household labor.

Gender Based Violence Role-Play by community members./Jessica Hartl, USAID

Gender Based Violence Role-Play by community members. / Jessica Hartl, USAID

The discussions are dynamic and animated, and would certainly be day-time Emmy contenders. “Who picked this topic?” I asked as I watched the first drama  that portrayed a father marrying off his 14-year old daughter to make money for his alcohol addiction. “We did,” answered the community. Alcoholism affects the homes in many ways – financially, women carry an unfair work-burden, girls drop out of school and many marry at a young age. These messages, delivered through live dramas or other media, have attracted a large following. Surveys in Katanga and South Kivu found that nine out of 10 of those surveyed listened to the discussion. And six out of 10 of the people surveyed believe the drama contributed to a changed attitude and behavior.

I was compelled by the dramas we watched and genuineness with which men and women answered about resultant changes;  men and women making decisions together about money, working hand-in-hand on chores, and men changing their decisions as they better understood the effect of their choice on their household.  Ms. Nkumbula*, another participant, said, “Since my husband is attending Gender Discussion Group meetings, we are now in peace at home. He began to tell me all the truth about finances and the money he earns fixing bicycles, and to consult me on other problems.”  Mr. Kalambo* shared how after a local trader had come to his home and offered to buy his stock of beans he had replied, “I have to talk to my wife first.  We have to make a joint decision; either we will sell this stock of beans or not.”

Needs remain vast across eastern DRC. But I came away from the trip with evidence that our approach is working, and that it will have long-lasting impacts on individuals, homes and communities.

*No first names given.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Grant is Division Chief in East, Central and Southern Africa Office for USAID’s Office of Food for Peace

 

Engaging China on Global Development

China is currently undergoing an evolution in its approach to development assistance and cooperation. The country continues to expand its contributions of resources, expertise and engagement on international development issues. As a result, the Chinese Government is continually reflecting on emerging challenges; the structure, mechanisms and partnerships needed to advance development priorities abroad; and new means of financing international development efforts.

Alex Thier addresses an audience member question during a CIDRN speaking engagement.

Alex Thier addresses an audience member question during a China International Development Research Network (CIDRN) speaking engagement. / Maria Rendon, U.S. Department of State

Recognizing the importance of frank, face-to-face bilateral dialogue to discuss these trends,  USAID held the inaugural U.S.-China Global Development Dialogue in Beijing on April 29.

China’s ongoing economic, social, political and environmental transformation will have a significant bearing on its domestic and global positions on related issues over the next 10 to 15 years. Despite progress, China still accounts for more than 10 percent of the world population living in extreme poverty – yet also sits on the world’s largest foreign cash reserves, some $4 trillion. Indeed, while we were in Beijing, the World Bank revised the purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates, which boosted Chinese GDP by more than 20 percent, putting it even closer to the size of the U.S. economy by that measure.

Alex Thier poses with Prof. Li Xiaoyun of China Agriculture University.  Prof. Li Xiaoyun co-chaired and commented during the CIDRN public event series on China and international development where Thier was a featured speaker.

Alex Thier poses with Prof. Li Xiaoyun of China Agriculture University. Prof. Li Xiaoyun co-chaired and commented during the CIDRN public event series on China and international development where Thier was a featured speaker. / Maria Rendon, U.S. Department of State

China is an important partner with developed and developing economies in negotiations around the post-2015 development agenda, climate change, financing for development and other global issues.

In the official U.S.-China global development dialogue, the Chinese exhibited a strong desire to engage with the U.S. Government on global development issues related both to broad international policy as well as practical elements of implementation.

The country is proud of the role it has played in achieving the current Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of its own people living in extreme poverty—over the last two decades China has helped lift nearly 600 million of its citizens out of extreme poverty—but still sees much need for continued domestic progress. We found strong agreement with the Chinese on the goal of ending extreme poverty  and common ground on increasing development cooperation effectiveness through internationally agreed on principles like the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation.

