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Subsistence to Surplus: How Gifty Went from Barely Making Ends Meet to Meeting President Obama


Gifty Jemal Hussein met President Obama this week during his visit to Ethiopia. Read on to find out how she transformed her life from a subsistence existence to extraordinary success that’s benefiting her entire community—with a little help from the United States.

Gifty Jemal Hussein was a typical smallholder farmer in Ethiopia. She grew Ethiopian banana, corn and a few coffee plants in her backyard to feed her family and earn a meager income to make ends meet.

Harvests were low and unpredictable. Land was limited. This was life.

But 2013 was different.

In 2013, Gifty planted her small patch of land with new corn seeds, using techniques she’d learned from a development program in her community. She used just the right amount of fertilizer and checked on the corn stalks as they grew. When it came time to harvest them, she exclaimed to herself: Thank God! Her crops had yielded three times as much corn in a single season as before.

It seemed almost too good to be true. She touched every ear of corn she’d harvested. The results were real.

Gifty was so surprised, happy and proud of her harvest that she laid the ears of corn out in front of her house for all to see. She went door-to-door telling others and inviting them to see it with their own eyes. She took a quarter of the harvest to her four adult children in the capital city.

Her neighbors, impressed and happy for her, wanted to know how she’d managed to turn a sparse backyard garden into an abundant farm.

Gifty Jemal Hussein, a smallholder farmer in Ethiopia, spoke with President Obama today. Through a USAID-DuPont partnership, she began using high-yield corn that allowed her to increase her household income. / Daniella Maor, USAID

Gifty Jemal Hussein, a smallholder farmer in Ethiopia, spoke with President Obama today. Through a USAID-DuPont partnership, she began using high-yield corn that allowed her to increase her household income. / Daniella Maor, USAID

Unlocking Agriculture’s Potential

Gifty had been a leader in her community before 2012, but it took on new meaning now. People were paying more attention. She had newfound confidence that life could change—and she would be the one to make it happen.

Gifty went to the local government and asked to lease one hectare of land – for free – for her women’s group to farm. She rented a tractor with her own money to plow the land. She gathered other women in her community to help her sow the corn seeds that had given her a bumper harvest last season and then apply fertilizer, which she bought on her own.

As the corn grew, she brought the 20 women in her group to show them how tall the plants were getting. Then she asked each to invest in this farming venture – to become stakeholders in their shared success. Each woman paid a portion to compensate her for the cost of the tractor and fertilizer. The following season, they also helped buy the seeds.

“It isn’t reasonable to invest in something that doesn’t give you a return,” Gifty said. “So I don’t invest in the [old seed], instead I invest in the new hybrid seed.”

Gifty and her group opened a savings account for the income they were earning from better corn harvests. With it, they’re making investment plans for the future and have a safety net for tough times.

Women representatives visited from other districts to see the group’s bountiful corn crop. They were so impressed that they gifted Gifty a set of farm tools to honor her for her initiative and entrepreneurship.

Taller plants and larger ears of corn translated into more income for Gifty. She’s invested the returns into her farming enterprise, buying a cow, which she’s leveraged into an additional revenue stream by selling the milk and calves. With this money, she’s purchased extra seeds to grow more nutritious and lucrative crops like teff, cabbage, carrots and potatoes. She’s expanded the number of coffee plants she grows too.

Gifty is also using her income to improve her family’s standard of living. She built a new home—her proudest undertaking. She’s paid for her husband’s medical treatment for a disability he has and for her son’s final years of high school. She even had enough to contribute to one of her daughters’ weddings.

From Individual Success to Global Impact  

Fortunately, Gifty’s story is less and less unique these days. Rural communities across countries like Ethiopia are establishing a new normal: One with less poverty and hunger and with more prosperity and opportunity.

Smallholder farmers, with help from the United States, are moving from barely surviving off their farms to running profitable farming businesses—ones that give them enough income to pay for things like school, health care and new homes.

In Ethiopia last year, the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative helped more than 218,000 producers like Gifty use new technologies and management practices to increase their yields. And through nutrition programs, the U.S. Government reached more than 1.3 million young children in Ethiopia with help—including training more than 20,000 adults in child health and nutrition.

Results like these add up to impact, in the lives of individual farmers like Gifty and – increasingly – nationwide. Between 2011 and 2014, stunting – a measure of malnutrition often associated with undernourishment – among young children dropped in Ethiopia by 9 percent. This impact reflects the leadership and efforts of the Government of Ethiopia as well as U.S. Government.

The United States has led the world in taking hold of the tremendous opportunity to unlock the transformative potential of agriculture to connect more people to the global economy and pave a path out of poverty through initiatives like Feed the Future and partnerships like the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

In fact, as President Obama was meeting with Gifty today, we announced that the program that helped Gifty jumpstart her success with new seeds – a public-private partnership between Ethiopia, the United States and DuPont Pioneer – is expanding to reach 100,000 more farmers and help them flourish, much like Gifty has.

The work is far from finished, but the results and impact are promising. The future looks bright for rural families like Gifty’s.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tjada McKenna is the Assistant to the Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Food Security. She also serves as the Deputy Coordinator for Development for the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative.

