USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Food Security

From Emergency Aid to Economic Empowerment

Last week, I traveled with four of my USAID colleagues to a drought-stricken area of Ethiopia as part of a larger visit to the Horn of Africa region. The worst drought the region has seen in 60 years has put more than 12.4 million people in Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Ethiopia in need of urgent assistance.

One purpose of our visit was to observe the drought emergency, but we were also there to determine how to better merge USAID’s drought recovery programs with long-term development programs like Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s multi-agency global food security initiative. It all seems simple enough, but the more we saw, the more we realized the complexities of our work.  As difficult as it is to feed people in the midst of a crisis, it is much harder to prepare them before a crisis so food aid will not be required in the first place.

The Bokko Health Center in Ethiopia’s East Hararghe Zone is a lone outpost in the battle against this drought. There we found 10 skeletal children clinging to their mothers, trying to take in as much therapeutic food as they could. I have seen many severely malnourished children over a career spanning 30 years, but it never gets any easier to see a child who is two years old but weighs only 10 pounds. You just can’t help but compare your own children’s robustness with the hard circumstance of these kids. Our job is to make sure these kids get the right foods to keep them alive and give them the chance to grow.

After three more stops to view a health center and two USAID-supported projects in topsoil restoration and pastoralist market support, we began to work our way back to Addis Ababa. We stopped at the small farm of Wozro (Mrs.) Terunesh.  A thin woman and a widow, with the distinctive neck tattoos of Oromia, Mrs. Terunesh is the quintessential entrepreneur. With help from a USAID-supported Land O’Lakes dairy livestock program, she now has two cows that give milk and help support her. But she hasn’t stopped there; she has moved on to raising chickens. She also formed a women’s group that uses drip irrigation to grow tomatoes and onions that bring in more income. Most importantly, she is the master farmer who teaches some 50 other local women how to be better farmers. She had the drive to improve her circumstances, and fortunately USAID could give her the training that she needed to go even further than she could have on her own. With women making up 70% of the agricultural workforce in many African countries, projects like the one helping Mrs. Terunesh are essential to lessening gaps in gender equality, women’s empowerment, and the welfare of women and girls.

Our trip took us from drought to terrace to land tenure to livestock to diversified smallholder. Seeing it all firsthand, we felt that we better understood how USAID is helping a very diverse set of actors improve their livelihoods. Ethiopia still faces the deepening pain of this drought, which continues to cause many children to struggle for their lives. But we are working to reach more and more of these children through our comprehensive programs, from therapeutic feeding to dairy, to make a lasting difference. Ultimately, we aim to help them develop the resources and capacity so that in the future, they are more resilient to the more frequent droughts plaguing the Horn of Africa.

A Mother’s Bond: My Visit to an Ethiopian Therapeutic Feeding Camp

I have a one-year-old little girl at home, just like Aisha, the mother I photographed during my visit to the drought-impacted region of Ethiopia. Just like this Aisha, I hope that I am nourishing my daughter’s body, mind, and spirit by providing her everything within my means. Unlike Aisha, my daughter weighs nearly three times more than her one-year-old little girl, and she has come to this therapeutic feeding camp because it is her best hope for food for her daughter and for herself.

A woman named Aisha holds her daughter at a therapeutic feeding camp in Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Aysha House-Moshi/USAID

While visiting Ethiopia last week, I saw examples of how USAID is serving the entire food continuum – food aid projects for the hungry, resilience projects for those able to work for food, and food security projects to support smallholder farmers who are delivering prized harvests to markets. All of these projects are making a difference, but as I looked at the growing numbers of hungry, risking their lives to migrate to camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, I couldn’t help but to focus on my fellow mothers risking everything to feed their children and feed our future.

I visited the Bisle Nutrition Site, which serves at least 7,500 mothers and children just like Aisha and her daughter. The community, mainly pastoralists, is in dire straits. Eligible mothers stand in line, with babies in tow, patiently awaiting food and water rations; while swarms of mothers of hungry children outside of the targeted age group wait for anything that can be spared. The men sit aimless, while elders, particularly the elderly women, are left to rely on the community to care for them.

The Bisle Nutrition Site, in the Shinile Zone, is located in the northeastern part of Somali Region of Ethiopia. It borders Djibouti to the north, Somaliland to the east, and Oromia to the south and west. In normal times, the Shinile Zone receives rain during March to May and July to September. But during this drought, the area i

A view of the camps. Photo Credit: Aysha House- Moshi/USAID

s bone dry and the heat so abrasive that it hits you in the face, pounding your skin with every slight movement.