USAID, like other government and private donors, has started small scale, practical cooperation with China in third countries (“trilateral cooperation”). For example, the United States and China recently launched an agriculture partnership in East Timor that is intended to improve the production of income-generating crops to enhance food security and nutrition. The first harvest was in March, and now more than 52 participating East Timorese farmers are seeing the benefits of modern farming techniques.

Charles Rice for USAID

A U.S.-China partnership is helping enhance food security and nutrition in Timor-Leste / Charles Rice for USAID

Discussions with a variety of Chinese universities, think tanks, foundations, and private sector and civil society organizations also demonstrate a growing interest and participation in development policy and implementation.

Overall, the first U.S.-China Global Development Dialogue was an important opportunity to advance our mutual interest in development policy dialogue, strengthening cooperation and enhancing policy coherence in partner countries. The next set of global development goals—including ending extreme poverty and sharing a sustainable global commons and economy—will require a concerted effort with all partners, China key among them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Thier is the Assistant to the Administrator in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning. Follow him @Thieristan.

10 Ways America is Helping Feed the World

When President Obama took office, the world was mired in the midst of food, fuel, and financial turmoil that pushed millions of people back to the precipice of poverty. In 2007 and 2008, food prices hit all-time highs, sending prices for basic staples like rice and wheat beyond the reach of the world’s most vulnerable people.

* Nearly 842 million people suffer from chronic hunger. That’s 1 in 8 people. Most of this hunger is rooted in poverty.

* By 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to more than 9 billion people. This will require at least a 60 percent increase in agricultural production to feed all of us.

* 75 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas in developing countries. Most people who live in these areas rely directly on agriculture for their livelihoods, particularly women.

* Studies show that growth in the agriculture sector is, on average, at least twice as effective at reducing poverty as growth in other sectors.

In this environment, President Obama was determined to reverse course and give millions of people a pathway out of extreme poverty. In his first inaugural address, the president outlined his vision of a world without hunger. “To the people of poor nations,” he said, “we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean water flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.” His remarks marked the beginning of renewed global attention that brought poverty, hunger and undernutrition back to the top of the international agenda.

As one of his first foreign policy acts, President Obama launched Feed the Future. Its aim: to strengthen food security and nutrition for millions of people by focusing on the smallholder farmers at the foundation of the world’s agriculture system. This week, Feed the Future marks four years of progress and has just released a report on its impact to date.

In the spirit of this progress, here are some of the ways that Feed the Future is helping grow a more prosperous future for the 842 million people who will still go to sleep hungry tonight.

Sydney Msimanga proudly shows off one of the bulls he purchased with a loan he received from a credit program set up by USAID in Zimbabwe. / Fintrac Inc.

Sydney Msimanga proudly shows off one of the bulls he purchased with a loan he received from a credit program set up by USAID in Zimbabwe. / Fintrac Inc.

1. By Empowering Farmers

Farmers working small plots of land are the backbone of the world’s agricultural system, but often struggle to feed their own families. In the past year alone, Feed the Future has helped nearly 7 million farmers and food producers use new technologies and management practices on more than 4 million hectares, or over 15,000 square miles, of land to boost their harvests.

As part of the Feed the Future initiative, a USAID project is training young women in southern Tajikistan on how to prepare nutritious food for children under 5 years old. /USAID

As part of the Feed the Future initiative, a USAID project is training young women in southern Tajikistan on how to prepare nutritious food for children under 5 years old. / USAID

2. By Helping Families Nourish their Children

Poor nutrition is a stealthy killer and the underlying cause of one out of every three deaths of young children in developing countries. Conversely, good nutrition in the 1,000-day window from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday lays the foundation for health, development, and even prosperity for the next generation. In 2013, Feed the Future, in collaboration with the Global Health Initiative, reached more than 12.5 million children with nutrition interventions that can help ensure a stronger and more successful future. Feed the Future also supported nearly 91,000 women farmers in homestead gardening, improving access to nutritious foods and increasing income for women and children.