Healing Plants to Feed a Nation

The following is an abridged version of a blog post by Miriam Otipa, a research scientist and leader in Kenya supported by the United States through a fellowship program. Read her full story on the Feed the Future blog.


High res photo Miriam Otipa

Miriam Otipa pursued a degree in science out of a desire to develop solutions for farmers to combat crop losses and help ease their suffering. Today, she does just that as a research scientist and leader at the Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization. / Miriam Otipa

Growing up in a small village in Western Kenya, I often accompanied my mother and other village women on customary weeding expeditions. Whenever we came across sick plants in the fields—which was all too often—my mother would instruct me to pull them out and cast them aside. I did as she asked, but wondered to myself: Why do we simply throw out the plants instead of doing something to make them better?

At times, my mother lost nearly 80 percent of her tomatoes to plant disease. The loss was so bad that she eventually stopped growing tomatoes all together. Yet when one of our cows got sick, my mother would call a veterinarian to come and treat the cow. I wondered: Were there no doctors who could also cure our plants?

I turned this curiosity into a career in science and became the first child in my family to attend university as well as the first woman in my village to earn a science degree. Seeking answers to my childhood questions, I studied botany and zoology as an undergraduate to better understand the diversity of crop and animal pests and diseases afflicting farmers like my mother in Kenya and her peers across Africa.

I wanted nothing more than to find a practical solution. So, I became a plant doctor.

Solutions Through Science

Eager to learn and improve my skills, I applied to the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development Fellowship and was selected as a 2008 fellow. Thanks to this training program, I was on my way to becoming an agent of change in my community by learning how to treat plant pests and diseases.

I was exhilarated to finally have the skills and knowledge to discover and develop solutions using science. With my new grant writing skills, I secured USAID funding to develop environmentally friendly crop protection technologies. Working with partners in the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management was an eye-opener. I used new equipment and learned from the experts around me. During this time, I also had an opportunity to attend Ohio State University as a visiting scholar, where I honed my diagnostics skills and developed Kenya’s first-ever methodology for screening passion fruit for disease at nurseries — to help stop disease before it made its way to farms.

Farmers spread a “mosquito net for plants” over crops to protect them from pests. A Feed the Future Innovation Lab is helping test the effectiveness of this eco-friendly technology and share it with smallholder farmers. / B. Dawson

Farmers spread a “mosquito net for plants” over crops to protect them from pests. A Feed the Future Innovation Lab is helping test the effectiveness of this eco-friendly technology and share it with smallholder farmers. / B. Dawson

Success Spreads Across Kenya

Today, I help farmers properly diagnose plant disease and heal their sick plants. I’m training others to be plant doctors, too. Through the PlantWise program, supported by an international non-profit called CABI, I’ve helped train more than 140 agricultural extension staff to operate 89 “plant clinics” in 13 counties across Kenya. I’ve also jointly trained 45 farmers as “plant nurses,” who regularly visit farms, assist with plant examinations, and encourage farmers to use nearby plant clinics. Farmers can take their diseased plants to these clinics and receive guidance from plant doctors on how to best tackle their plant pest and disease problems.

It is incredibly fulfilling for me to see such progress. Instead of throwing out sick plants, farmers can fight crop losses and adopt new farming practices to boost their harvests and incomes.

I am proud to say that my dream of becoming a “doctor of plants” has come true. I only wish that there were more like me in Kenya. As one of the few female plant doctors in my country, I’m passionate about training the next generation of plant doctors to narrow this deficit.

I am doing my bit to help feed my village and my nation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Miriam Otipa is a principal research scientist and head of the Plant Pathology Department at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization. She is also a former fellow and mentor with the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development program.

Here’s What Happens When Global Hunger Meets American Ingenuity

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Feed the Future blog.


Apple pie. Baseball. Agriculture.

There are few things more American than these. Surprised to see agriculture on the list?

Agriculture has and continues to be integral to the American experience.

It was the primary driver of the economy when our nation was first born. It informed the perspectives and politics of our nation’s leaders. It shaped our uniquely American form of representative democracy.

Our history with agriculture is long, storied, and we’ve learned a lot from years of trial, error and success.

Consider George Washington, the first president of the United States. One of his primary aspirations was to be a successful farmer. In pursuit of greater efficiency, he applied the scientific method to farming and experimented with techniques and tools, many of which are still used today. He kept copious notes, sought advice, and shared what he learned with others.

This spirit of curiosity, inventiveness and generosity is part of America’s DNA. We’ve changed the world with innovations like the light bulb, cotton gin and Internet.

The Feed the Future initiative is bringing this U.S. ingenuity and expertise to bear to fight hunger. As we lead with focus and purpose and leverage our strengths, we are achieving transformational change at a large scale in a short amount of time. In fact, Feed the Future has evolved beyond just the U.S. Government into a broad movement that is tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges and developing solutions to emerging problems.

And while we work with American companies, universities and nonprofits to share America’s agricultural expertise and entrepreneurial legacy with the world, that work has benefits back home, too. It strengthens the United States’ role as the world leader in improving lives and accelerating economic growth and opportunity.