As I drove away, I thought of the mothers and children at Bisle. I hoped that peace, rain, and life would fill their immediate future. I wished that the hunger would pass and the land would awaken from the drought.

USAID knows how to respond to drought, and we know how to provide for the immediate and the long-term needs of the hungry. We are poised to do more, and the United States and the international community will continue to work together to make a difference for those in need.

Day Two: On the Ground in the Horn of Africa

Earlier this week, I visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya, where thousands of exhausted and starving refugees have sought food, water and medical care after fleeing from famine-stricken lands in southern Somalia. The United States is providing life-saving help for millions of people across the eastern Horn of Africa, as the region experiences its worst drought in 60 years.

Although we will always provide aid in times of urgent need, emergency assistance is not a long-term solution. To address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition, we need to invest in agriculture, build strong markets and harness advances in science and technology. Spearheaded by USAID, President Obama’s food security initiative—Feed the Future—is helping countries develop their own agricultural sectors so they can feed themselves.

Together with Dr. Jill Biden and Senator Bill Frist, I had the opportunity to see some of the innovative work Kenyan scientists and researchers are doing to help transform agriculture in the region. At the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), we saw new drought-resistant seed varieties of sorghum, millet and beans, as well as a gigantic cassava root and the orange-fleshed sweet potato. Unlike other kinds of sweet potato common to the region, the orange-fleshed sweet potato is rich in vitamin A and helps children build resistance to river blindness. We also saw irrigation systems in affordable greenhouses that are designed expressly for smallholder famers.

Since pastoralist communities throughout the region rely on livestock for their livelihoods, we are helping protect animal herds through vaccine programs and accessible veterinary care. In Ethiopia, we are supporting a government-led safety net program that builds boreholes for water, constructs health clinics and educates vulnerable communities about nutrition.

These programs are already making a difference.  That is why—even though this is the worst drought in 60 years—it is not the worst famine in 60 years.

The circumstances are still dire, however. In Kenya, I heard from families whose crops and livestock had withered in front of them and who themselves were barely surviving. I know that there is another way. Feed the Future is making smart, cost-effective investments in agriculture to ensure we address many of the root causes of today’s crisis.  Together, we can shape a better, safer future for the region’s families.

On the Ground in the Horn of Africa

Eighty kilometers from Kenya’s border with Somalia, the Dadaab Refugee Complex—already the world’s largest refugee camp—has seen on average 1,500 exhausted and starving men, women and children arrive each day.  Fleeing from famine that is now gripping a large portion of southern Somalia largely inaccessible to aid workers, thousands of refugees have walked days—or even weeks—to reach help.  The United Nations estimates that over 12.4 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, including food, water and medical care, across the drought-stricken eastern Horn of Africa.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Dr. Jill Biden talking to a UNHCR worker in Dadaab. Photo Credit: USAID/East Africa

Yesterday, I arrived in Dadaab with representatives from across the United States Government, including Dr. Jill Biden, Special Assistant to the President Gayle Smith, Senator Bill Frist and Assistant Secretary of State Eric Schwartz.  The trip underscored the commitment of the U.S. Government—the single largest donor in the region—to respond to the immediate crisis with life-saving assistance and investments in long-term solutions to hunger. Ultimately, we know that it is smarter and cheaper to invest in food security than face the consequences of famine and food riots.

In Dadaab, we visited the Dagahaley camp’s reception center, where newly arriving refugees receive a medical screening and three weeks’ worth of food to tide them over until they complete a formal registration process. The USAID-funded rations include high energy biscuits, corn meal, vegetable oil, yellow split peas, salt and sugar.  Medical staff weigh the children and measure the circumference of their small arms to determine their nutrition status.  Today, the worst-affected regions in Somalia have the highest malnutrition level in the world, with nearly half the population malnourished.

Because the high rates of acute malnutrition make children extremely susceptible to deadly diseases, we are also aggressively pursuing public health interventions, including therapeutic feeding and immunizations.

New arrival family getting initial 3 week distribution (before formal registration). Photo Credit: USAID/East Africa

The Government of Kenya is working closely with the GAVI Alliance to administer pneumococcal vaccines to protect every child from pneumonia at the point of registration.

I met one Somali woman who traveled by donkey cart with her two children for 12 days looking for food. It is hard to believe that she counted among the lucky, as many families have lost children along the way.

