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Archives for Food Security

Investing in Women to Defeat Hunger in Malawi

Submitted by guest blogger Anita McCabe, Country Director, Concern Worldwide, Malawi

As the hot, dry breeze wafts through the lakeside district of Nkhotakota, Malawi, a group of women sing as they take turns to water their near-ripe crop of maize. Further downstream, another group is busy making seed beds in preparation for another crop.

Like many women in developing countries, these women face a particular set of responsibilities and vulnerabilities when it comes to providing food for their families. Not only are they the primary caregivers, they are also the producers of food and the income earners. Women farmers in rural areas of Malawi grow, buy, sell, and cook food in order to feed their children. In fact, in all the countries in which I’ve worked during my time with Concern Worldwide, I’ve seen how very hard women must work to ensure the survival of their families, and the burdens they bear.

Women produce between 60 and 80 percent of food in developing countries, and they hold the key to tackling hunger and malnutrition. A woman’s nutritional status is critical not only to her own health but also to her ability to work, and her ability to ensure that her children are properly nourished and healthy.

Nkhotakota has suffered from recurring drought and flooding, and the people here know the consequences. “As a woman, it hurts to see my children cry with hunger” says Grace Kalowa from Thondo village. “It’s more painful as a mother to tell them that I don’t have any food to give them. In their eyes I am supposed to provide for them but knowing that I can’t do anything is heartbreaking. That feeling of desperation is what brought us together as women to drive hunger away from our families.”

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Making the Grade: U.S. Government Progress in Global Agricultural Development

Originally posted on DipNote, the official blog of the U.S. Department of State.
Ambassador Ertharin Cousin serves as U.S. Representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.

I am inspired by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ gathering of America’s most committed leaders from several professions to focus on global agriculture and food security. This Administration’s progress stems from bi-partisan support for results-driven, country-led, multi-stakeholder collaboration. When leaders such as Congresswoman Kay Granger, Bill Gates, Catherine Bertini, and Dan Glickman put their minds together, there’s no limit to the ingenuity applied to the substantial challenges we face in global agriculture and food security today.

There is no doubt that food security is vital to national security. In 2009, President Obama announced food security as a priority for the United States, and we are on track to meet our commitment of $3.5 billion over three years through the flagship U.S. global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. To do so, we take a multi-sectoral approach and build on areas where Americans have a comparative advantage. For example, we have tripled investment in agricultural research since 2008. At the Chicago Council event, Administrator Shah cited a two-thirds increase in funding for Title XII academic institutions to leverage expertise in capacity building, agricultural research and extension services, along with an intent to work through multidonor platforms seeking to strengthen lasting agricultural institutions. We invest in high impact solutions such as proven nutrition interventions that focus on women and children from pregnancy until the child’s second year — a critical 1,000 day window for cognitive and physical development.

We leverage our investments through multilateralism. Through my travel to Bangkok, I witnessed firsthand the impact of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization regional meetings on food price volatility to shift focus to knowledge-based solutions that discourage protectionist responses, such as hoarding and imposing export restrictions. We are working through the International Fund for Agricultural Development to boost investment for small holder farmer (including women) in developing countries. We are changing the way we address humanitarian assistance as well. By striving to best address of the needs of the most vulnerable and those in crisis, we have become the world’s fastest responder to food emergency through partnership with the World Food Program and civil society organizations. The World Food Program’s Purchase for Progress project demonstrates how markets can be created and augmented by sharing upfront knowledge and training and then stepping aside for private sector engagement. We continue to hear of new success stories around the world — from Ethiopia to Bangladesh.

While we strive for improved policy, strengthened institutions, and stronger partnerships, this Administration has succeeded in changing the playing field in agricultural development and food security. From farmers to policymakers, there is greater global coordination and collaboration to support country-led agricultural development plans. U.S. agricultural development investment now flows through a rigorous planning and evaluation process that will provide greater transparency and accountability to American taxpayers. We are also pioneering a women’s agricultural empowerment index to better track the impact of our work on women and girls. Never before have members from civil society, the private sector and government officials worked so intently to address global food security and deservedly so — the stakes are high and will continue to rise.