Progress today makes us safer, more prosperous, and better prepared to meet tomorrow’s challenges.

Join us this spring as we tour through the various ways U.S. companies, universities, nonprofits and other organizations are making a difference, in large and small ways, to end global hunger.

By working with partners like these to improve agriculture, Feed the Future is delivering results that are growing momentum toward a future free of hunger.

What better way for America to lead?

While the work to get us there is complex, the answer, as they say, is as easy as apple pie.


Browse the maps below to find out which organizations in your state are contributing to this global movement to end hunger.

Research & Universities

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Did you know that research conducted under Feed the Future tackles challenges common to U.S. and developing country farmers, such as drought, plant diseases, pests, food safety and food waste?

Feed the Future is connecting the best and brightest minds from America with those across the globe through its 24 Feed the Future Innovation Labs to develop solutions and take them from labs to the marketplace so farmers anywhere can access them.

Businesses

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Did you know that Feed the Future partners with U.S. companies – large and small – where there are opportunities abroad to address development issues alongside business ones?

By leveraging business interest, expertise and resources to build mutually beneficial projects, we’re creating lasting change that will live on (and multiply!).

Nonprofits & Non-Governmental Organizations

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Did you know that nonprofits and NGOs helped make Feed the Future reality and continue to ensure progress made today lasts long into the future?

Organizations like these do more than just implement projects on the ground; they hold us accountable and help us improve our work.

Feeling inspired? Find out how you can join this global movement by visiting the “Partner With Us” section on the Feed the Future website.

Olive Oil of Hope

Olive oil connoisseurs, take note.  I recently tasted organic olive oil that would satisfy the most discerning palates, and it has the added element of peace-building, too.

Near East Foundation staff present USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander with the final product: organic olive oil produced with support from the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

Near East Foundation staff present USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander with the final product: organic olive oil produced with support from the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

While traveling in  the West Bank for the first time as USAID’s Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East last month, I noticed the landscape was dotted with olive trees. To Palestinian farmers, olive trees represent economic opportunities and hold cultural significance. A hundred thousand Palestinian families in the West Bank depend on the olive oil industry, an important part of the Palestinian economy.

USAID Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East plants an olive tree with olive farmers participating in the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

USAID Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East plants an olive tree with olive farmers participating in the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

Olive oil also represents an important opportunity for peace-building in a region marked with strife

Enter: USAID’s Olive Oil Without Borders. Implemented by the U.S.-based Near East Foundation, the project builds trust, mutual understanding and collaboration through economic cooperation in olive oil. It has allowed 1,500 Palestinian and Israeli olive farmers, mill operators and olive oil distributors to meet, share farming methods in workshops, improve their skills and increase olive oil production and profit through global exports.

All of this is consistent with USAID’s mission to promote resilient, democratic societies.

In the past, olive oil prices in the West Bank fell because the market was limited and exports were minimal. One of the most striking achievements of  Olive Oil Without Borders was an agreement reached in February 2013 by Palestinian and Israeli officials that allowed Israeli citizens to purchase Palestinian olive oil for the first time in 10 years. As a result, in less than two years, 3,600 metric tons of Palestinian olive oil were sold to Israeli companies. Palestinian farmers increased revenues by $20 million.

During my visit, I met Muhammed Shouly at his organic olive farm in Asira Shamaliya, in the northern West Bank. Shouly has been actively involved in Olive Oil Without Borders since its launch in 2011.

Muhammad Shouly is an olive farmer who tripled his harvest  after learning about supplementary irrigation techniques through the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID
Muhammad Shouly is an olive farmer who tripled his harvest after learning about supplementary irrigation techniques through the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

For centuries, Palestinian farmers relied solely on rainwater for their olive trees. During cross-border meetings that brought Shouly and other Palestinian farmers together with their Israeli counterparts, he learned about supplementary irrigation, a technique to provide olive trees with additional water. Shouly applied this method on his olive orchard during the summer months and it tripled his harvest.

I also talked to Miyassar Yassin, another farmer from Asira Shamaliya participating in Olive Oil Without Borders. She took part in an olive oil quality tasting seminar with Palestinian and Israeli farmers, learning to quickly identify virgin and extra virgin olive oil

Miyassar Yassin just concluded an olive oil quality tasting seminar through the Olive Oil Without Borders project.  Here she is with her two daughters. / Lubna Rifi, USAID
Miyassar Yassin just concluded an olive oil quality tasting seminar through the Olive Oil Without Borders project. Here she is with her two daughters. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

The project has upgraded 18 olive mills in the West Bank and Israel, representing one-fifth of the olive mills in the area. The renovation of Qussay Hamadneh’s mill—which included the replacement of steel tanks for storing olive oil—vastly improved sanitary conditions and boosted the quality of the olive oil produced.