It does not have to be this way.  With Feed the Future, President Obama’s initiative on food security, we are working with the Kenyan government and smallholder farmers to achieve sustainable, long-term and life-saving agriculture development.

Tomorrow, I will share with you some exciting innovations in agriculture that we saw on our visit to the Kenya Institute for Agriculture—innovations that could help ensure we never face another famine again.

Horn of Africa Drought: Immediate Crisis Requires Long-Term Solutions

Paul Weisenfeld, Assistant to the Administrator, Bureau for Food Security

In the eastern Horn of Africa, a massive drought has left over 11 million people vulnerable to severe food insecurity and in need of emergency assistance. USAID is working with the international community to ensure that critical assistance is mobilized to support those in need. But emergency assistance alone cannot solve the underlying causes of food insecurity in the Horn of Africa. Severe food insecurity in this part of the world is driven by cyclical drought, poor land management practices, limited availability of animal health services, food inflation, conflict over land and water, poor hygiene practices, and lack of dietary diversity. This is why my colleagues and I are so passionate about supporting Feed the Future, the U.S. government initiative to address the root causes of hunger and poverty.

In July, I visited the region and areas in Kenya where Feed the Future is focusing investments to sustainably address these challenges in the long term. As I traveled though the North Eastern province of Kenya, I met with local families, farmers, and livestock dealers; it was clear that they are facing serious threats to their livelihoods.  One family from the Mwingi region reported that it has not rained since last year and that there has not been a harvest since 2009.  They fortunately have a water source so they aren’t extremely food insecure—yet.  If the drought continues, this region is in danger of becoming severely food insecure, with dire consequences for its people.

With the frequency of droughts increasing over the last decade, it’s become increasingly difficult for people to recover from one shock before another one strikes.  Such shocks drive conflict over land and water, disrupt economic activity, and leave young men vulnerable to unemployment and recruitment into extremist groups, like al-Shabaab.  In such volatile conditions, food insecurity looms as an ever-present threat.   Yet even under severe circumstances, there are clear signs of the population’s resilience and determination.  I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Asha Adan Khalif, a mango producer and one of several women serving on a leadership committee for a communal farm in the North Eastern province.  The farm consists mostly of former livestock herders (pastoralists) who were forced to “drop out” of pastoralism after their livestock perished in prior droughts.  Since then, they have successfully converted to farming, with many of them exporting produce to the Middle East.  A third of the households on this farm are headed by women (who are the ones most often acutely affected by food insecurity) and the community includes a broad mix of families from different ethnic groups.  It was heartening to see how women’s leadership on this communal farm has contributed to diversity, security, and productivity among those families most vulnerable to the drought.

Our efforts through Feed the Future will be critical in the coming years to achieve sustainable food security for families like those I met in Kenya. In particular, Feed the Future’s work on developing drought-tolerant crops and promoting more efficient water management in Kenya will directly and positively impact incomes in the region and help to build household resiliency.  Other long term efforts to strengthen Kenya’s livestock market, improve livestock management, expand economic access and alternative livelihoods for women, and improve nutrition are just some of the ways in which Feed the Future can contribute to regional stability and support sustainable food security.  Already there are key interventions taking place on the ground, such as the Kenya Drylands Livestock Development Program, which is enhancing productivity and market competitiveness of livestock in Kenya to increase production for local consumption and marketing, and export trade.

As these kinds of programs become increasingly effective over time, USAID and its partners are striving to bring such interventions to scale, to ensure that Feed the Future has the greatest possible impact and increases resilience among vulnerable populations.

New Invasive Species Database: Supports Food Security and Public Health

By James Hester, Director of USAID’s Office of Natural Resources Management

African farmers lose more than $7 billion in maize crops from the invasive witchweed, according to estimates by the United Nations. Overall, agricultural losses to invasive species may amount to more than $12 billion for Africa’s eight principal crops. African farmers are not alone in this challenge – worldwide, invasive species are among the larger causes of reduced food production and post-harvest losses.

In addition, invasive species can be major vectors for human and animal diseases that were previously not found in a region.  Malaria, West Nile virus, Rift Valley fever, and Lyme disease are just a few of the many diseases that are spreading as the insects that carry them find their way into new regions and countries.

Africanized bees, fire ants, snakehead fish, kudzu, carp, water hyacinth, and thousands of other species are spreading to countries where they are not native, and in which few or no natural predators exist – creating serious economic and social issues.