Food Security: Progress and a Way Forward

Today I have the privilege to participate in a discussion as part of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security: Progress to Date and Strategies for Success. The Chicago Council’s efforts have been instrumental in elevating global food security as a U.S. policy priority.  We are grateful to them for the opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made so far and remaining challenges we all face in tackling this issue.

At a time when food prices are reaching all-time highs, drawing millions into poverty and undermining global stability, it is critical that we maintain our focus on establishing long-term agriculture-driven economic development. And that’s just what Feed the Future, the U.S. Government initiative to address global hunger and poverty, is about.

In 2009, President Obama pledged $3.5 billion through 2012 for food security, signaling a new era of U.S. investments in agricultural development and elevating its importance. I am proud to say we are on track to meeting that pledge. We are:

  • Responding to country-driven priorities to maximize impact and sustainability.  We have supported focus countries as they have analyzed the evidence and consulted with stakeholders to determine their own investment priorities and developed solid strategic investment plans.
  • Launching innovative private sector partnerships.  We are partnering with major companies like Pepsico to source  products from farms in focus countries; working with retailers such as Walmart to establish supply chains for developing country crops; and collaborating with millions of smallholder farmers—the ultimate small business—to improve  yields, increase incomes and create markets . In Tanzania, for example, we are facilitating investments along the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor, a public-private partnership that will promote clusters of agribusinesses with major benefits for smallholders and local communities across one-third of mainland Tanzania.
  • Strengthening partnerships with U.S.  universities to address  critical research challenges to food security, including wheat stem rust, a disease that threatens wheat productivity worldwide. We are also supporting long-term partnerships to strengthen African agricultural universities and enable them to train the next  generations of researchers, extension workers and agribusinessmen and women.  

Investing in agricultural development and food security is critical to economic growth. It is also the right thing to do. From my perspective — as an agricultural economist, a civil servant, and as an American — that’s the kind of investment I am proud of.

This post and a number of other posts providing expert commentary on food security were crossposted on Global Food for Thought the official blog of the Global Agricultural Development Initiative.  Be sure to check it out!

 

Feed The Future Initiative In Tanzania – A Sustainable Agricultural And Food Security Approach

On the highest mountain in Africa one finds climbers attempting to conquer Kilimanjaro, as well as those who live in high-altitude villages struggling daily to grow food to feed their families. Small holder farmers use basic hand tools to work the land and have only a gambler’s chance of getting the adequate rain and sun necessary to grow their crops. If all goes well, they may be able to sell part of their harvest at a village marketplace or makeshift roadside display to generate income. This is no small accomplishment, as the tropical heat and wicker baskets used to transport produce to market spoils as much as 40% of each harvest. Summiting Kilimanjaro seems an easier undertaking than farming on its slopes.

The challenges facing small holder farmers are not limited to the mountain region: low-yields, inadequate storage processes and facilities, limited transportation infrastructure, and difficulty accessing credit and markets are problems that small holder farmers experience across much of Tanzania. These contribute to persistently high poverty rates and widespread malnutrition among under-five children (38% stunted and 22% underweight).

Feed The Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, focuses on specific countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  The Presidential Initiative will lift 18 million vulnerable women, children and family members – mostly smallholder farmers – out of hunger and poverty.  In Tanzania, USG assistance supports national strategies to reduce poverty and accelerate progress in achieving  the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by increasing agricultural productivity and profitability, and enhancing national and regional food security. USAID brings its technical expertise and capacity to lead Feed the Future in Tanzania and is working closely with other U.S. government stakeholders, including the State Department and USDA, through a whole-of-government approach.

