USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Food Security

A Lasting Impact on Food Security

I recently traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to visit food assistance programs implemented by USAID’s Office of Food for Peace. My first impression of the Congo was the same feeling I had in Uganda when visiting projects there last year – why in countries so lush and ripe for agriculture were people so food insecure? Food insecurity is a complex issue, and for the DRC it includes key issues such as low productivity, lack of market access and infrastructure, ongoing conflict and poor nutrition practices.

As a country struggling to pull itself out of conflict, the DRC is a challenging environment to work in. Never mind the logistical challenges for our partners and staff: little infrastructure in program areas; communities cut off by rains, conflict or other factors at certain times of year; and monitoring difficulties due to USAID staff being based on the opposite side of the country from the projects.

Despite these challenges, I was amazed at the ability of USAID’s partners to have as much positive impact as they have had on food security. This was particularly apparent in the visits where development assistance had ended the previous year, but the lasting impact of programs was still very visible.

I visited two communities previously supported by Food for the Hungry (FH) – Kamalenge and Kateba – which continue to benefit from initiatives started under FH’s previous program.

In Kamalenge, the water management committee responsibly manages the use of water from the community water pump installed by FH, by creating a fee-based system for maintenance. Under this system, households pay 100 francs a month per household and adhere to a strict usage schedule, ensuring each household has access to the water and the water source does not run dry.

Nearby, a women’s goat breeding group is still working, giving goats to households in the community and selling the extra goats.  This income is helping with children’s school fees. In the coming year, with additional proceeds, the 25 members of the goat breeding group hope to start a pharmacy in the village for community members.

In Kateba, I met a mother care group who continue to teach health and nutrition messages to new mothers and child caretakers in their community. Using songs and flipcharts to teach the messages introduced by FH, women are improving their household’s health and nutrition, all with their own food resources. They were proud to declare the village free of malnutrition as a result of these efforts.

The seed multiplication station in Emilingombre made a lasting impression on me. This station resulted directly from the difficulties they had in their first development food aid program procuring improved seeds and cuttings of disease resistant varieties of cassava, bananas, and other crops. This challenge resulted in FH creating a seed multiplication station within its new beneficiary communities so farmers had more direct access to seeds and seedlings. Using seeds and seedlings developed on demonstration plots from their previous program, they have built a 22 hectare station and nursery, which the communities will maintain with Food for Work during the life of the program. Eventually, the station will be self-sustained by the community to provide plant seeds and tree seedlings of multiple varieties. The tree seedlings will also help reforest nearby areas.

These small examples are reflective of a holistic set of activities USAID partners are implementing to address food security from all angles. I left DRC impressed by our partners’ ability to operate and communities to thrive in such a challenging environment. I am eager to see the gains they will make in the coming years.

One Year On: Looking Back on Famine and a Smarter Response in the Horn

About six months into my tenure as Director of Food for Peace, in July 2011, I remember calling Nancy Lindborg, the Assistant Administrator of our Bureau, to let her know that famine had been officially declared in Somalia. It was with an air of both sadness and disbelief that I myself absorbed the news that we had actually reached this point. I had left the world of humanitarian aid for development and governance work in the mid-1990s, shortly after one of the most intense periods of my working life, responding to the 1991 Somalia famine. I was in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) in those years, and we broke records by mounting the largest-ever (at that time) Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in the office’s history and spending more on a single disaster in a short span of time than the office ever had before. As a member of USAID’s DART in Somalia, I witnessed the crisis firsthand. I traveled with Fred Cuny, a great humanitarian, as he shared his insights into the nature of famine and the challenges of response. As the months unfolded and relief operations ramped up with the support of the U.S. military, names of towns like Belet Huen, Baidoa, Merca and Kismayo all became commonplace, as did the terrible images of starving children and sprawling graveyards.

We learned a lot from that famine response, and looking back I can say that we played it smarter this time around. Recognizing that mortality rates often spike due to outbreaks of preventable diseases, USAID prioritized health and hygiene programs such as vaccination campaigns and providing clean water and hand washing soap before the rainy season, when disease rates are known to spike. Much improved early warning systems gave us a clear picture of both nutritional needs and market prices. Based on this information, we prioritized cash and voucher programs that allowed people to stay in their villages and buy food and other supplies in their local markets. We found that markets did indeed respond to the increase in demand, inflation was kept at bay, and traders brought goods to areas that were off limits or too dangerous for aid workers.

