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Archives for Food Security

Building Our Legacy

Originally posted at Feed the Future.

A week ago, against the backdrop of the Olympics, I witnessed history. I was there not for the Games, but for the Global Hunger Event, which was co-hosted by U.K. Prime Minister Cameron and Brazil Vice President Temer.

The event brought civil society and private sector partners together with leaders from across the globe—and even a few Olympic heroes including in incomparable Mo Farah—to commit to championing for change against global hunger.

At the top of the list of priorities that emerged: Making significant gains against undernutrition before the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Just as is true for Olympians to be at their best, we know that adequate nutrition—especially in the critical 1,000-day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday—is key to a healthy, productive life. However, two billion people in the world, including nearly 200 million children under 5 years of age, suffer from undernutrition and its irreversible effects.

The good news? We can change this. And we are already taking the steps needed to do so.

Through Feed the Future, we support countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur inclusive economic growth that increases incomes and reduces hunger and poverty. We are integrating nutrition and agriculture programs, and have set ambitious targets that contribute to the World Health Assembly’s new global goal to reduce the number of stunted children by 40 percent by 2025.

If it sounds like a big undertaking, it is. We have the know-how and tools to make a difference. But we can’t do this work alone. We need strong global partnerships to champion that our generation’s legacy should include the not “heroic,” but simply “human,” act of ending huger.

It’s why we work with partners like Pepsi, HarvestPlus, DSM, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition to foster private sector-led innovation and public-private partnerships that can strengthen agriculture value, spur productivity, and develop more nutritious foods that are accessible to the poor. And we know that our civil society and NGO partners are critical to making this a reality.

That spirit of partnership is what drives the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which was announced by President Obama just prior to the G8 Summit this year. A commitment by G8 nations, African partner countries and private sector partners to support agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa, the New Alliance aims to lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty in the next 10 years.

What I realized at the Global Hunger Event was that the momentum we’ve all created—through Feed the Future, the New Alliance, and this event—is real. Next year, the G8 presidency will transition from the United States to our friends in the United Kingdom, and I couldn’t be more thrilled that food security and nutrition, as evidenced by the Global Hunger Event, will continue to be a clear priority.

In the days ahead, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania will host workshops to kick off New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition Cooperation Frameworks. These workshops will bring host-country government partners, African and G8 country government officials, international donors, private sector partners, and civil society groups together to focus on the implementation of actions to accelerate country plans and priorities for improved food security and nutrition.

The fact that so many leaders from so many sectors are committed and working together toward a common goal is groundbreaking. It is the stuff of history. In our day-to-day routine, it’s easy to get caught up in the details and miss the big picture: We’re making progress on incredibly urgent and important issues like hunger, poverty and undernutrition.

If we all continue to champion these efforts, and work alongside our colleagues, partners, and heroes to fight hunger, what will our legacy be?

Investing in Africa’s Smallholder Farmers

Recently, an idea has circulated that there is a fundamental contradiction between President Obama’s model for African agriculture and the model set out by the distinguished Africa Progress Panel (APP) under Kofi Annan’s leadership.  As head of the USAID Bureau leading a major part of the President’s Feed the Future initiative, an unprecedented effort supporting smallholder agriculture, nutrition and food security, I would like to present a differing opinion. The argument assumes that the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is meant to bring what has been called “giant agribusiness” into Mozambique.

The New Alliance is actually about increasing the financial resources, technical capabilities and access to markets and new technologies required to help smallholder African farmers become successful, grow more food, increase their incomes and thereby help lift 50 million people out of poverty.

Why is Feed the Future’s approach focused around helping smallholder farmers? Evidence in poor countries from around the world demonstrates that smallholder agriculture can be more efficient than large farms, and that investment in improving smallholder agriculture is the best way to create income at the grassroots level, generating demand for goods and services that create a broader base of jobs and incomes in rural areas.