This video explains some of the agricultural and supply chain challenges being addressed through Feed The Future to overcome existing farming challenges and build sustainable infrastructure, processes and market linkages to assist small holder farmers raise themselves and their families out of chronic hunger and poverty.

Meet Amit Mistry, AAAS Science and Technology Fellow at USAID

Amit is an AAAS Science and Technology Fellow at USAID.  He was recently interviewed by his former colleagues at Research!America for their blog New Voice for Research.

New Voices (NV): What do you do, and why is it important?

Amit: I am a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). I am working on the development and implementation of a strategy to combat global hunger and food security. Part of my job involves communicating technical information to non-technical audiences, keeping them informed and engaged in our activities. Another part of my job is connecting research programs to country programs that may benefit from the research. More broadly, my work supports a coordinated effort across the U.S. government to sustainably reduce global poverty and hunger.

NV: What’s the most exciting part of what you do? Any particularly interesting stories?

Amit: The most exciting part of my job is getting to see the impact of our agency’s work through the real people who are impacted by it. In September 2010, I traveled to Uganda for a few weeks and provided the local government feedback on its plan to strengthen the agriculture sector and reduce hunger. I met inspirational government leaders, researchers, and farmers who all shared the goal of lifting millions of Ugandans out of poverty.

NV: What is the biggest policy issue affecting your work? Describe how you’ve dealt with it, or even advocated regarding that issue.

Amit: One of the important challenges I face is working across multiple sectors, such as food security and climate change. These two sectors are closely linked and should be addressed comprehensively for the greatest impact. At USAID, I helped create a Strategic Integration Working Group, which brings together various sectors so they can share best practices. The group has developed recommendations for USAID that can improve our work across multiple sectors.

NV: How might the public misinterpret your work? Is there anything you want to clear up?

Amit: There is a misconception that U.S. investments abroad don’t have an impact on Americans. In fact, investments in foreign assistance have a far-reaching impact that affects our own economic security and national security. Our investments in foreign assistance build allies, strengthen trade partnerships, and create opportunities for American innovators and entrepreneurs.

NV: What’s your advice for someone in science who wants to get involved in policy, advocacy or outreach?

Amit:
My advice for someone interested in science policy is to strengthen your communication skills and practice communicating with different audiences, and for different purposes. Good communication skills are an incredible asset in science policy and will make you a more effective advocate or policy-maker. Also, I recommend learning the federal budgeting process because it is extremely helpful to understand, no matter where you work in the science policy world. Finally, I would encourage you to always promote the use of science-based decision-making in the policy area.

“What Do Rising Food Prices Mean?”

About the Author: Robert D. Hormats serves as Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs. Originally posted on Dipnote, the U.S. Department of State official blog

The United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization released figures this month showing that global food prices have risen 41 percent since June, primarily due to a combination of bad weather and an increase in global demand. The report has raised concerns about the possibility of a global food crisis, as occurred in 2007-2008. In response to that crisis, the international community, led by the G-8, committed to increase focus on food security and reverse the decade-long decline in assistance for agricultural development. That was the right solution then, and it remains the right solution now. The United States is a proud partner in this effort and is committed to supporting developing countries’ efforts through our $3.5 billion Feed the Future initiative.

Global food security is a top priority for the United States. We are deeply concerned about the pressure that rising prices put on the ability of the poor to purchase food. We are closely watching food prices and their impact on the poor, we are coordinating closely with other governments and international organizations, and we are taking steps to achieve long-term sustainable solutions to food insecurity.

First, it is important to recognize that there are important differences between the current situation and 2007-2008. World food prices have been increasing over the past six months, due to weather-related production losses and strong global demand. The growing demand is fueled by rapid expansion of middle-class households in emerging markets. Despite localized weather-related impacts, the supply side story is not dire: global wheat production is the third largest on record and carry-in stocks are 50 percent higher than in 2007-08. Good harvests of staples in Africa and Latin America have kept local prices of these products low. Record world rice production and the largest carry-in stocks in eight years have resulted in only moderate changes in rice prices. And finally, delivering these record harvests is affordable: ocean freight rates are less than half of the levels seen three years ago.