The in-kind food distributions we supported through the United Nations World Food Program WFP) were also smarter. Thanks to the early warnings received from the experts at Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) and Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU), our food aid was already pre-positioned in the region. WFP largely set aside general food distributions, which are often chaotic at best and violent at worst. Instead WFP focused on more efficiently reaching those in need by working together with health facilities to provide families with food aid, and if needed, supplementary nutrition. For many years USAID has been providing funds for partners to purchase ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) to help those in crisis, but for the first time ever, Food for Peace provided an RUTF that it helped create. And we now have RUTF in our stockpiles.

While the food security conditions in Somalia have improved, our response this past year reflects our understanding of the fragility of the situation: Along with our partners, we are continuing to provide assistance that saves lives while also protecting and advancing livelihoods.

Last night I attended a celebration in honor of Senator George McGovern’s 90th birthday. He was feted with toasts that acknowledged his extraordinary contributions to feeding hungry children around the world. As an American citizen and public servant, I am proud to be part of the U.S. government effort that stays true to the spirit of Senator McGovern’s vision. In far flung and difficult places, including Somalia, we make a difference and make evident every day the compassion and generosity of the American people.

Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Morrill Act

Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 8,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.

Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 8,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.

Today we celebrate the visionary leadership of President Abraham Lincoln in signing the Morrill Act 150 years ago.  Even as our nation prepared to enter one of the most brutal and challenging periods of its existence, President Lincoln demonstrated a powerful understanding that America’s success would depend on investment in the agricultural development of its new frontier. His foresight led to the creation of the most productive science- and engineering-based agricultural economy the world has ever seen. The new U.S. land-grant system democratized American access to education, graduating young scientists and engineers who have continued to transform the American economy through generations as no other single investment has.

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Powering Energy to Face the Challenges of World Hunger

Feeding the world’s hungry and access to energy are typically viewed as separate development goals. But it is becoming abundantly clear to those of us here in Rio de Janiero at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (RIO+20) that they are intertwined. The facts speak for themselves:

  • An estimated 850 million people go to bed each night hungry;
  • The world population grows by 77 million people each year, and by 2050 the population will be an estimated nine billion;
  • To meet this demand, global food production must increase by 70 percent by 2050.

PoweringAg, USAID’s new Grand Challenge, invites ideas and innovation on powering up energy in developing countries. The effort is expected to help women with 43 percent of the world’s farmers estimated to be female.

To feed nine billion people, we will need to increase food production on the land already growing today’s food supply, and access to sustainable energy is key.

The magnitude of the challenge is illustrated in Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) where only fourteen percent of people in rural areas have access to electricity.  Post-harvest losses have risen as high as fifty percent in SSA, but with the introduction of cold storage, refrigerated transport, and business models to store produce could dramatically reduce levels of hunger. 

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Launch of New Grand Challenge – The Agriculture/Energy Nexus

Today 1.4 billion people lack access to clean energy.  The impact of this limited energy access is particularly pronounced in the agricultural sectors of developing countries, where three out of four people living in poverty have livelihoods connected to agriculture.  The lack of modern energy services impacts every aspect from farm to market – from irrigation and harvesting to processing and storage.

On June 12, 2012, USAID and its partners will launch ‘Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge‘.  This global effort will increase clean energy access and support economic growth in the developing world through finding and scaling effective, clean energy solutions for farmers and agri-businesses.  Success will result in enhanced food security and increased economic resiliency in the host communities.

Visit PoweringAg.org to learn more, join the forum, watch the launch event and ultimately, to submit proposals.

For Yemen’s Future, Global Humanitarian Response is Vital

Originally posted at the Huffington Post.

This weekend in Sana’a, I had dinner with a group of young men and women activists who are on the forefront of Yemen’s historic struggle for a better future. They turned out for change with great courage last year, and at dinner, with great eloquence they outlined for me the many challenges facing Yemen during this critical transition period: conflict in the north and south, weak government institutions, cultural barriers to greater women’s participation, an upended economy, and one of the world’s highest birthrates. And, as one man noted, it is difficult to engage the 70 percent of Yemeni people who live in rural areas in dialogue about the future when they are struggling just to find the basics of life: food, health, water.