Qussay Hamadneh improved the quality of the olive oil he produces with support from the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

Qussay Hamadneh improved the quality of the olive oil he produces with support from the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

Olive Oil Without Borders is just one of dozens of programs that we support throughout the West Bank and Israel. Its success lies in bringing together individuals from different backgrounds to work on issues of common concern. The visit gave me great hope because participants are not only learning how to increase production, they are also learning about each other

Before leaving, I planted an olive tree. I know the farmers I met will nurture it, and I look forward to coming back to see how it has grown and pick its olives.

The USAID-supported Olive Oil Without Borders project brings together Palestinian and Israeli farmers to increase the quality and quantity of olive oil. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

The USAID-supported Olive Oil Without Borders project brings together Palestinian and Israeli farmers to increase the quality and quantity of olive oil. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paige Alexander is USAID Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East

Feed the Future: Progress in the Goal of Ending Hunger

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Department of State DipNote blog.

Emiliano Dominguez Gonzalez displays his recently harvested strawberries in Honduras. Feed the Future helped nearly 7 million farmers like Emiliano last year boost harvests by using new and improved technologies and agricultural practices.  / USAID-ACCESO/Fintrac Inc.

Emiliano Dominguez Gonzalez displays his recently harvested strawberries in Honduras. Feed the Future helped nearly 7 million farmers like Emiliano last year boost harvests by using new and improved technologies and agricultural practices. / USAID-ACCESO/Fintrac Inc.

For generations, the United States has been a leader in providing development assistance across the globe to alleviate suffering. But global food price spikes and resulting instability in 2007 and 2008 were a wake-up call: More needed to be done to break the vicious cycle of hunger and poverty.

The answer: Unlock the potential of agriculture as the key to reducing hunger, extreme poverty and malnutrition through an initiative that became Feed the Future.

Ram Kumari Tharu displays her harvest in Nepal and smiles after collecting payment from a local trader. She’s tripled her annual income in just two years after extensive training on improved agriculture practices. / USAID NEAT

Ram Kumari Tharu displays her harvest in Nepal and smiles after collecting payment from a local trader. She’s tripled her annual income in just two years after extensive training on improved agriculture practices. / USAID NEAT

In just a few short years, Feed the Future is already changing the face of hunger and poverty for some of the world’s poorest families.  In May 2014, Feed the Future released its Progress Report on FY 2013 results , revealing that the initiative reached nearly 7 million smallholder farmers globally with new technologies and, together with the United States’ Global Health Initiative, reached 12.5 million children with effective nutrition services.

In 2014, the U.S. Government and its partners continued to build on Feed the Future’s early success to drive real change on a large scale.  Here are several examples:

Building on its 2013 commitments to scale up improvements in international agriculture, the U.S. Government launched eight new projects in 2014 supporting improved seed enterprises and other technology providers to accelerate adoption and uptake by smallholder farmers of the most promising agricultural technologies. This $60 million investment will impact Feed the Future focus countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

 

In May, the U.S. Agency for International Development launched its first Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy , laying out a roadmap to reduce chronic malnutrition by 20 percent through the Feed the Future and Global Health initiatives, the Office of Food for Peace development programs, resilience efforts and other nutrition investments. This strategy precedes a forthcoming, government-wide Global Nutrition Coordination Plan. During October and November, the Department of State led a U.S. Government delegation that successfully negotiated the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and the Framework for Action, which were adopted by global consensus at the Second International Conference on Nutrition, co-convened by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization. Food security and nutrition will continue to be at the forefront of U.S. diplomatic efforts and ongoing negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals in the Post-2015 framework, which build on the Millennium Development Goals.

In September, as global leaders gathered in New York City for the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack helped launch the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture during the United Nations Climate Summit, which called on government, finance, business and civil society leaders to take action on climate change. The Alliance advances a global, evidence-based approach to food security and represents an ambitious step in U.S. efforts to integrate a holistic approach to climate change in every area of our work.

Sulton Tukhtaev, a smallholder farmer in Tajikistan, holds his grandchild. Feed the Future has helped his family grow fruits and vegetables in their kitchen garden for income and nutrition. Last year, Feed the Future helped reach more than 12 million children with nutrition interventions. / USAID

Sulton Tukhtaev, a smallholder farmer in Tajikistan, holds his grandchild. Feed the Future has helped his family grow fruits and vegetables in their kitchen garden for income and nutrition. Last year, Feed the Future helped reach more than 12 million children with nutrition interventions. / USAID

In September 2014, members of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives introduced authorizing legislation to codify and strengthen Feed the Future’s comprehensive approach to cultivating the transformative potential of agriculture sector-led growth. HR 5656 — the Feed the Future Global Food Security Act of 2014 — passed by a voice vote in the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support in December.

Housed at some of the top U.S. universities, Feed the Future Innovation Labs are on the cutting edge of efforts to research, develop and scale up safe and effective agricultural technologies that can help feed a growing population.

Housed at some of the top U.S. universities, Feed the Future Innovation Labs are on the cutting edge of efforts to research, develop and scale up safe and effective agricultural technologies that can help feed a growing population.

Each of these examples is helping to create momentum for efforts this year, as we pursue a long-term vision of a world where the scourge of hunger, poverty, and malnutrition no longer threaten global peace and prosperity.