We learned a lot from the food crisis of three years ago, including the policies it takes to ensure food supplies without making the situation worse. We are working bilaterally and through multilateral institutions, such as the UN food agencies, the G-20, and APEC, to encourage all nations to pursue policies that facilitate agricultural growth and reliable trade flows. It is vital that we all maintain transparent, functioning markets and avoid export barriers, panic purchases, and inordinate increases in stocks, moves which will drive prices higher rather than temper them. Governments understandably want to ensure affordable food supplies for their people. They can best do this by putting in place targeted safety nets for the most vulnerable, and consider reducing import tariffs and taxes.

The long-run answer to meeting increasing global demand for food is agricultural growth, increased productivity, and improved markets, and this requires conditions that encourage investment in agriculture, particularly in the developing world. Many technologies, such as biotechnology, conservation tillage, fortification, drip irrigation, integrated pest management, and new multiple cropping practices, are raising the efficiency and productivity of agricultural resources, as well as the quality of agricultural outputs. By investing in agriculture using these technologies wisely, nations can reduce poverty and increase consumers’ access to nutritious and diverse foods. This is precisely the goal of Feed the Future — to support countries’ aspirations for inclusive economic growth, resilience to crisis, and ultimately food security.

Fruit and Faith

Senior Advisor Ari Alexander is in Ghana and highlights one of his field visits to a farm program.

Hello from Ghana where I had the privilege yesterday to observe the fruits of a great development success story in the Eastern Region of Ghana. A faith-based organization conceived, proposed, designed, and implemented a project to introduce fruit trees to smallholder farmers as a path to economic growth and sustainability. USAID through the use of PL480 Title II Food Aid resources supported this concept from 1997 until 2006.  Visiting with these orange and mango farmers five years after USAID’s support ended, the success of our cooperative investment is self-evident. The farmers now sustain themselves and contribute largely to Ghana’s economy.

The Adventist Development Relief Agency (ADRA) brought me to the farms in Somanya, Sikaben, and Akyem Sekyere where, originally, 1-3 acre plots were allotted to 5,424 different farmers in the region. Fourteen years after this program started, these farmers have organized into associations and are selling their fruit to local processing plants. Many of the farmers have expanded to dozens of acres.

Senior Advisor for NGO Partnerships and Global Engagement Ari Alexander meets with Mrs. Grace Mensah, a mango farmer on the ADRA site visit. Photo Credit: Joshua Umahi

The families have become frontline actors in a story of economic growth. More young people are finding farming an attractive possibility for a financially secure future.

I had the opportunity to hear testimonies of a village chief, a member of parliament who accompanied me, and ordinary farmers – men and women- about the transformative work led by ADRA with USAID’s support. The relationships developed and the trust built over many years enabled us to effectively connect smallholder farmers with local small businesses to complete the value chain.

Too often these stories are hidden under the fruit trees. The next time you’re in France, the UK, the Netherlands or Italy (or Ghana!) I urge you to try the fresh pineapple ginger juice from the farmers and factories of Ghana.

If you have found similar success stories, please share them with us at fbci(at)usaid.gov

Ari Alexander is Director for the Center for Faith-based & Community Initiatives and the Senior Advisor of NGO Partnerships and Global Engagement at USAID

Making Critical Connections: Agriculture, Nutrition, Health

By Kimberly Flowers, Feed the Future

Sometimes bringing together nearly a thousand development leaders and experts from around the world around an issue can spark a global movement. Last week I participated in a conference  hosted by the International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI) in New Delhi, India that was designed to leverage agriculture for nutrition and health. It was more than just a series of workshops and side meetings that merged experts from seemingly disparate fields. I believe it brought life to an already growing momentum. This energy and change comes at a crucial time when food security couldn’t be more critical in an increasingly interconnected world.