“This modern technology reduces my time in the field. Before, I used traditional methods. I needed more people to work during planting and harvesting. That increased my production cost. But now, I use this machine and I make more profit,” says this farmer in southern Bangladesh. /USAID, Wasif Hasan

“This modern technology reduces my time in the field. Before, I used traditional methods. I needed more people to work during planting and harvesting. That increased my production cost. But now, I use this machine and I make more profit,” says this farmer in southern Bangladesh. / USAID, Wasif Hasan

3. By Encouraging Banks to Loan to “Risky” Borrowers

The ability to borrow money is what allows farm families to make the investments needed to grow more for their families and communities. Working with Feed the Future, local banks are using innovative finance mechanisms to lend to more smallholders, often considered too “risky” by banks. Last year in Senegal alone, more than 17,000 farmers and small entrepreneurs benefited from nearly $20 million in rural loans and grants which helped them access better seeds and modern equipment, as well as weather-indexed crop insurance, and helped negotiate favorable contracts with commercial mills. The results? Farmers’ profits for rice rose by 56 percent and for maize by 173 percent between 2012 and 2013.

Sales Clerks Hiwot Tefera and Beyenech Gossaye are ready to welcome customers at the new Bishoftu Farm Service Center in Ethiopia. This is one of six locally-owned centers established through the USAID Commercial Farm Service Program (CFSP). /CNFA Ethiopia CFSP

Sales Clerks Hiwot Tefera and Beyenech Gossaye are ready to welcome customers at the new Bishoftu Farm Service Center in Ethiopia. This is one of six locally-owned centers established through the USAID Commercial Farm Service Program (CFSP). / CNFA Ethiopia CFSP

4. By Involving the Private Sector in the Fight Against Global Hunger

A food-secure world will not become a reality without a combination of public and private sector investment. Last year, Feed the Future assistance created 1,175 public-private partnerships, up from 660 the previous year—8 out of 10 involved local small and medium-sized firms. That same year, U.S. Government investments also leveraged more than $160 million in private sector investment, a 40 percent increase from 2012.  These alliances foster growth in emerging markets by commercializing new technologies; helping to create policy environments that enable even greater growth; increasing opportunities for investment, finance and risk mitigation; and improving market access and trade.

Salimata Sagnol feeds her chickens outside their coop in the village of Tengréla, Burkina Faso. A U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation program funded a package of agricultural trainings along with construction materials for her chicken coop and ongoing technical support for Sagnol and other rural farmers like her. /Jake Lyell

Salimata Sagnol feeds her chickens outside their coop in the village of Tengréla, Burkina Faso. / Jake Lyell

5. By Promoting Responsible Investment

It’s not enough to just encourage investments that “do no harm.” The U.S. Government works to ensure that the countries we partner with to improve food security adhere to specific policy measures so that the investments benefit women and smallholder farmers as well as investors.

Horticulture producers in Mozambique’s Beira Corridor often sell their produce at extremely low prices because of a lack of market knowledge and access. /CNFA

Horticulture producers in Mozambique’s Beira Corridor often sell their produce at extremely low prices because of a lack of market knowledge and access. / CNFA

6. By Helping Farmers Become Entrepreneurs

Feed the Future reflects a new model for development—one that emphasizes partnership, linkages and access to tools, technologies and the global economy. Whereas in the past, success meant helping farmers grow more crops, success today means also helping them learn how to be entrepreneurs.

This child was formerly categorized as malnourished but has recovered. Her family is attending a nutrition course at the national hospital in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, where they also received supplemental food aid./ Michel A. Armenta

This child was formerly categorized as malnourished but has recovered. Her family is attending a nutrition course at the national hospital in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, where they also received supplemental food aid. / Michel A. Armenta

7. By Reforming Food Aid to Save More Lives

In addition to Feed the Future, in 2014, President Obama proposed changing our largest international food assistance program to allow more flexible, efficient and effective food aid through the purchase of local commodities and the provision of cash vouchers. The goal was to enable the United States to reach 4 million more people in crisis, with the same resources, and speed response time to emergencies. Combined with other legislation, reforms in the 2014 Farm Bill now mean USAID can reach an additional 800,000 chronically food-insecure people with no extra funds. The 2015 Budget seeks additional reforms for emergency food aid that would allow around 2 million more people in crises to be helped without additional resources.