As we start 2015, please take a moment to learn about global hunger and consider what you can do to help end it.  You can start by reading Feed the Future’s “Year in Review” to learn more about our efforts and find out ways you can be involved.  You can also follow @FeedtheFuture for the latest information.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Stetson serves as U.S. Special Representative for Global Food Security at the U.S. Department of State, and Tjada D’Oyen McKenna is the Deputy Coordinator for Development for Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, as well as the Assistant to the Administrator in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Bureau for Food Security.

South Sudan: The Threat of Worsening Hunger

Residents of Bor County receive sorghum, oil, and lentils in exchange for road construction work they completed as part of the Catholic Relief Services led Jonglei Food Security Program, in Jonglei, South Sudan.  / CRS

Residents of Bor County receive sorghum, oil, and lentils in exchange for road construction work they completed as part of the Catholic Relief Services led Jonglei Food Security Program, in Jonglei, South Sudan. / CRS

A few weeks ago, my office instructed a vessel carrying 21,000 tons of American-grown sorghum destined to serve hungry people in South Sudan to divert from its Djibouti destination and discharge its cargo in Port Sudan instead. That vessel arrived and offloaded last week.

While the food was originally destined to travel for weeks by road from Djibouti to Gambella, Ethiopia, and then be airlifted or air-dropped into remote areas of South Sudan, a recent agreement between Sudan and South Sudan brings the possibility of a more hopeful scenario.

After almost a year of negotiation, the U.N. World Food Program secured agreement from both governments, as well as opposition groups in South Sudan, to facilitate safe passage of this grain to hungry people in South Sudan.  Saving both time and expense, it will be trucked or shipped by barge across the border from Sudan to South Sudan to meet immediate food needs and be pre-positioned in remote areas for use in the coming months.  If the two governments follow through on their commitments, the opening of this corridor will help to stave off hunger in a new country, whose hopes for growth and prosperity were dashed by ruinous fighting between the government and armed opposition groups one year ago.

Mary Ngok, 31, a farmer in Bor County receives sorghum, oil, and lentils in exchange for road construction work they completed as part of the Catholic Relief Services led Jonglei Food Security Program, JFSP, in Jonglei, South Sudan. / Sara A. Fajardo/Catholic Relief Services

Mary Ngok, 31, a farmer in Bor County receives sorghum, oil, and lentils in exchange for road construction work they completed as part of the Catholic Relief Services led Jonglei Food Security Program, JFSP, in Jonglei, South Sudan. / Sara A. Fajardo/Catholic Relief Services

South Sudan is the most food-insecure place in the world. Six months ago, after visiting, I laid out five key actions that USAID was taking to avert hunger and famine in South Sudan. One of them was to draw on the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust (BEHT), a seldom-used fund that USAID taps when unanticipated global needs outstrip food aid budgets, to procure additional food for South Sudan. Thanks to this trust, 50,000 tons of U.S. food – including the 21,000 tons recently offloaded in Port Sudan, are being used to respond to the hunger crisis in South Sudan.

The scale-up has enabled emergency care for more than 76,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and humanitarian workers have reached roughly 3.5 million vulnerable and displaced people with aid since January. Throughout 2014, conflict and bad weather forced the international community to rely on expensive airlift operations to move food and other supplies into remote areas of the country – operations that are roughly 8 times more costly than serving people by road. While extraordinarily costly in terms of expense, lifesaving aid has helped avert famine – for now.

The question is, what happens next?

Will the United States’ BEHT food make it safely to its intended destination, as planned? Will people already worn down by a year of war be reached with lifesaving aid and recovery support? Or will renewed fighting move South Sudan into a deeper downward spiral?

Sadly, the dry season, which typically lasts from December to April, is not only a time for recovery but has in past years also been a time for renewed conflict. Already we have reports that fighting has begun anew, adding to the suffering experienced by the nearly 1.9 million displaced people.

The international community is already overstretched due to the scale and gravity of the crisis and other humanitarian emergencies worldwide. The United States has provided more than $720 million in response to the crisis, including more than $339 million for food and nutrition assistance alone.

The future of South Sudan is in the hands of the combatants. This humanitarian crisis is man-made, as will be its resolution. The best way to avert a future famine is for the combatants to stop fighting, so that ordinary South Sudanese people can plant crops, markets can reopen and communities can begin to recover.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

Assistance Supports Dignity for Syrian Refugees, Markets for Jordan

This post originally appeared on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State Official Blog, on October 31, 2014.


A refugee living in the community pays for groceries with his pre-loaded credit card

A refugee living in the community pays for groceries with his pre-loaded credit card

Jordan, a relatively small country of 6.5 million people, has welcomed more than 620,000 Syrian refugees since 2011 (Jordan also hosts Palestinian and Iraqi refugees).  This statistic only includes registered refugees, although many thousands more are believed to have entered Jordan without registering.  This is equivalent to 27 million people entering the United States, more than the population of Texas.  All of these people need housing, water, and food.  Health and education systems have stretched to accommodate the new arrivals.  Despite a strong desire to help, Jordanians are understandably concerned about the resources required to support their needs.