The momentum to link agriculture, nutrition and health across programs is greater than ever before, including at USAID. The newly created Bureau for Food Security, which is leading our food security efforts through Feed the Future, brings together both agriculture and nutrition experts. We know it isn’t just enough to increase the amount of food produced in developing countries. It is just as much as about ensuring access to quality, nutritious food and creating diverse diets in order for countries to combat hunger, poverty and undernutrition.

We know that women are the ones who can make this happen. Feed the Future works directly with small holder farmers. In Africa, nearly 80% of farmers are women; in Asia, women make up 60% of the farming workforce. In addition, women are the primary caretaker of the family, responsible for ensuring their children receive adequate vitamin and minerals in their first thousand days of life – the critical window of opportunity from birth to two years of age.

The 2008 Copenhagen Consensus – reached by a group of leading scientists and economists, including several Nobel laureates – found that 5 of the top 10 highest return solutions to global challenges closely relate to combating undernutrition. Improved nutrition is a critical driver for economic growth and poverty reduction. Strong nutrition in early life contributes to human and economic capacity through improved learning and productivity, and contributes to a robust, capable workforce. It also promotes gender equality and opportunities for women and girls, lessens susceptibility to other deadly diseases, and is critical to national prosperity, stability, and security.

Right now nearly 200 million children under age five and 1 in 3 women are undernourished. We can change this. Integrating agriculture and nutrition programs will create healthier, more productive and resilient communities by ensuring better access to better quality food.

Ambassador William Garvelink, Feed the Future Deputy Coordinator for Development, led the U.S. delegation at the IFPRI Conference in India. He made it clear that the U.S. is committed to investing in country-led strategies to combat the root causes of global hunger and poverty and that linking agriculture and nutrition is essential to make this happen.

Feed the Future launches Comprehensive Approach to engaging the Private Sector

By:  Tjada McKenna,Director, Private Sector and Innovation Office, Bureau for Food Security

At the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Administrator Shah proudly announced USAID’s support for the WEF’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative. This initiative is led by 17 global companies, including Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Monsanto, PepsiCo, and Wal-Mart to name a few that are Industry Partners of the Forum. The goal of this initiative is to utilize market-based solutions to increase production by 20%, while decreasing emissions by 20% and reducing the prevalence of rural poverty by 20% every decade.

Today, nearly 1 billion people go hungry everyday – half of them farmers – and malnutrition needlessly robs people of their potential to contribute to their families, their communities and society as a whole. Three-quarters of the poor live in rural areas, most relying on agriculture for their livelihood, with women contributing the bulk of farm labor. And now, these farmers face even tougher constraints as the world must produce more with less and the agriculture sector is entering a new era marked by scarcer resources, greater demand and higher risks of volatility partly owing to global climate change.

Standing alongside the CEO’s of Unilever and Monsanto, Administrator Shah committed USAID, through the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future (FTF) initiative, to promote the development of innovative, large-scale private sector partnerships in FTF focus countries to achieve significant impact on global hunger and malnutrition. This approach will bring together farmers, local businesses, supply chain companies, global corporations, local and national governments and civil society to promote sound investments in agriculture. USAID will support these partnerships by leveraging its own investments in agriculture-led growth in key corridors or breadbasket regions in FtF countries.

For example, USAID through FtF is supporting Tanzania’s Kilimo Kwanza Growth Corridor with an equity investment of $2 million in the Corridor’s $50 million catalytic fund, and is considering additional annual investments up to $10 million. The fund will help open up partnership opportunities for private investment in rural infrastructure (irrigation and rural roads), processing, research and training, institutional capacity building, and nutrition and is expected to leverage nearly $500 million in private sector investment.