Muhammad Sarr and Patrick Trail use an electronic device to take soil samples around small millet plants and record the data. Their results will help determine how to better grow millet. But the scope of the research goes beyond this too: It's helping improve the skills of students in agronomy. /USAID

Muhammad Sarr and Patrick Trail use an electronic device to take soil samples around small millet plants and record the data. Their results will help determine how to better grow millet. But the scope of the research goes beyond this too: It’s helping improve the skills of students in agronomy. / USAID

8. By Involving U.S. Students and Universities in the Fight against Global Hunger

The United States boasts some of the world’s cutting-edge agricultural research facilities. Feed the Future fosters strong partnerships with both U.S. and international agricultural research institutions, such as the University of California, Davis; Virginia Tech and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to, for example, help develop new strains of cowpea that can fend off common pests and to help India control the papaya mealybug pest that was decimating its horticulture sector. So far, 23 Feed the Future Innovation Labs made up of 70 of the United States’ top academic research institutions have been created.

Peace Corps Volunteer Jackie Gerson spreads knowledge about the unbeLEAFable Moringa oleifera tree and its nutritional benefits at the Ndiba Ndiayène weekly Louma market in Senegal. / Amanda Grossi, Peace Corps

Peace Corps Volunteer Jackie Gerson spreads knowledge about the unbeLEAFable Moringa oleifera tree and its nutritional benefits at the Ndiba Ndiayène weekly Louma market in Senegal. / Amanda Grossi, Peace Corps

9. By Sending Some of our Best and Brightest Abroad

The Peace Corps has a long history of being on the front lines of the U.S. fight to end global poverty. Partnering with USAID as part of the Feed the Future initiative, the Peace Corps has fielded more than 1,200 Peace Corps Volunteers in countries overseas to help people make sustainable changes in how they cultivate their food, address water shortages and feed their families.

July 2012 Maize harvest in Ugenya, Kenya. Feed the Future works with small holder maize farmers, including women farmers, and all the components of the maize value chain in Kenya to increase rural farmers' incomes and tackle the underlying causes of food insecurity. USAID/Kenya works with the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute and private sector seed companies to promote better, drought resistant varieties of maize. /USAID/Siegfried Modola

July 2012 Maize harvest in Ugenya, Kenya. Feed the Future works with small holder maize farmers, including women farmers, and all the components of the maize value chain in Kenya to increase rural farmers’ incomes and tackle the underlying causes of food insecurity. / USAID, Siegfried Modola

10. By Helping Farmers Weather the Weather

Maize is the major staple and an important cash crop for farmers in East and Southern Africa, but it is threatened by climate change. U.S. Government-supported projects have contributed to the release of 140 drought-tolerant maize varieties in 13 countries since 2006. Building on this work, Feed the Future strengthens public and private sector seed systems to ensure that new varieties can reach smallholders at scale. In 2013 as a result of U.S. Government investments, farmers planted more than 28,000 hectares, or nearly 90 square miles, of land with improved high-yielding varieties across the key maize-producing countries of Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelly Ramundo is USAID’s Blog Editor

Liberia’s ‘Road’ (miles and miles) to Recovery

Little more than 10 years have passed since Liberia began rising from the ashes of a 14-year civil war that decimated its political, social and economic order.

While nearly 84 percent of Liberia’s population still lives in extreme poverty on less than $1.25 per day, during Nobel Peace Prize Laureate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s presidency, the GDP per capita has grown on average by nearly 8 percent per year. The country is slowly navigating a development path leading to better health, a stable democracy, an improved domestic agriculture market, and increased exports of products such as iron and rubber.

Yet despite some advances, Liberians continue to face a daunting challenge – all too often, when the “rubber meets the road,” there is quite literally no road to travel.

Photo Credit: USAID Food and Enterprise Development

Liberia has 66,000 miles of roads, but less than 7 percent are paved. / USAID

Liberia cannot continue to break the cycle of poverty without an effective road network to connect its people and resources.