Last week, I met with refugees and the humanitarian workers running their assistance programs to learn more about how the United States and international community are responding.  I visited the Za’atri Refugee Camp which, which houses 78,000 residents. I also had the opportunity to speak with Syrians living with family and friends in the neighboring community.  Because non-citizens cannot legally work within Jordan, all are dependent on international aid for their survival.

Ambassador Lane observes the process of registering refugees to enable them to receive food vouchers

Ambassador Lane observes the process of registering refugees to enable them to receive food vouchers

As expected, the first concern for all the refugees, whether in a camp or not, is adequate food for their families.  The World Food Programme (WFP), with extensive support from USAID’s Food for Peace program, helps meet this need.  But feeding such a large population is neither easy nor cheap.  In fact, it costs $23 million per month.  One reason I went to Jordan was to observe how these funds are being spent, and the impact this support is having both on the refugees and on Jordan.  What I saw was encouraging.

Recent reforms to U.S. food assistance regulations have provided flexibility for USAID to choose between in-kind food assistance or the use of cash and vouchers to allow refugees to purchase their own food.  This flexibility is important in Jordan.  As a stable and relatively prosperous country, Jordan has well-developed markets.  However, as trade routes into Syria and Iraq have been cut, the economy has contracted, leaving farmers less able to export the food they produce.  By giving Syrian refugees the ability to purchase the food they need through the local markets, WFP is supporting the existing market system, contributing to the Jordanian economy, and helping to dispel concerns that refugees will drain Jordanian resources. Vouchers also give Syrian refugees access to a more diverse diet which can better meet their nutritional needs.

WFP and USAID elected to provide their support through vouchers and pre-paid credit cards, enabling Syrian refugees to purchase food in nearby stores.  While this seems like a small matter within the bigger picture of having to flee war in one’s homeland, the difference in how assistance is delivered has a large impact on how well people survive such difficult times.  One refugee described the dignity and sense of normalcy she feels when she walks into a store, chooses the food she wants to buy, and pays for it with a credit card.  While the efforts of WFP, USAID, and other donors are essential to helping Syrian refugees cope in very difficult times, the programs also help support the Jordanian economy by compensating farmers and entrepreneurs for their efforts, helping keep markets stable, and promoting economic activity that benefits Jordan and the people who call it home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ambassador David Lane serves as the United States Representative to the United Nations Agencies in Rome.

Livestock Production: Empowering Women in Ethiopia

For some, Ethiopia conjures images of famine and extreme poverty. I see a completely different picture.

Ethiopia is a country rich in opportunity and resources, composed of hardworking men and women with innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirits. However, agricultural technology and best business practices are not widely available or utilized. Women are also not fully empowered to make financial decisions for their families and struggle to own land or access credit.  Ethiopia’s dairy sector is dominated by smallholder farmers caring for dairy cows. Processing milk is traditionally viewed as women’s work.

Recently, Ethiopian women have turned this traditional role into an economic opportunity based on the training and financial assistance provided by USAID. Livestock fattening and dairy production are areas that employ women. However, in most parts of Ethiopia, a lack of training and knowledge has prevented women from taking on leadership roles.

Yeshi, a professional milkmaid, milks cows for households throughout Bishoftu twice a day—early in the morning and again at night. / CNFA

Yeshi, a professional milkmaid, milks cows for households throughout Bishoftu twice a day—early in the morning and again at night. / CNFA

As part of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative, the USAID Agricultural Growth Program-Livestock Market Development project seeks to improve nutrition and boost incomes, through training and investments in commodities like dairy, meat, and live animals. The project targets both men and women, with specific interventions to integrate women entrepreneurs into the broader livestock value chain. For example, the project developed a specific female entrepreneur training package designed to enhance the business capacity of women. Moreover, to better facilitate the participation of women in the offered technical trainings, the project provides innovative daycare services for the children of women participants.

One of the project’s key objectives is to strengthen local Ethiopian organizations and help them build effective, long-term partnerships. In June 2013, USAID signed an agreement with Project Mercy; a local, faith-based not-for-profit relief and development agency established by Marta Gabre-Tsadick, the first woman senator of Ethiopia. Through the agreement, USAID is assisting with an innovative cattle cross-breeding program. The local cattle – when crossed with Jersey breed bulls, create offspring that are up to ten times more productive. The project specifically assisted input suppliers’ import of Jersey Cattle inputs to Ethiopia.

Every morning, farmers drop off milk collected from their dairy cows at one of three collection centers for Ruth and Hirut Dairy in Cha Cha, Amhara, Ethiopia. / CNFA

Every morning, farmers drop off milk collected from their dairy cows at one of three collection centers for Ruth and Hirut Dairy in Cha Cha, Amhara, Ethiopia. / CNFA

A year and a half into its five-year time frame, this project is achieving significant results To empower women, the projecthas launched various training and technical assistance programs, including a leadership program and grants for female entrepreneurs. More than 100 rural women were trained in entrepreneurship and leadership during one 2013 session. These women now serve as business role models in livestock market development in their communities.