In an effort to combat malnutrition, USAID also signed an Memorandum of Understanding with DSM Nutritional Products to work together to improve dietary quality across the developing world, starting with rice fortification in rice staple food countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, and Tanzania. DSM is a global material and life sciences company and a leader in the fields of human and animal nutrition with 70 years of innovative product development and application technology in vitamins and nutrient fortification. USAID will also tap into DSM’s expertise in efforts to improve the nutritional value, shelf-life, and nutritional test methods of food aid commodities.

Work together with FTF focus country governments, USAID will continue to promote the development of dynamic new partnerships directly with the private sector by facilitating the work of both local and private companies who want to contribute to new models of agriculture-led development. We stand ready to build new partnerships based on jointly defined priorities and focused choices to transform agriculture and drive food security.

‘Modern Development Enterprise’ – A Major Address by Administrator Shah

As featured in the White House Blog

Last week, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah gave a major address to over 200 non-governmental organizations, think-tanks, academics, and international development leaders hosted by the Center for Global Development. The text of the speech as prepared for delivery can be found here.  Dr. Shah’s speech on The Modern Development Enterprise addressed the current state of development and formally announced the Agency’s 50th anniversary.

In his speech, Dr. Shah recognized the important role of religious and community groups in providing assistance to those most in need around the world. I thought you’d be especially interested in the excerpts below:

  • American Values:  When we prevent violence in Southern Sudan, we’re not just avoiding future military involvement; we’re also expressing America’s values.  When schoolchildren organize bakesales to pay for anti-malarial bed nets, they are expressing America’s values.  When more American families gave money to the Haiti relief than watched the Super Bowl, they were expressing America’s values.  When church groups across America raise money and volunteer to support children orphaned by AIDS, they are expressing America’s values.
  • Communities of Faith:  I’m proud to know that USAID is one of CRS’s largest supporters.  But I’m also proud to know that we support a wide-range of faith-based organizations, from Samaritan’s Purse to the American Jewish World Service. Organizations of faith not only express the moral values of millions of Americans, they also provide some of the most dependable support systems for millions in the developing world. In Kenya for example, 30% of all healthcare services are provided by Christian Hospitals.  Our success depends on listening to communities of faith, connecting with them deeply, and supporting the vital work they perform around the world.
  • Food Security:  Instead of merely providing food aid in times of emergency, we are helping countries develop their own agricultural sectors, so that they can feed themselves.  We launched Feed the Future – bringing together resources across the federal government and engaging in deeper partnerships to extend the impact of our efforts.  We are now leveraging more investment from countries themselves and from other donors.  Firms ranging from General Mills to local African seed companies are all doing more.  As a result, in just five of our twenty focus countries we will be able to help nearly 6.5 million poor farmers – most of them women – grow enough food to feed their families and break the grip of hunger and poverty for tens of millions of people.
  • Global Health:  In our Global Health Initiative, instead of a scattered approach that fights individual diseases one at a time, we are pursuing an integrated approach that will generate efficiencies and strengthen health systems.  We are now working with partners such as the NIH, CDC and PEPFAR to leverage recent advances in science and technology, especially in high return areas such as vaccinating children, preventing HIV, malaria and TB and focusing on childhood nutrition during pregnancy and the first two years of life.
  • Smart and Transparent Investments:  I want the American taxpayer to know that every dollar they invest in USAID is being invested in the smartest, most efficient, and most transparent way possible.
  • 50th Anniversary:  This year, USAID will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Our legacy is filled with incredible accomplishments. Throughout those fifty years, we have contributed greatly toward ending an incomprehensible measure of human suffering, and I urge you to learn more about our Agency’s rich legacy through our newly launched anniversary Web site, http://50th.usaid.gov.  But if I am lucky enough to live another 50 years, I hope I am also lucky enough not to witness our centennial. Instead, I hope we will be commemorating the success of USAID’s mission.

Ari Alexander serves as Deputy Director at the Center for Faith-based & Community Initiatives and the Coordinator of Global Engagement.

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