Creating these opportunities for smallholder farmers – giving them the means and technologies to move into 21st Century, high-productivity farming – requires the investment and market savvy that the private sector brings to agriculture. We have learned from experience and recognize that private sector entities – as suppliers of agricultural inputs, buyers and processers of agricultural products, marketers of finished commodities, and sources of beneficial new technologies – must be front-and-center in any sustainable approach to improving the opportunities and incomes of Africa’s smallholder farmers.

Involving the private sector also contributes to solving another problem: inadequate investment in Africa. Despite the US$1 billion in annual support that the President has provided for smallholder agriculture since 2009, donor funding cannot and should not be the primary source of funding for Africa’s economic growth, a point on which Annan’s Panel agrees. At best, donor resources are only catalytic, paving the way for sustained and responsible private investment.

The APP and President Obama are both concerned about increasing the pace of private investment to contribute to the growth rates required for sustained poverty reduction in Africa. One early result of the New Alliance is commitments by private companies (including Cargill and 47 other international and African-owned companies) to more than US$3 billion worth of new agricultural investments in Africa. Some of these are American and international multinational firms, all of whom have committed to the spirit of the Principles of Responsible Agricultural Investment and the U.S. Government-chaired FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure of Land, Water, and Forestry in the Context of Food Security, but many of them are also local companies of varying size, not “giant agribusiness.”  Of the companies investing in land, the primary model is using a smallholder contract farming or outgrower model.  Further, all companies in the New Alliance have committed to working with smallholder farmers, with current targets of reaching at least four million farmers.

Agriculture is a complex and risky undertaking; for that reason, many private firms don’t feel comfortable investing in African agriculture as opposed to other economic opportunities. The ability of the G8, under President Obama’s leadership this year, to leverage $3 billion in private investment into the sector should be the beginning of the much greater investment that Africa needs to achieve the growth targets of the African Union and the APP and to reduce poverty.

However, we do agree there is potential danger of smallholder farmers losing out from careless, poorly planned investment and the need for rigorous safeguards, and we will work hard to ensure fairness and a laser-like focus on improving the lives of smallholder farmers. But President Obama’s approach, the G8 New Alliance and the African Progress Panel under Kofi Annan’s leadership are not in disagreement. All three agree that the private sector can bring to bear investment, technologies and innovative spirit to benefit Africa. This will help create the opportunities, access and markets that Africa’s smallholder farmers must have in order to thrive and grow, and will establish the basis for even faster growth and higher incomes. We must support and embrace responsible private-sector investment in African agriculture in order to achieve these goals as soon as possible.

Championing a Food-Secure Future

Paul Weisenfeld is the Assistant to the Administrator for Food Security

We’ve seen a lot of amazing feats the past few days as the 2012 Olympics take place in London. Team USA (and maybe I’m a little biased) has been particularly impressive: The U.S. women’s soccer team wins its third consecutive gold medal while team player Abby Wambach joins the agency’s team as our first Development Champion, where she will raise awareness about USAID’s work to improve the lives of young women and girls through sport around the world. Michael Phelps becomes the most decorated Olympian of all time. Allyson Felix gets her gold. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings establish themselves as the greatest beach volleyball duo of all time. And the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, complemented by Gabby Douglas’ bright smile, steals our hearts as they support each other to seal a spot in history. It’s a wonderful moment to take pause and feel proud to be an American – and a global citizen.

And as the Olympics draw to a close, the UK, which takes presidency of the G8 next year, is hosting a Global Hunger Event to channel the Olympic spirit to inspire us all to remember that all children deserve a chance to achieve their dreams. With a focus on food security and nutrition, the event is symbolic of renewed – and critical – global attention to the issue of hunger.  It is also another reason for Americans – and citizens all across the globe – to feel proud.

Since the 2009 G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, where President Obama called on global leaders to focus efforts on advancing global food security, we have made great strides in helping some of the most vulnerable communities become more prosperous and healthier by strengthening their agricultural sectors. We’re supporting these efforts in the U.S. through Feed the Future, the President’s signature global hunger and food security initiative.

With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth that increases incomes and reduces hunger and poverty. It also reduces undernutrition, which limits the potential of children and communities. We should be particularly proud to support this effort and our focus on improving nutrition especially in the 1,000-day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday, which is so critical to cognitive and physical development.

