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Archives for Food Security

The Power of Wheat: Honoring Borlaug’s Legacy

By Dr. Rob Bertram, Director of the USAID Bureau for Food Security’s Office of Agricultural Research and Transformation

We don’t often stop to think about how much the global  food supply depends on dedicated researchers who work to ensure bountiful harvests for farmers—and indeed for everyone who eats.  Thanks to the vision and work of Dr. Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Prize-winning agricultural scientist, and that of other dedicated researchers, wheat fields in the U.S. and all across the globe have a fighting chance against some of the most dangerous crop disease threats to emerge in decades.

This critical connection was very clear in St. Paul, Minnesota, earlier this week during the annual meeting of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI). I was honored to deliver a keynote address on Monday at the BGRI meeting, which brings together experts from international research centers, universities, national research programs, and governments to collaborate about approaches against the threat of wheat stem rust, which can quickly spread and destroy crops. Dr. Borlaug worked tirelessly to curtail this threat, and bred rust-resistant wheat varieties to help protect people all over the world from devastating disruptions to the global food supply.

His research inspired me, and I am proud of the men and women who continue to make his vision of ending hunger a reality. At USAID, we are leading the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. Our research strategy emphasizes the need for smart investments and global vigilance against wheat stem rust – including monitoring for new strains of it. One of the things we are particularly excited about is the launch of a new state-of-the art greenhouse in Minnesota that USAID and USDA are funding through Feed the Future. It will enable USDA’s researchers to help overseas partners identify disease threats in samples from sent from wheat-producing countries across the world, and will strengthen international research efforts funded by the U.S. and other donors. Because these threats know no borders, this doesn’t just protect the global food supply – it is critical to the health of domestic crops, too.

During the BGRI meeting, attendees visited the University of Minnesota’s research laboratories. As an alum, I can appreciate how much the university has grown since I was a student. Yet there is still a really strong ethic of science in the service of humankind – Dr. Borlaug, who was also educated here, was a shining example of that, and it is amazing how many Minnesota scientists have helped combat crop diseases.

The attendees at the BGRI meeting are from all across the U.S. and indeed many countries around the world – many of which benefit from USAID programs. Going forward, these are some of the emerging leaders with whom we can consult with as we implement food security programs.

We are excited about hosting the Feed the Future Research Forum next week in Washington, D.C., where we will unveil the results of a series of consultations with such leaders and incorporate their input into our broader efforts.

Next week also marks the announcement of the World Food Prize winner, who will join the ranks of leaders recognized for their extraordinary efforts to advance human development by improving global food security.

This week’s BGRI meeting and next week’s events serve as a reminder about why Feed the Future investments in research are so important. They range from supporting the success of individual scientists to building the capacity of research institutions to enable the next generation of researchers to become leaders in their field.

Our goal is for these investments to build on the legacy of Dr. Borlaug’s work and enable us to effect change as we implement our vision – much inspired by his – for global food security.

Planting the Seeds To Feed the Future

Cindy Huang serves as Senior Advisor to the Office of Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative in the U.S. Department of State. This post originally appeared on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State official blog. 

Sunday was a big day for the Administration’s flagship global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. Secretary Clinton was here in Tanzania and broke new ground…literally! In a visit to Mlandizi Town, Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Pinda launched Feed the Future in Tanzania and commemorated the event by planting sweet pepper seedlings in the fields of the Upendo Women’s Group. USAID supports group members to raise incomes and improve nutrition by providing training and technologies, such as high quality seeds and simple irrigation systems, resulting in the increased sale and consumption of vegetables. Upendo’s chairwoman told me that the biggest benefit of the group’s shared greenhouse and land is that the women now exchange ideas and solve problems together that lead to greater productivity on their own plots. USAID also helps the women access financial services and markets so they can continue to grow their businesses.

