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Archives 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

Water, Food and Extreme Poverty

A farmer ploughs his field in a village in West Bengal, India. The Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development is helping harness ideas that have the potential to enable developing world farmers to grow more food with less water, or to make more water available for agriculture.

A farmer ploughs his field in a village in West Bengal, India. The Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development is helping harness ideas that have the potential to enable developing world farmers to grow more food with less water, or to make more water available for agriculture. / A Sourav Karmakar

At USAID’s second Frontiers in Development Forum, we’re focusing on the role of innovation, science and technology in eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. Over the past year, I have witnessed the potential of scientific and technological breakthroughs to address some of the developing world’s greatest challenges through our Grand Challenges for Development.

Our role at USAID is to help define these challenges, prioritizing key elements of the fight against extreme poverty. We then open our doors to potential solutions from a variety of disciplines, locations and specializations – in search of the most promising innovations. These Grand Challenges are developed in the form of prizes that have the potential to catalyze the world in the fight against extreme poverty.

The Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development is an important element of this fight. The availability of water for food is crucial to farmers and others who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. The number of people impacted by water stress and insecurity will only continue to rise, and providing simple, sustainable and cost-efficient solutions to this issue could help a poor family or community could grow more food, harvest a surplus, and earn additional income.

Over the past year, we launched two calls for Security Water for Food innovations. More than 570 applications represented more than 90 countries. Of these, we selected 17 award recipients whose proposals best demonstrated the potential to either enable the production of more food with less water, or to make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.

Solar-activated Lilypads kill viruses, bacteria, and protozoa in water used for agriculture in Mexico.

Solar-activated Lilypads kill viruses, bacteria, and protozoa in water used for agriculture in Mexico. / Puralytics

Ancient technologies are being revisited to provide Nepalese farmers with access to water for irrigation.

Ancient technologies are being revisited to provide Nepalese farmers with access to water for irrigation. / aQysta Holdings

These 17 winners will receive funding and acceleration support. Some were as simple as Aybar Engineering’s multi-purpose tool to move water from areas where it reduces crop yields to areas where it improves crop production, or aQysta Holding BV’s “Barsha” pump offering low maintenance, round-the-clock irrigation powered by flowing water that can help farmers double their crop yields.

Puralytics’ Lilypad acts like its namesake, floating on a body of water, while a solar-activated nanotechnology coating treats the water—sans chemicals, filters, pumps or electricity.

Practical Action proposed a unique sandbar cropping program in Bangladesh, where large, sandy islands appear in many rivers during the dry season and can actually be used by poor farmers to grow pumpkins.

Innovators MetaMeta & SaltFarmTexel and Wageningen University and Research Center have developed crops that can grow in highly saline conditions. With the support of this prize, they will find ways to transfer these crops to developing countries.

Learn more about all of the Securing Water for Food innovations here. We congratulate all of the award nominees, and are honored to support these innovative approaches in improving water availability and food security around the world – part of our work towards ending extreme poverty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christian Holmes is USAID’s Global Water Coordinator

Mobile Agriculture: A Lifeline for Pakistan’s Farmers

A ‘connected’ farmer is sharing information with a ‘non-connected’ farmer in his community. / USAID/Pakistan

A ‘connected’ farmer is sharing information with a ‘non-connected’ farmer in his community. / USAID/Pakistan

Spend five minutes on any busy street in Pakistan and you will think that you are in one of the most connected countries in the world. Most people, regardless of economic class, have a mobile phone, and farmers are no exception. Most of these farmers live in isolated remote communities which can be prone to major natural disasters and violence from militants. These communities have extremely poor infrastructure, almost no public transportation, and little access to basic financial services. Mobile phone coverage, however, penetrates into some of the most remote areas of Pakistan, reaching otherwise isolated rural communities.

For these communities, mobile phones are a lifeline. Recognizing this, USAID Pakistan has partnered with the regional government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Telenor, an international mobile network operator in Pakistan, to create and deliver tailored mobile solutions to get information to peach and potato growers as well as fisheries in Swat Valley.

By delivering real-time information about market prices and new techniques, weather forecasting, and diversified financial services via mobile technology, the service helps Pakistani farmers and hatchery managers improve productivity and get better returns on their investments. As their incomes increase through more informed decision making, they are able to invest in better quality inputs and equipment.

Around 1,500 people are included in the pilot project, which is focused on testing and scaling up what works to ensure that the program’s digital development tools meet participant’s needs.