To get a handle on this problem, USAID, along with a large group of partners, have collaborated to develop an innovative, international invasive species compendium – a scientific database of invasive species, animal diseases, and affected areas around the world.  This new internet-based system is available for public use at no cost.  It presently contains a bibliographic database of about 1,500 invasive species, along with more than 65,000 records and full text documents, both of which are updated weekly.

This is a living compendium, and it will continue to grow over time. It is structured to help scientists with expertise in invasive species communicate with each other, and to support each other – from across the globe if necessary – as they work to address the problems created by invasive species.  It also includes common names in addition to the Latin taxonomic names, as well as other non-technical materials so the general public can take advantage of the depth of knowledge this new website offers.

The website features a library with sections on the characteristics of invasive species, the way they are dispersed, and the impacts they have on economies, habitats, and societies. It also addresses how to detect, manage, and control invasive species. This video introduces the database and explains how to use it.

USAID, along with USDA and other international donors including the U.K. Department for International Development, the Canadian International Development Agency, and Australian Aid, among others, all helped fund this project. USAID’s partner in developing the technical database was CABI – a private, international organization with 46 member countries dedicated to the generation, accessibility, and use of knowledge for sustainable agriculture, environmental management, and human development.

U.S. Response to Drought in Horn of Africa

Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator, USAID

Here at the port of Djibouti, thousands of metric tons of food assistance are ready to be shipped as part of the U.S. response to the massive drought currently ravaging the Horn of Africa. USAID is mobilizing nutritious split peas, along with  vitamin-fortified corn-soya blend and other commodities, from warehouses around the world to assist the more than 10 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia most affected by the drought.

The USAID-funded Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) began warning of the possibility of this crisis as early as summer 2010. Today, it has developed into the region’s worst drought since the 1950s. Consecutive seasons of poor rainfall have resulted in failed crops, dying livestock, and sky-high market prices—the cost of staple cereals are 40 to 240 percent higher in some areas. Malnutrition has reached emergency levels: one out of every two Somali refugees arriving in Ethiopia and one out of every three arriving in Kenya is acutely malnourished.

This week, USAID activated a disaster assistance response team (DART) operating out of Ethiopia and Kenya to work with the World Food Program, UNICEF, and over a dozen other organizations to coordinate emergency efforts to relieve the crisis. So far this year, the United States has provided more than $366 million to respond to the drought in the Horn of Africa, and continues to explore additional ways to assist those in need.

Learn more about USAID’s response to the drought in the Horn of Africa.

Rural and Agricultural Finance in the Spotlight at Cracking the Nut Conference

By Shari Berenbach, Director of USAID’s Microenterprise Development Office

Some 600 million agricultural smallholders presently earn less than $2 per day – and the press is on to develop effective service methods that both lead to increased food production and food security.  Yet, we know a lot more about what doesn’t work to reach these households than what does. Last Tuesday and Wednesday, leaders in the field of rural and agricultural development and finance met in Washington for the Cracking the Nut conference to address this challenge. The conference, partially sponsored by USAID and coordinated by Anita Campion of AZMJ, aimed to accelerate the impact of the world’s leading rural and agricultural development and finance leaders, uniting them in a collaborative pursuit of learning, leverage, and large-scale change.

The name of the conference references the obstacles in this field – rural and agricultural finance has long been a tough nut to crack. However, as speakers at the conference emphasized, it doesn’t have to remain that way. The innovative application of new technology and ideas to finance has already opened up many opportunities for rural populations. One of the conference highlights was the discussion of different options for increasing banking services in rural areas.

In Kenya, mobile financial services are one means of reducing the cost of outreach to rural populations. Dr. William Jack of Georgetown University discussed this through the example of Safaricom’s M-Pesa service – M stands for mobile and Pesa means cash – which principally offers payments and money transfers through SMS technology. This method has the advantage of being able to increase coverage to a geographically widespread area at a more rapid pace than microfinance institutions (MFIs). Mobile financial services rely upon a network of agents with broad geographic dispersion, and can usually reach people more quickly. They can also team up with MFI institutions to bring a more complete range of mobile banking services. M-Pesa also has lower costs than other payment methods, making it an appealing choice for those with limited income.

With a focus on Latin America, Paul Davis of Pragma and Jorge Daly of Deloitte discussed how to increase bank outreach to individuals in rural areas. Davis discussed one method currently being used in Colombia: the expansion of branchless banking services. In 2010, 360 million transactions per month were conducted in Colombia using branchless banking. This underscores a shift in the attitudes of bank executives towards potential rural customers – once ignored, they are now seen as a profitable investment.