Our efforts are driven by country-led priorities and rooted in partnership with donor organizations, the private sector, and civil society to enable long-term success. This past May at the 2012 G8 Summit, President Obama announced a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which aims to lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty in the next 10 years. We are proud to support this effort through Feed the Future, and excited that New Alliance Cooperation Frameworks will be launched in the weeks ahead in Ethiopia, Ghana , and Tanzania, which will solidify this joint commitment at the country level.

We are also excited to build on the progress we’ve made so far. With our support, for example, rice farmers in the poorest region of Bangladesh have yielded their first-ever surplus of rice; we’re boosting milk production in Malawi; and we’re harnessing the power of science and technology to deliver transformational agricultural research, like drought and disease-resistant tolerant seeds, so that we can help reduce devastating crises like last year’s drought in the Horn of Africa.

There is still much work to do both around the world and here at home. We are reminded of this now, as our thoughts are with U.S. farmers and ranchers across the United States during a time of significant drought. Right now, USDA is focused on helping producers who are impacted, and has worked with the Obama Administration to strengthen rural America, maintain a strong farm safety net, and create opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers.

So maybe I am a little biased. But I’m proud that we can support each other and nations around the world. As we cheer on the accomplishments of the athletes who have convened in London, we should celebrate our collective achievements to date in helping make the world a little brighter. And we should commit to staying the course so that for all of us, the future is golden.

USAID Hosts Annual Ramadan Iftar

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.

Last night, together with USDA, we hosted our 10th annual Iftar—a tradition also reflected in the field as Missions host dinners in recognition of this important time. As President Obama has said, Ramadan is a chance to honor a faith known for its diversity and commitment to the dignity of all human beings. A faith deeply rooted in its commitment to caring for the less fortunate and reaching out to those in greatest need.

These are values that are reflected in the founding of our own nation, the vibrancy of our diverse national community, and in the work USAID does every day across the world.

Around this time last year, we were working together to respond to devastating drought in the Horn of Africa and address the urgent needs of 13.3 million people across Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya. Although the worst of this particular crisis is over, we know that 1 billion people still go to bed hungry every night across the world. And we know that there are steps we can take right now to alleviate hunger and malnutrition and lay the foundation for a safer, more prosperous future.

That is the vision of Feed the Future,  President Obama’s global food security initiative that brings together the expertise of a range of U.S. agencies. Today, we are:

  • Bridging our long-standing commitment to humanitarian assistance and food aid with increased investment in agriculture, nutrition, and governance;
  • Harnessing the power of science and technology to deliver transformational agricultural research, like drought and disease-resistant tolerant seeds;
  • Supporting safety nets and innovative insurance programs that are the backbone of farming in the United States.

We are also working to dramatically increase private sector investment in agriculture—bringing companies, local smallholder farmers, and partner governments together to lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty and hunger in a decade.  So far, more than 45 global and local companies have committed more than $4 billion—to expand seed production and distribution, establish small-scale irrigation systems, and source for food for global supply chains.

Our focus on strengthening food security isn’t just limited to Africa. In the Middle East, we’re working closely with smallholder famers to improve the efficiency of water and land use. This effort is especially critical in a region already classified as water scarce—which possesses less than one percent of the world’s renewable freshwater resources. At the same time, population growth rates in the region are averaging over 2 percent, increasing pressure and competition for resources.

Launched in 2010, the Middle East Water and Livelihoods Initiative works across eight countries to connect American universities and their local counterparts with the smallholder farmers who need that information the most, spurring joint research on important issues like desalination, irrigation, and energy with the ultimate goal of helping farmers grow more food with less water.

Challenges like water conservation and food security are immense, but we know that we are more than equal to the task if we harness the ingenuity, passion, and commitment across the world.

That’s the idea behind open source development. Development that doesn’t dictate answers, but paves the way by bringing the creativity of the entire global development community to bear on today’s problems.

By doing so, we not only overcome the greatest challenges of our time, we continue to lift up the values that are celebrated during the month of Ramadan—and that we carry with us every day in our work.

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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