His comment makes plain the rising, complex humanitarian crisis facing Yemen. At a time of historic political transition, nearly half of Yemen’s population is without enough to eat, and nearly 1 million children under the age of 5 are malnourished, putting them at greater risk of illness and disease. One in 10 Yemeni children do not live to the age of 5. One in 10. This is a staggering and often untold part of the Yemen story: a story of chronic nationwide poverty that has deepened into crisis under the strain of continuing conflict and instability.

Unfortunately, in communities used to living on the edge, serious malnutrition is often not even recognized in children until they are so acutely ill that they need hospitalization.

On Saturday I visited Al Sabeen Hospital, where I met Amina, a 2-year-old girl who weighs a scant 11 pounds. She had enormous eyes and was silently perched on the side of the hospital bed, supported by her mother. The nurse caring for her told me the government of Yemen had just cut the hospital budget by 20 percent as it grapples with an economic crisis, forcing them to lay off critical staff.

While there, I announced an additional contribution of USAID humanitarian assistance, bringing the U.S. contribution this year to nearly $80 million, which enables us to increase families’ access to food, health, nutrition, and water sanitation programs. We have provided previous support to the more than 550,000 displaced Yemenis, and we are rapidly expanding our assistance to reach those in need throughout the country.

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Five Questions about the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition

Originally posted at Feed the Future.

1. What is the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, and who is participating?

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is a commitment by G-8 members, African countries, and private sector partners to achieve sustained and inclusive agricultural growth to lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years. It builds upon the progress and commitments made in 2009 at the L’Aquila G-8 Summit, and offers a broad and innovative path to strengthen food security and nutrition.

The New Alliance includes specific commitments from:

  • African leaders to refine policies in order to improve investment opportunities and drive their country-led plans on food security;
  • Private sector partners, who have collectively committed more than $3 billion to increase investments; and
  • G-8 members, who will support Africa’s potential for rapid and sustained agricultural growth, and ensure accountability for the New Alliance.

Read more about the New Alliance.

2. Does the New Alliance mean that the U.S. and other G-8 members will not meet their 2009 L’Aquila commitments?

Not at all! The New Alliance builds upon the G-8 commitments made at L’Aquila in 2009 and represents the next phase of investment in food security and nutrition. The L’Aquila effort in 2009 was critical in reversing decades of neglect of African agriculture by donors and governments. We’re going to sustain the commitments we made three years ago, and we’re going to speed things up, as President Obama has noted.

L’Aquila showed that we can marshal aid resources and that African countries can develop credible, comprehensive plans. But we need to accelerate our progress, which the New Alliance will do by mobilizing private capital, taking innovation to scale, and managing risk.

It’s important to keep in mind that the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative was about so much more than just money – it was a new way of doing development. Initiative leaders agreed to put their money behind country plans that had been developed and were owned by the developing countries themselves, and to increase investment in research and development, to better coordinate efforts, and to act both bilaterally and through multilateral institutions.

Read the G-8 Accountability Report, which tracks G-8 progress on fulfilling L’Aquila pledges.

3. What kinds of private sector companies are participating in the New Alliance?

The more than 45 companies making commitments at this time include both large and small American, African, and international companies. Most of the participating companies and associations have missions associated with agriculture or finance. A full list of the companies can be found here.

4. How much does this cost, and where is the money coming from?

President Obama announced last week that more than 45 international and African companies have committed more than $3 billion to specific agricultural investments spanning all areas of the agricultural value chain, including seed systems, fertilizer, irrigation, crop protection, extension and training, post-harvest processing and storage, agricultural financing, and infrastructure. This is new money committed by the private sector at the 2012 G-8 Summit and builds on public sector commitments made in 2009.

At the L’Aquila G-8 Summit, member countries and others pledged more than $22 billion for agricultural development and at the 2012 G-8 Summit they affirmed continued commitment to sustaining and disbursing these funds. The New Alliance will channel those efforts into the most innovative and productive ways possible to maximize results.

As a way to channel funds committed at L’Aquila three years ago, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) was set up as a unique partnership between donors, partner countries, civil society, and multilateral development institutions to scale up financing for agriculture in the poorest countries. It provides financing through a competitive process to countries that have technically sound agricultural development strategies in place.

The GAFSP has awarded $481 million to 12 countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia and will award approximately $180 million more this week.  The United States, which has contributed $301.4 million to the GAFSP, is likely to complete its $475 million pledge in the next year. We continue to support this innovative program as part of our commitment not only to food security but also to country-led processes and multilateral involvement.