We’ve all heard that we should eat our vegetables to stay healthy, but adequate nutrition is especially important for pregnant women and children under two — a 1,000 day window of opportunity when nutrition has irreversible impact on lifelong cognitive and physical development. Along with the resources to grow more nutritious local vegetables like leafy greens and sweet potatoes, our program partners provide nutrition education to Upendo’s women, helping to build a long-term foundation for the community’s health and prosperity. Secretary Clinton highlighted the connections between agriculture and nutrition: “I was pleased to hear that already the diversity of crops here is making a difference in the nutritional status of your children. And we think that is a very good result. We hope that you will become not only a model for the country, but you will become a model for all of Africa.”

Under the old shady tree where the women of Upendo hold meetings, learn about agriculture and nutrition and sell their produce, Prime Minister Pinda — a strong supporter of agriculture whose nickname is — “son of the farmer” — spoke about the importance of Tanzania’s partnership with the United States in food security. Both Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Pinda discussed the importance of elevating nutrition as a critical component of food security and referred to a productive meeting earlier in the day with the Irish Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore. At that meeting, Secretary Clinton expressed her gratitude that the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement and 1,000 Days partnership is creating momentum in Tanzania and around the world. Because improving nutrition “requires coordinated activities by many different public, nonprofit, and private entities,” Secretary Clinton highlighted her strong support for Prime Minister Pinda’s announcement of a high-level nutrition steering committee that will include development partners and civil society.

The Secretary’s message of country leadership and broad-based partnership was echoed in a video address presented yesterday at a 1,000 Days civil society meeting in Washington, D.C., organized by Concern Worldwide and Bread for the World — yet another example of cooperation between Ireland and the United States. In the video, Secretary Clinton referred to the special meeting on nutrition in Tanzania and also unveiled the redesigned, which will serve as a platform for the global nutrition community to share ideas, lessons learned and notes from the field. All in all, it was a packed two days that highlighted the nutrition community’s progress on the ground and around the world.

Nutrition and Food Security: What Matters Most

Every day, two billion people in the world do not consume enough nutrients to live healthy, productive lives. As the head of the Bureau for Food Security at USAID, the magnitude of this number – two billion – is why I am so serious about my work. As a father, another number resonates with me: 200 million. That is the number of kids who suffer from chronic undernutrition worldwide. This is a serious issue that contributes to chronic hunger, poverty, and susceptibility to disease.

That’s where my work – and that of my colleagues from across the U.S. government, private sector, civil society, and host-country governments — comes in. Building on decades of support for development programs, the U.S. is strengthening partnerships and integrating its global nutrition and agriculture investments like never before. Nutrition is the defining link between the U.S. Feed the Future and Global Health initiatives, which aim to reduce undernutrition through integrated investments in health, agriculture, and social protection.

There are countless reasons why this is important: Good nutrition can be a critical driver for economic growth and poverty reduction. Nutrition programs can empower women and girls by increasing their access to assets and education. By linking our agriculture and nutrition programs, we contribute to healthier, more productive and resilient communities by ensuring better access to better quality food, which increases the quality and diversity of diets. Our efforts also improve accessibility to water and sanitation and health systems, and support better nutritional practices in the household.

I was honored to participate today in a panel focused on the critical 1,000 day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday at a panel discussion during Bread for the World’s 2011 National Gathering conference. Children suffering from undernutrition in this period face physical stunting and mental impairment that cannot be reversed, so later in life they suffer poorer performance in school and lower incomes. That’s not something I take lightly; nor does the U.S. government. We are strategically focusing our nutrition efforts on this 1,000 day window to help ensure that pregnant mothers and their children are afforded a better, healthier, more prosperous and happy future.

I want that for my own daughter, and for those 200 million kids, too.

We need to work together, pushing for innovative and creative solutions to undernutrition and food insecurity. I look forward to meeting next week with some of the brightest minds in agriculture and food security at the Feed the Future Research Forum in Washington, D.C., as we collaborate to do just that. In the weeks and months ahead, together, we can make an impact in the fight against hunger and poverty – and in the lives of millions of people across the globe.

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?

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)

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

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