The country, approximately the size and shape of Tennessee, boasts a mere 66,000 miles of roads, and of these less than 7 percent are paved. By comparison, the Volunteer State has more than 93,000 miles of paved roads. Quantity is only part of the problem though: potholes the size of small vehicles scar what few paved roads exist, while dirt roads become muddy parking lots during the rainy season of May to October. In Bong County, a heavily populated agricultural region, citizens regularly voice their frustrations at their inability to access markets, hospitals, and government services:

“My village there,” said Sarah, one resident of Bong Mine, pointing across a rice paddy, “has no way to reach [services]. We walk to schools, we walk to clinics, it takes all day.”

The country’s infrastructure network represents the most visible symptom of the former conflict, stifling access to markets outside the capital. These broken roads decrease the food supply and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition in rural Liberia.

Members of a women’s farming group harvest rice in Liberia. / David Benafel, USAID FED

Members of a women’s farming group harvest rice in Liberia. / David Benafel, USAID FED

Before the war Liberia was a net exporter of rice. Today, 97 percent of rice consumption in the capital city of Monrovia is imported. Amazingly, it is cheaper, by volume, to ship rice the 7,500 miles from Thailand to Monrovia than it is from Gbarnga, a leading agricultural community just over 100 miles away.

Yet Liberia has no intention of leaving their economy stuck in neutral. Our partnership with Liberia, the World Bank, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency will provide a total of $240 million in the next five years to improve up to 300 miles  of Liberia’s ailing network of roads.

USAID helped by first conducting a cost-benefit analysis of which improvements would yield the most positive and sustainable possible outcome for the people of Liberia.

Photo Credit: USAID Food and Enterprise Development

Because of the poor state of Liberia’s roads, it is cheaper, by volume, to ship rice the 7,500 miles from Thailand to Monrovia than it is from Gbarnga, a leading agricultural community just over 100 miles away. / USAID

Here’s one example of the types of information this analysis considered: When the cost of transportation decreases and the risks associated with traveling these roads dwindle, traders begin to reach these farmers with new information. Fertilizer and improved seeds can arrive at the farms before the planting season, agricultural yields increase, and farmers find it cheaper to deliver produce to the market.

Moreover, children will be more likely to make the trip along the road to school, sick individuals can plan a visit to the clinic, and government officials can better reach constituents with much-needed services. In short, the roads provide a number of ancillary benefits, and all must be factored in when selecting the most cost-effective use of development dollars. It is no simple calculation.

In the course of one month, the USAID team measured the myriad economic benefits from increased activity along the roads against the costs of road construction and long-term maintenance.

Armed with this analysis, USAID began rehabilitation in February 2014, galvanizing access to a better life to approximately 140,000 people who live within a mile and a half of these rural roads, and potentially many thousands more in the broader region through improvements in food security, health, and education.

There is strong reason to believe, in other words, that the figurative roadblocks to peace and prosperity for Liberia may be overcome as soon as the actual ones are.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Michael Nicholson is an Economist for the USAID Liberia mission @dr_nicholson
Colin Buckley is a Program Analyst at USAID in the Office of Economic Policy @colinhpbuckley
Kristen Schubert is an Economist at USAID in the Office of Economic Policy @KristenSchub

NASA Earth Data Jumpstarts World’s Aspiring Researchers

Question: What do you get when you mix NASA data, USAID’s development expertise, and some of the best young scientific minds the world can offer?

Answer: Some of the most promising ideas to help solve the world’s biggest challenges

In early April, a select group of fellows for the USAID and NASA My Community Our Earth (MyCOE) program travelled to Washington D.C. where experts from the two agencies, the Association of American Geographers, and U.S. Universities and NGOs proffered advice and encouragement on continuing their research and their careers.

International students in MyCOE fellowship program pose with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. / Brandy Ajose

International students in MyCOE fellowship program pose with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. / Brandy Ajose

The MYCOE fellowship program supports the next generation of scientific leaders from developing countries to create innovative, science-based solutions to meet their countries’ development challenges. These students – who hail from some of the poorest, most climate-vulnerable countries in the world in East and West Africa, the Himalayas and Southeast Asia – used NASA satellite information to develop tools and approaches that bring higher incomes to those in poverty and help protect their country’s most vulnerable from potential disasters.