Last week, the G-8 set a goal of securing $1.2 billion over three years in further contributions to the GAFSP from new and existing donors. The United Kingdom has publicly pledged $120 million toward this goal.

Learn more about the GAFSP and track commitments.

5. Which African countries are involved, and what are they committing?

At the 2012 G-8 Camp David Summit, the New Alliance initially launched in Ghana, Tanzania, and Ethiopia, and will expand rapidly to other African countries, including Mozambique, Cote D’Ivoire, and Burkina Faso. These countries are participating in the Grow Africa Partnership, a joint initiative with the African Union and the World Economic Forum to support the private sector component of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). Over time, the New Alliance will expand to other African countries that have demonstrated an interest and willingness to participate in the process.

These African countries have committed to major policy changes that open doors to more private sector trade and investment, such as strengthening property rights, supporting seed investments, and opening trade opportunities. G-8 members identified development assistance funding aligned behind these nations’ own country investment plans for agriculture, and private sector firms have laid out investment plans in the agricultural sectors of these countries.

Be sure to check out Feed the Future’s one-stop shop on G-8 announcements for more information.

Advancing Food and Nutrition Security – A Student Perspective

Written by Brendan Rice, Student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  Originally posted at the Universities Fighting Global Hunger Blog

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ annual symposium, Advancing Food and Nutrition Security at the 2012 G8 Summit, brought together G8 and African leaders, international organizations, businesses, and civil society to emphasize the importance of agricultural development and nutrition security.

As a student and a member of the growing Universities Fighting World Hunger movement, this event was incredibly powerful and motivating. As students, we frame hunger as a structural issue. Food price volatility and under-investment in agricultural sectors of developing countries are structural issues that continue the crisis of hunger. These underlying causes of hunger can seem infinitely enormous and complex, but the symposium leading up to the G8 Summit at Camp David gives context and invigorates the work that we all do towards making hunger a distant memory. At the symposium, leaders including President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and the rock star, Bono, showed that advancing food security is a priority. The work that we do on our campuses is not done in isolation. Instead, we are tapping into an energy that is now emanating from the highest levels of power.

At the symposium, President Obama laid out the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which builds off of the commitments made at L’Aquila. The new phase of this shared initiative towards global food security focuses on empowering agricultural growth through country plans, private sector involvement, and G8 commitments.

Framing hunger as a solvable problem is central to the work that we do as students. As a human family, we have the tools, resources, and knowledge to end hunger in our world of plenty. This issue is not necessarily about coming up with a solution. Instead, it is about advancing the steps we already know work to end hunger through creating the public and political will to do so. The symposium and Obama’s announcement set up a framework of global imperatives.

Despite the diverse ideas and sectors represented, there were a number of themes that emerged throughout the symposium, many of which were clearly outlined in Secretary Clinton’s closing speech. These included a focus on smallholder farmers, nutrition with a focus on the first 1000 days of life, and the importance of women in food security. The heads of state of Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania all made clear the importance of investing in the agricultural productivity of smallholder farmers, many of whom are women.

The framework is in place, and now it is time to move towards action. During his speech at the symposium, President Obama called for “all hands on deck.” Students and future leaders are central to maintaining the commitments made and continuing to demand a food-secure world. Secretary Clinton laid out the challenge succinctly in her speech at the symposium. By 2050, there will be 9 billion people on the planet, and agricultural productivity must increase by 70 percent in order to keep pace. Bono stated that this challenge can and will be met, but not without Africa. Bono reminded us that the issue of hunger sears our collective conscience, so as a collective soul, this challenge is one that we must confront.

Representing students from around the world, Universities Fighting World Hunger is moving through strong conviction and grounded motivation to end hunger. To borrow a thought from Secretary Clinton, what can hold us back can be as simple as “plain old inertia.” In this we find hope because as part of the next generation of leaders, the inertia of the morally outrageous status quo of 1 billion people going hungry will be replaced by the exhilarating possibility of a fair and just global food system.

New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition

Gayle Smith is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director at the National Security Council and Dr. Rajiv Shah is USAID Administrator.  This item was originally posted on the White House Blog.