There is also the bottom-up approach of “nano-credit unions.” In Mali, isolated and rural populations, often dependent on rainfall agriculture and lands of diminishing productivity, have little or no access to financial services. Savings groups can act as credit unions to reach these people, according to Dr. John Ambler and Dr. Jeffrey Ashe of Oxfam. NGOs are a crucial partner in this process, because they can introduce savings groups without the larger capital requirements or the regulatory challenges of the formal financial sector. An added benefit to this method is that it also fosters social capital, especially for women, as it creates space for financial conversations and increased solidarity.

The ideas, connections, and impetus for improvement spurred by this conference will continue to develop, as donors, development practitioners, and financiers work to bring services to greater numbers of people and tap into potential markets. Cracking the Nut was one important step in that direction.

The Keys to Sustainability: Capacity Building and Country Ownership

Dr. Montague Demment is Associate Vice President for International Development at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and professor of ecology at the University of California, Davis. This item was originally posted on Agrilinks.

The big question for us all: How do we make agricultural development work and work sustainably? Perhaps the most important game-changer in my opinion is capacity building –both human and institutional – in agriculture and related sciences. Many in the development community agree that this investment was perhaps USAID’s most important and sustained contribution in its 50 years of existence, but now it has faded.

While outsiders struggle to understand how to work at the local level, deal with unfamiliar cultural and economic issues, and make appropriate connections, trained nationals can much more easily stimulate economic and social development. Their impact can be decades-long contributions and when combined with institutional capacity, can sustain development indefinitely.

While it’s true that there is brain drain, that is not the whole story. Two points: first, while some go, others stay. Some loss is no reason to abandon capacity building. We know how to minimize brain drain in the design of our training. Second, many trained individuals who leave initially return and apply their skills through joint business and research projects, investments in startups, and volunteering their expertise.

If we hold up country-driven development as a key element in our approach to FTF, then we need to support the capacity of countries to make their own wise decisions.

So if we want to set the stage for addressing poverty and malnutrition over the next 40 years, creating greater equality globally and having enough economic growth to stabilize human populations by 2050, then we need to find a way now to educate a whole new cohort of people from developing countries who will carry much of the intellectual and political responsibility for achieving those goals.

Senior Leadership Highlight the Importance of Research to the Success of Feed the Future

by Meaghan Murphy, Agriculture and Food Security Portfolio Manager at The QED Group.  This item was originally posted at Agrilinks.

Peter McPherson, President of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, opened the Feed the Future Research Forum welcoming the over 300 participants in the room. He highlighted the 10 themes raised through the e-consultation process that will be taken on through the forum, encouraging participants to think with specificity in the work sessions and throughout the three days, about the framework and partnerships needed to address them.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah reinforced this forum as an opportunity for the US government and USAID to continue deep listening, engagement with and learning from the convened community of experts. He challenged participants of the Forum to bring a lens of strategic focus and also discipline to identify the few “big ideas” and breakthroughs needed to guide the FTF research agenda.  He highlighted a new Leadership Initiative, announced earlier in the day which will support higher education initiatives and institutions, leadership development and capacity building. Administrator Shah proposed several hypotheses to be considered over the coming days, including a focus on dramatic change in four systems globally: 1) Rice and wheat system in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, 2) the Maize mixed systems of Central and Southern Africa, 3) Sudan and the Sahel, and 4) the Ethiopian Highlands. Also encouraged was a hard look at what type of research is invested in and an alignment of funding allocated to these priorities. Other hypotheses emphasized crop research (with focus on climate resistance), animal research, and research on human nutrition, as well as the importance of both public and private sector engagement in moving these forward. Finally, Shah highlighted the combined excellence of USAID and USDA  and the importance of strong partnerships moving forward for the common goal and purpose of Feed the Future.

Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director at the National Security Council, highlighted why this initiative is such a priority to President Obama and this administration and where it came from. She reinforced the theme of engagement and the critical role expertise from the broad community represented in the room will continue to play at all stages. Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of USDA closed the session highlighting both the great opportunity and enthusiasm of having such focus and attention on this issue from the very top as well as the very real challenges and the very difficult resource decisions facing us all.  Both underlined the emphasis on focus, partnership, and demonstrable wins to keep the support and continued momentum in place.

Page 14 of 20:« First« 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 »Last »