Their innovative solutions range from monitoring frost to improve tea crops in Kenya, to predicting glacier melting patterns to prevent catastrophic outburst floods in Nepal. Here are some highlights:

Helping Kenya’s Tea Fight Frostbite

(1) SERVIR in Africa is installing Wireless Sensor Networks in Kenya to help tea growers fight crop-killing frost.  / Servir

SERVIR in Africa is installing Wireless Sensor Networks in Kenya to help tea growers fight crop-killing frost. / Servir

Aberdere and Mount Kenya are among Kenya’s top areas for growing tea, a crucial crop for the region’s smallholder growers. Recently, frequent frosts in the region — a weather phenomenon that could worsen due to climate change — have led to severe crop damage and income losses for tea growers. Susan Malaso, a student at Kenyatta University in Nairobi is addressing this challenge head on. With support from NASA and USAID, Susan is using Geographic Information System (GIS) and remote sensing data to map and predict frost risk in the region. The project produces data on frost trends to help farmers plan their planting schedules, choose the most frost-tolerant crops, and select the safest locations for planting their higher value tea crops. The data will also inform crop insurance programs that will help smallholder farmers recover from severe crop damage. Ultimately, this will help a wide range of Kenyans employed by the tea industry and promote sustainable economic growth, even in the face of climate change.


Helping Thai Fishermen Weather a Changing Climate

Fish market in Gizo, Solomon Islands

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

Jirawat Panpeng, a doctoral student at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand, is researching the vulnerability of coastal fishery communities in the Laemsing district of Thailand. Laemsing has been affected by rising sea levels and associated soil erosion and flooding, a phenomenon linked to climate change. Using climate simulation and GIS software, Panpeng’s results are helping to raise awareness among both government officials and local communities on the need to develop adaptation measures such as improved infrastructure to adapt to climate fluctuations.


Protecting Burma’s Lake Ecosystem

Burma’s Inle Lake attracts thousand of tourists each year but its fragile ecosystem is in danger.  / Kelly Ramundo, USAID

Burma’s Inle Lake attracts thousand of tourists each year but its fragile ecosystem is in danger. / Kelly Ramundo, USAID

Khi Seint Seint Aye, another AIT student, is studying the impact of floating gardens on the environment of Inle Lake in central Burma. This lake attracts thousands of local and international tourists each year because of its scenic beauty and the rich ethnic and cultural diversity of surrounding communities, who live in stilt houses in and around the lake and derive their livelihood from aquaculture, fishing and floating garden aquaculture. Floating gardens are one of the highlights of the lake’s cultural heritage; however, the lake can sustain only a limited amount of such gardening without compromising its natural balance. Seint Seint will assess the impact of the gardens on the lake’s ecosystem using a participatory rural appraisal, water analyses, and remote sensing and GIS technologies facilitated by SERVIR. The results of her research will be used to conduct an awareness campaign with local and national stakeholders and to develop a mitigation plan to prevent the collapse of the lake’s ecosystem.

Ending Extreme Poverty with a New Model of Development

Tonight, 860 million people will go to sleep hungry. This year, 6.6 million children will die before their 5th birthday. And every day, 1.1 billion people around the world—more than the population of North and South America combined—live in extreme poverty on just a dollar-and-a-quarter a day.

Paschali Axweso Amnaay, chairman of the Mahande Rice Irrigation Scheme

Paschali Axweso Amnaay, chairman of the Mahande Rice Irrigation Scheme in Tanzania, along with many agri-businesses in the country, benefit from initiatives like Power Africa. Photo by: CNFA

Even after adjusting for the relative price of local commodities, this is a desperately meager sum. With it, families must make daily choices among food, medicine, housing, and education.

We know it doesn’t have to be this way. For the first time in history, we stand within reach of a world that was simply once unimaginable: a world without extreme poverty.

From 1990 to 2010, the number of children in school rose to nearly 90 percent, and around two billion people gained access to clean water. Child mortality rates have fallen by 47 percent and poverty rates by 52 percent. In 2005, for the first time on record, poverty rates began falling in every region of the world, including Africa.