This weekend, the leaders of the world’s largest economies and four African heads of state will come together at the 2012 G8 Summit at Camp David for a very different kind of discussion on Africa. Joined by private sector leaders for the first time, the President will host a dynamic discussion on global efforts to fight food insecurity and improve nutrition. In 2009 at the G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, President Obama and G8 leaders responded to the spike in world food prices and focused attention on strengthening food security to help countries end hunger. Reversing decades of decline in global agricultural development, L’Aquila committed leaders to supporting comprehensive plans designed by the developing countries themselves and built around smarter, more focused investments.

This weekend, the G-8 and African partners will launch the next phase of these efforts: theNew Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. The New Alliance is a commitment by G8 nations, African countries and private sector partners to lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years through inclusive and sustained agricultural growth.

Across history, the private sector has served as an engine of growth and transformation in nearly every country in the world. But although foreign direct investment flows to Africa now hover around $80 billion and trade has tripled over the last decade, this private sector boom has largely missed Africa’s agricultural economy.

This transformation – from aid alone to aid AND private investment; from just providing assistance to combining assistance and investment – is at the heart of our approach to the next steps of food security and why we’re placing such an emphasis on bringing in private capital and expanding access to markets.

More than 45 private sector firms—from large multinational companies like Yara International to small local businesses like Ethiopia’s Omega Farms—have stepped forward to invest more than $3 billion in African agriculture. And building on a decade of strong leadership, African countries are committing to specific policy reforms that shape a better environment for business.

Alongside them, donor countries are seeking to maintain their investments and accelerate implementation of country-owned plans. We are also supporting new advances in science and technology, like highly nutritious seeds that can withstand droughts and thrive in floods, and new tools to help poor farmers manage risk.  And the New Alliance is elevating an emphasis on undernutrition, which robs children of their lifelong potential and undermines investments in education, health and economic growth.

With this smart approach, working together, we can deliver real results for millions of families and help build a safer, more prosperous future for us all.

Helping Women Feed the World

Seema Jalan.   Photo: Women ThriveClose to a billion people worldwide go to bed hungry every night, and at least six out of ten are women. It’s ironic, because women in developing countries are largely responsible for feeding their children and growing the food that will feed their families. Around the world, the traditional image of a farmer is not a man on a tractor but a woman farming a piece of land about the size of a three-car garage.

That’s why we’re excited that governments, civil societies, universities, and private companies have begun investing in long-term programs to combat hunger and invest in farmers worldwide. Through the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative, women are being recognized as playing a major role in tackling global hunger.

Over the next few days, G8 leaders from the world’s biggest economies will meet on critical global issues, including the challenge of feeding the world’s seven billion people. Here are seven things we at Women Thrive believe any program—whether from government, an NGO or private company– have to do to succeed by reaching women.

  1. Work with female farmers, who often play very different roles than men in agriculture. Women often grow different crops, work at different times of day and have different priorities than male farmers. Coming up with a one-size-fits-all program usually means you don’t reach women farmers.
  2. Ensure property rights for women, so that they can actually own the land they farm and gain control over their crops. Over and over, I’ve seen that women work on the farm, but don’t see the income from it because it’s usually men who own the land and take the crops to market to sell.
  3. Increase access to credit and financial services, so that women can properly save, and purchase seeds, fertilizer, and other tools to increase their productivity.
  4. Provide women farmers with time and labor-saving tools, which would make farming, cooking, and marketing easier and would allow women to carry out their household and childcare responsibilities more efficiently.
  5. Enhance transportation and technology infrastructure such as irrigation and roads, which would save women time and increase their income. But make sure they are roads from villages to local markets, not just four-lane highways from export-processing zones to ports.
  6. Expand skills training to women farmers so that they are more successful and productive in their work. And that might mean going to train them in their homes instead of setting up a training station far away from the village when women have children to look after at home.
  7. Integrate natural resource management, which simply means teaching women how to conserve things like water, land, and fuel to increase productivity as well as preserve the environment.

Women in developing countries may seem remote and far away but the more I travel the more I realize how much we all have in common. Mothers around the world just want to the basic dignity to feed and provide for their families. And simple, targeted investment can have an enormous gain. If women can feed their loved ones and themselves with maize, cassava and plantains, they can transform their families, communities, and societies. And since women are the majority of farmers in some areas, this makes an enormous impact on food security. We will all be the better for it.

For more information about Women Thrive Worldwide, please visit: http://www.womenthrive.org/

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