Hirut Yohannes embodies the entrepreneurial spirit I see in so many Ethiopian women. In 2008, she launched Rut and Hirut Dairy, a milk processing company located in Cha Cha, Amhara, just outside Addis Ababa. After some initial successes, she wanted to expand her company’s operations but needed guidance. Hirut approached USAID for support and was trained in production and marketing of quality products. She learned to make higher quality gouda and mozzarella cheese, flavored yogurt, cream cheese, and several other types of cheese. USAID also assisted Hirut to introduce packaging for fluid milk products.

Following support from the project, Rut and Hirut Dairy saw an almost immediate 50 percent increase in sales, which enabled Hirut to increase the volume of milk she purchases from farmers and to increase its sale price by 12 percent per liter. Hirut now provides market access for more farmers in her area and has plans to establish new milk collection centers to further expand her business.  With higher quality products, she has increased her income and profitability and is now able to service the bank loan that she had accessed to originally establish her milk processing facility.

Extreme poverty is still a serious problem in many parts of Ethiopia. Projects like this, however, are providing sustainable solutions to some of the most intractable issues that Ethiopians face. Successful women entrepreneurs serve as role models for other women who see little opportunity to improve their family’s income. While the role models are the ones that inspire other women to initiate and expand their livestock businesses, USAID provides essential training and support to help their endeavors succeed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Yirgalem Gebremeskel is a Livestock Program Specialist Economic Growth and Transformation Office, USAID Ethiopia

2014: A Year of Food Assistance

From the dusty plains of South Sudan to the tropics in the Philippines, the world saw a whirlwind of crises destroy lives, livelihoods and human dignity over the past year. Severe drought, ravaging conflict and powerful natural disasters devastated communities and pushed already vulnerable families into crisis, oftentimes lacking enough food. USAID, through its Office of Food For Peace, was there to provide emergency food assistance in those times of need. The face of hunger is changing and we have changed with it—by thinking outside the box and providing more innovative responses to reach families faster, cheaper and more effectively. Among the largest responses this year were Syria, South Sudan, the Philippines and Central African Republic. Keep reading to learn about a few of the innovations USAID used to deliver humanitarian assistance to those in need.

Syria

A boy purchases bread in Aleppo, Syria, using a food voucher he received from the World Food Program. / USAID Partner

A boy purchases bread in Aleppo, Syria, using a food voucher he received from the World Food Program. / USAID Partner

Violence in Syria escalated over the past year due to heavy fighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and opposition forces, increasing the number of displaced persons to more than 6.4 million. Over the past year, USAID and its partners supported food vouchers for refugee families enabling them to buy food in local markets. Bakeries inside Syria turned regionally purchased wheat into bread for hungry families, ensuring families had that most basic of staples in their daily diets. With this and other forms of assistance—including family-size food packs—USAID assisted partners in reaching nearly 5 million conflict-affected Syrians.

South Sudan

In South Sudan, clashes sparked by a political crisis in December 2013 spurred conflict through much of the country that eventually displaced more than 1.8 million people. Ongoing displacement prevented farmers from planting or harvesting their crops and led to emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity for 1.5 million people. Even before the crisis began, 40 percent of South Sudanese needed humanitarian assistance. In preparation for increasing 2014 needs, USAID shipped U.S. food to South Sudan that arrived in February.

By May, when United Nations officials alerted the world to the possibility of famine, USAID had already authorized the U.N. World Food Program’s (WFP’s) South Sudan program to fully utilize those resources for the emergency response. When on-the-ground distribution became unfeasible due to conflict and the rainy season that collectively made roads impassable, WFP started the very expensive alternative of delivering food aid by aircraft. As part of its response, USAID distributed regionally purchased ready-to-use specialized food products to prevent and treat acute malnutrition in children under the age of 5.

The situation in South Sudan was already dire, but has since spiraled downward to become the worst food security crisis in the world. As a result, USAID has tapped into 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. Shipments of more than 64,000 metric tons of U.S. food commodities purchased under this special authority are now on their way to Africa to help the South Sudanese people.

Food distribution in South Sudan. / World Food Program

Food distribution in South Sudan. / World Food Program

Philippines

In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan swept into the Philippines and proved to be one of the most powerful storms ever recorded. The storm displaced over 14.1 million people and caused billions of dollars in damages to infrastructure and livelihoods. Within three weeks of its landfall, USAID provided WFP and the the Philippine Government with the tools needed to provide life saving food assistance to nearly 3 million people.

Through an innovative approach, USAID combined U.S. food—including pre-positioned meal-replacement bars from Miami and pre-positioned rice from Colombo, Sri Lanka—with cash-based assistance to meet urgent food needs. With the cash assistance, WFP purchased rice directly from the Government of the Philippines and airlifted high-energy biscuits from Dubai, including these items in family food packs distributed just five days after the typhoon. WFP also provided cash transfers to purchase basic food items in places where markets were functioning. Additional U.S. rice arrived in February to support food-for-assets activities, which focused on agricultural livelihoods restoration, and direct distribution to the most vulnerable households.