A farmer participating in the USAID pilot program is reading a text alert on best farming practice. / USAID/Pakistan

A farmer participating in the USAID pilot program is reading a text alert on best farming practice. / USAID/Pakistan

The project provides two basic services. First, it sends alerts to mobile phones to provide farmers with tips and advice in their local language, helping them to increase the quality and quantity of their production. Participants can also use their mobile phones to access recorded advisories from an interactive voice response (IVR). In a country where the literacy rate is low, voice-based services address the difficulties faced by those unable to read or write.

These text and voice services provide a wide range of information. Weather forecasts help them decide when to plant, irrigate and harvest. Information on market prices and consumer trends help them understand which products will yield the highest returns for their efforts. Farmers also receive technical advice on how to fight pests or diseases, improve farming practices for more sustainable agriculture, and apply processing techniques that reduce food wastage. They can learn about regulations, available subsidies and local fairs.

Fresh potatoes from the farms in Swat / USAID/Pakistan

Fresh potatoes from the farms in Swat / USAID/Pakistan

Initial feedback from the pilot is promising. More than 90 percent of the participants who received the messages said that they were well-timed and useful, and three quarters have adopted the service’s recommended practices. Subscribers also reported that they shared the information with non-subscribed farmers, underscoring the value of the information and quadrupling the project’s reach.

As a corollary to the project, mobile financial services, including remittances, mobile banking and value-added services like crop insurance are also being introduced. This will help boost food production, improve livelihoods and incomes and introduce technological solutions to improve efficiency in the agricultural supply chain.

By analyzing calls Pakistani farmers place to the IVR service, agricultural specialists and research organizations can build an accurate picture of the challenges rural farmers face and the evolving trends in Pakistani agriculture.

At its core, mobile agriculture is about putting information into farmers’ hands and empowering them through sustainable and scalable solutions. The hope is that the success of this partnership will encourage and enable other private sector players to enter the market, contributing to a well-informed and more prosperous farming community throughout the country. It is also expected that these innovations will create new economic opportunities in this politically sensitive region, where financial stability is an essential factor in the region’s overall resilience.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shehla Rizwan is Development Outreach and Communications Specialist for USAID/Pakistan

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

Feed the Future Just Published a New Report – So What?

Tjada Mckenna

Tjada Mckenna

We sat down to chat with Feed the Future’s deputy coordinator for development, Tjada McKenna, about Feed the Future, its latest results, and where we’re at in the fight to end hunger.

Q: Help our readers understand the contextual importance of this report. Why food security, why now?

To answer that, we need to go back in time a little, to 2007 and 2008. The world wasn’t in the best shape. A food, fuel and financial crisis was threatening to push people back into poverty, just as we had started to make progress in getting people out of it. Food price spikes in 2007 and 2008 made it really difficult—in some cases impossible—for people around the world to buy staple foods like rice and wheat. Global stability was at stake, not to mention people’s lives and a whole generation of kids who weren’t getting adequate nourishment to grow.

But that really only provides half the picture. We also need to look forward in time, to 2050, when the world population is expected to exceed 9 billion people. How are we going to sustainably (and nutritiously) feed this many people? There’s a big question mark as to how we’ll do that and we think we’ve got a new approach to answer it.

Q: What’s so new and different about this “new” approach?

When President Obama took office, he was determined to reverse the negative course the world was on. So in addition to the critical distribution of food aid in crises, he mobilized global leaders and businesses to proactively “ramp up” their investments in agriculture to increase production and decrease hunger and poverty. History has shown us that stimulating growth in agriculture is a really effective way at ending poverty. And a lot of the farmers we’re targeting live in rural areas where hunger and poverty are concentrated. That’s another aspect of our approach: instead of trying to do all things everywhere, we’ve targeted our work in 19 specific countries and even within those we’re focusing on key regions and crops that have the greatest potential for reducing poverty and hunger for some of the world’s most vulnerable people, particularly women.

It’s about more than just agriculture too. World leaders committed not just to invest more, but to invest differently. Countries would take on greater leadership and donors would support them as they worked to grow enough to feed their own populations and connect people to the global economy to help feed the world. We’re essentially dealing with hunger today and hunger tomorrow. Feed the Future has been a big part of the U.S. contribution to this global effort as the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

Feed the Future provides credit opportunities to help smallholder farmers purchase agricultural machinery and teaches them how to use these tools to boost harvests. / Wasif Hasan, USAID

Feed the Future provides credit opportunities to help smallholder farmers purchase agricultural machinery and teaches them how to use these tools to boost harvests. / Wasif Hasan, USAID

Q: So Feed the Future’s been in motion for about four years now – what do we have to show for it?