We now have a clear roadmap out of extreme poverty that is driven by broad-based economic growth and transparent democratic governance. With the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals drawing near—and conversations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda well underway—the global community has an opportunity to pioneer a new model of development and shape an inclusive, results-driven agenda that will end extreme poverty.

The Busan High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness has built a strong foundation for this effort—tapping into the capabilities of governments, foundations, companies, and civil society organisations to solve the world’s greatest development challenges.

Through this new model of development, USAID is forging high-impact partnerships to harness innovation and scale meaningful results to end extreme poverty. This month, we launched the U.S. Global Development Lab, a hub of creative design and high-impact collaboration that is setting a new standard for development. Together with 32 cornerstone partners, the Lab will bring innovators and entrepreneurs from across the public and private sectors to answer the world’s most pressing development challenges through science and technology.

On April 3, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah unveiled the U.S. Global Development Lab.

On April 3, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah unveiled the U.S. Global Development Lab. Photo credit: USAID

Earlier this year, through our Development Credit Authority, USAID partnered with GE and Kenya Commercial Bank to help health care providers buy life-saving healthcare equipment, including portable ultrasound devices and Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines. For the first time ever, our private sector partner is covering the cost of the loan guarantee—making this program virtually costless for the taxpayer.

President Obama’s Power Africa initiative is another great example.

For most of the world, electricity allows businesses to flourish, clinics to store vaccines, and students to study long after dark. But for more than 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, these opportunities simply do not exist. Power Africa encourages countries to make energy sector reforms—while connecting entrepreneurs to investment opportunities that are created by those reforms themselves.

Less than a year since launching, more than 5,500 mega-watts of power projects have been planned—putting us more than halfway towards the initiative’s goal of expanding electricity to 20 million homes and businesses. Just recently, we celebrated three local engineers who are lighting up Africa with solar-powered generators and pay-as-you-go power home meters.

Increasingly, the best ideas aren’t just coming from development professionals who have been in the field for three decades. They are also coming from scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs around the world. That is why we launched the Grand Challenges for Development and created the Development Innovation Ventures fund—to enable problem-solvers to test their game-changing idea, whether it’s a mobile technology that boosts hospital efficiency or a $10 device that prevents the leading cause of maternal mortality.

A few years ago, we were lucky if we got half-a-dozen proposals in response to our solicitations. So far, these new kinds of open competitions have received more than 6,000 applicants—each with the potential to transform development. Even better, 70 percent of proposals are from inventors who we’ve never worked with before.

We look forward to strengthening this new model of development at the first High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation. Whether we work for a government agency or small local organisation, each of us can expand our emphasis on partnership and innovation. Each of us can deepen our focus on rigorous evaluation and scalable results. Working together, we can throw open the doors of development and engage millions of people in our mission to unlock a brighter future for all.


This post originally appeared on devex.com on April 11, 2014

USAID launches Global Development Lab

Today in New York, we launched our Global Development Lab, the new arm of our Agency that will foster science and technology-based solutions to help end extreme poverty by 2030.

Modeled on some of the most innovative and technologically advanced centers for discovery across the country, The ‘Lab’ as we are calling it, brings together a diverse set of partners to help us develop, test, and scale groundbreaking solutions to the greatest challenges known to man. Our goal is to reach over 200 million people through a new Lab-supported global marketplace of innovations in the next five years alone.

To focus the efforts of this talented community, we have outlined nine core areas where science, technology, and innovation can dramatically accelerate progress—from improving child literacy to advancing human rights to expanding financial inclusion through digital services.

And to help build the ranks of a next generation of talented development leaders, we also announced the first-ever class of 62 USAID Research and Innovation Fellows, who will deploy to more than 50 institutions across the world and examine everything from climate data in the Sahel to the impact of pathogens on child nutrition in South Africa.

But we can’t do it alone. If you are excited about the Lab’s vision and want to be part of this bold new approach to development, we want to hear from you!

FrontLines: The End of Extreme Poverty

FrontLines March/April 2014: The End of Extreme Poverty
Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines to learn about the Agency’s plans for eliminating extreme poverty within the next two decades. Some highlights:

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