USAID distributes rice and high-energy biscuits to vulnerable families after Typhoon Haiyan. / World Food Program

USAID distributes rice and high-energy biscuits to vulnerable families after Typhoon Haiyan. / World Food Program

Central African Republic

Ongoing armed conflict and political instability in Central African Republic (CAR) since December 2012 has displaced over 490,000 people, created close to 418,000 refugees, and greatly exacerbated food insecurity. Due to heightened insecurities this year along the roads entering the country, USAID and WFP worked to expand the number of entry points into CAR and figure out creative ways to distribute food assistance to those in need, such as using airlifts and river barges.

Using a combination of U.S. and regionally available food, USAID reached over 1 million vulnerable, food insecure people—including both internally displaced persons and refugees.  Returnees in Chad, who fled CAR at the outbreak of violence, are using food vouchers to buy food available on local markets. As the conflict has raged on, decreased access to vulnerable populations has meant USAID and its partners have had to continually search for new and innovative ways to deliver life saving assistance.

Children carry vegetable oil provided by USAID in the Don Bosco camp for internally displaced persons in Bangui, CAR. / World Food Program

Children carry vegetable oil provided by USAID in the Don Bosco camp for internally displaced persons in Bangui, CAR. / World Food Program

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nina Rosenberg is an Information Officer in USAID’s Office of Food for Peace.

An Outsized Problem with a Small-sized Solution

In the lush countryside of Burundi, you wouldn’t expect there to be chronically high rates of malnutrition. But hidden behind the walls of a family’s house, poor feeding practices, compounded by large families with kids close in age, means malnutrition lurks. According to a 2013 IFPRI study, more than 73 percent of the population in Burundi is undernourished, and 58 percent of the population is stunted. These figures are staggering, given the population of Burundi is only 10 million.

That’s where USAID and partner UNICEF come in. Burundi is one of the first countries where U.S.-produced Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food, or RUTF, is being used to treat acute malnutrition.

A child eats his ready-to-use therapeutic food to treat his malnutrition. / USAID, Katie McKenna

A child eats his ready-to-use therapeutic food to treat his malnutrition. / USAID, Katie McKenna

Why do these small packets make such a difference? Previously, kids with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) had to be treated at the hospital. This meant families’ staying weeks and weeks as the child recuperated. Now, with the advent of products like RUTF, children without any other health symptoms can be treated at home. Imagine you’re a small kid who is sick – which would you prefer? Being at a hospital for weeks at a time, or in the comfort of your own home? It’s a no brainer.

A new food assistance product for the Agency’s Office of Food for Peace, this product is a game changer for tackling severe acute malnutrition. Previously the Agency’s food assistance partners did not have capacity to purchase this product in the United States for food assistance programs because U.S. suppliers were not producing it. This meant only doing small scale interventions with locally purchased ready-to-use foods, or not being able to treat severe acute malnutrition at all through food assistance.

Starting in 2012, this changed. Currently USAID plans to meet at least 10 percent of UNICEF’s global need for RUTF, and has already provided this specialized product in 14 countries since 2012. In Burundi, RUTF is helping treat 16,500 severely acutely malnourished kids under 5 in nine provinces.

UNICEF staff are working tirelessly to ensure that the Ministry of Health of Burundi is able to treat severe acute malnutrition, and help mothers learn to treat it themselves at home. In villages across Burundi, every week women bring their children to the local health clinic for nutrition training, and to get their kids’ health assessed. In exchange, they receive a week’s supply of RUTF for their kids identified as severely acutely malnourished.

In Burundi, more than 73 percent of the population is undernourished, and 58 percent of the population is stunted. U.S.-produced Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food is being used there to treat acute malnutrition. / USAID, Katie McKenna

In Burundi, more than 73 percent of the population is undernourished, and 58 percent of the population is stunted. U.S.-produced Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food is being used there to treat acute malnutrition. / USAID, Katie McKenna

Elias Ndikumana, a father of three, has two children enrolled in treatment for severe acute malnutrition. Twins Alain Don Divin Igiraneza and Alain Bon Idée Ahishakiye, both 1.5 years old, were brought into the health center in Muyange colline, in Makamba Province,  when they started to show some of the telltale signs of being malnourished.

“The children were so weak when I brought them to the clinic. I was so worried about them,” said Ndikumana. For the last six weeks, they’ve been eating RUTF. “Now they’ve been eating the paste, they are livelier and getting healthier. I am so relieved.”

UNICEF and USAID are not stopping there. We are working to build the capacity of the Ministry of Health nutrition office to do outpatient care at the health center level and inpatient treatment of SAM at the hospital level. A first step is helping the government manage the supply chain for RUTF. With funding from both PEPFAR (the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) and Food for Peace, warehouses to store the RUTF have been equipped to improve storage space and stock management.

Health workers, nurses and doctors, including those still in medical schools, are also being trained to recognize the signs of acute malnutrition and how to treat it so the problem can be tackled early on, and not once a child gets to a critical stage. It is hoped in the long run that the Ministry of Health will be able to tackle this persistent problem without outside assistance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Hartl is lead Information Officer for the Office of Food for Peace. Follow Food for Peace @USAIDFFP

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