That’s where our latest Feed the Future report comes in. We’ve never had data like this before for agriculture programs to really show what is happening as a result of what we’ve been doing. And we have a lot to show for it.

Last year we helped nearly 7 million farmers improve the way they work to adopt new and improved technologies and practices that help them grow more while using less land, water and other (often expensive) resources. We’ve also reached more than 12 million children with nutrition interventions designed to give them a healthy start to life so they have the same shot at being productive, happy adults as our children do. We’ve actually been able to replicate results similar to these for about two years now, so we’re really excited about taking them to scale now that we know our approach is working.

Q: What do these numbers mean?

They mean we now have evidence that what we’re doing works. They also show that leadership matters. President Obama put forth a vision for ending hunger—and then backed it up with monetary commitments—that encouraged global leaders to do the same. By collaborating toward a common goal, we’ve been able to get a lot more done and leverage a lot more resources than we ever could have alone.

It makes it all the more urgent for us to build on this momentum, continue investments, and scale our approach by bringing in even more partners from the private sector, civil society, academia, and science. The end of hunger is in sight! We’re just about on track to cut hunger in half by 2015, per the Millennium Development Goal. Feed the Future has been a large part of the U.S. contribution to achieving this goal.

Two years ago you may remember that President Obama challenged us to end extreme poverty by 2030 and the World Bank, USAID and others have already taken up the charge. Common vision and goals like these help propel us forward but also help us gut-check on progress. So far, so good, but we’re ready to go the distance and really end this. If we can end poverty, why not hunger? They’re inextricably linked and we can end both.

Market surveys with Tanzanian farmers, traders and retailers supported by Feed the Future help identify bottlenecks in the vegetable value chain. / Srinivasulu Rajendran, AVRDC

Market surveys with Tanzanian farmers, traders and retailers supported by Feed the Future help identify bottlenecks in the vegetable value chain. / Srinivasulu Rajendran, AVRDC

Q: So if ending hunger is actually a possibility now, when can we expect to see it end?

It’s really up to the international community to set a target date, but we’ll be a key voice in those discussions. President Obama’s leadership has already mobilized the world to fight hunger and poverty and helped set a goal date for ending poverty. We do know this for sure: We can end hunger in our lifetimes.

Q: What’s next? How do we get from these results to an actual end date?

The United States doesn’t have the resources to solve this problem by itself nor should we even try to. That’s why this new approach to focus our efforts, coordinate among donors and support countries in their own food security plans is so vital to success. So is the inclusion of all sectors in our work to improve food security, both in terms of public, private and nonprofit but also from a technical standpoint of health, hygiene and sanitation, policy reform, the way we deliver food aid, etc. We need to continue to work smarter.

We have the political will and global momentum we need to end hunger; we just need to sustain it. And we need to keep looking for outside-the-box ideas and approaches. USAID recently launched its Global Development Lab and its purpose is to do just that. Evidence tells us that one-size-fits-all just doesn’t work for development and we’re looking to continue to spur innovation and find new and improved ways to help people move out of poverty and hunger to self-sufficiency and prosperity.

Q: All right, on a closing note: If I’m a reader and I think your mission is really cool and want to be a part of it, what can I do to get involved?

The great thing about this story is it isn’t just about what the U.S. Government, businesses, civil society, or farmers are doing: It involves all of us. We really do need all types of people to be involved in our work. It’s not just about development professionals anymore; it involves small business owners, scientists, American farmers and ranchers, and banks.

If you’d like to work directly with Feed the Future and its associated U.S. Government agencies, you can go to the Feed the Future website and check out the Partner With Us section for opportunities and ideas—this includes student opportunities like fellowships. There’s also the Peace Corps, which is a great way to start serving. And USAID has a foreign service that includes agricultural scientists, private sector partnership experts, and economists. The State Department does too. There are a lot of ways to join.

You can help us keep the global conversation on food security going too. We have a hashtag (#feedthefuture) that gives you the ability to do that on a variety of public media platforms.

Explore our website, read our report, and stay tuned for more ideas and opportunities.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tjada McKenna is the acting assistant to the administrator in the USAID Bureau for Food Security and the Feed the Future deputy coordinator for development.

Tajikistan Transformed: Feeding the Future

 

Map of Tajikistan

Map of Tajikistan

Twenty years ago I visited Tajikistan for the first time. Then a young USAID program officer, that journey took me south toward Khatlon Province near the border with Afghanistan.

Tajikistan faced civil conflict, and on that first trip I saw many buildings destroyed by war. I was there to inspect warehouses and observe humanitarian programs helping displaced Tajiks who barely had enough to eat. All the food I saw being distributed came from outside Tajikistan, donated by international donors in an effort to provide immediate relief.

Returning to Central Asia as USAID mission director in late fall 2013, I have since taken several trips to Khatlon Province, all organized around Feed the Future, arguably the single most important U.S. Government initiative in terms of addressing poverty issues in the poorest region of Central Asia. Undernourishment remains a critical challenge today in Tajikistan. Nearly one out of three children under 5 are “stunted” and nearly 7 percent are described as “wasted” – where their muscle and fat literally waste away.

Most households in Khatlon depend on remittances from fathers, sons and brothers working in Russia. Indeed, remittances represent approximately half the GDP, making Tajikistan the most remittance-dependent country in the world. Nearly one out of 10 Tajiks live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25/day. Roughly the same proportion of Tajik women are undernourished.

Yet what I saw on these recent trips is vastly different and more hopeful than what I witnessed two decades ago. USAID programs, working with Tajik colleagues and counterparts, are now able to focus on growing food, not distributing emergency supplies. Feed the Future in particular is at the center of this effort, aiming to expand production, reduce poverty and improve nutrition.

Left: In Tajikistan, USAID used to focus on providing emergency food aid, including to this girl in Garm, Rasht Valley in 2006. / Janice Setser, Mercy Corps  Right: Today USAID programs are able to focus on growing food, not distributing emergency supplies. Feed the Future is also training young mothers in Khatlon Province, Tajikistan, on how to prepare more nutritious meals for their children. / USAID

Left: In Tajikistan, USAID used to focus on providing emergency food aid, including to this girl in Garm, Rasht Valley in 2006. / Janice Setser, Mercy Corps. Right: Today USAID programs are able to focus on growing food, not distributing emergency supplies. Feed the Future is also training young mothers in Khatlon Province, Tajikistan, on how to prepare more nutritious meals for their children. / USAID

Today USAID programs are able to focus on growing food, not distributing emergency supplies. Feed the Future is also training young mothers in Khatlon Province, Tajikistan, on how to prepare more nutritious meals for their children.

An entire younger generation no longer remembers a country that was once torn apart by war — and Tajikistan can finally experience a “peace dividend” of sorts.

Today, local farmers make their own cropping decisions, no longer forced into blindly following orders passed down from bureaucrats working far away. A full spectrum of issues is being addressed, ranging from building water-users associations, to educating farmers about their rights, to strengthening production value chains, to educating families about improved nutrition.

Feed the Future is a key driver of this change. Our programs in Tajikistan focus on the neediest districts of the Khatlon Province, itself one of Tajikistan’s poorest regions. Our efforts target women of reproductive age as well as children during the crucial ’1,000 days’ period from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday. Feed the Future empowers Tajiks to pull themselves out of poverty and insecurity by giving farmers the tools and the skills to succeed. Reducing chronic hunger is essential to building a foundation for development investments in health, education, and economic growth. It is essential to the sustainable development of Tajik individuals and communities.

Women of Bokhtar district, Tajikistan label and pack the tomatoes collected from their greenhouses. / USAID

Women of Bokhtar district, Tajikistan label and pack the tomatoes collected from their greenhouses. / USAID

This is good for the people Tajikistan. But it is also good for the world, and, yes, for Americans back home. Tajikistan shares a long and porous border with Afghanistan. Our efforts to improve living conditions in Tajikistan therefore have a direct impact on regional security. Today, we have a unique opportunity to partner with Tajikistan as it moves away from a Soviet-style planning system toward country-led economic growth that will lay the foundation for long-term stability and prosperity.

One stop in my most recent trip included a meeting with a group of Tajik women. Unprompted, a little girl of about three held by one of them broke loose and walked over to where I was sitting, planting herself firmly in my lap for the rest of the meeting.

 The author with a young Tajik girl. / USAID

The author with a young Tajik girl. / USAID

While our conversation touched on many topics, what I remember most about that trip is the fact that this little girl is not a number or a statistic or even a “beneficiary” of a particular aid program.

 She is a real person, loved by her family and with a future ahead of her — one that Feed the Future is working to ensure is much brighter than would have been the case two decades ago. Projects like this involve real people with real hopes and dreams — and, in this case, a new generation that deserves a much better and more prosperous future.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Addleton is the Mission Director in USAID’s Central Asia Republics Mission located in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Previously he has served as a U.S. Ambassador in Mongolia.

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