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Archives for Food Security

USAID in the News

Devex featured a piece about USAID’s new approach to tackling urban policy through the use of crowdsourcing. A public comment period will be made available on November 7 as a part of the Sustainable Service Delivery in an Increasingly Urbanized World program. By soliciting public opinion, USAID hopes to find new ways to encourage the formation of local solutions that will allow the agency to partner with city governments and community groups to build on expertise and bolster development efforts.

The Times of India reported on a USAID grant that was awarded to three Indian companies to help them share successful low-cost agricultural innovations with African countries. The grants come through the USAID India-Africa Agriculture Innovations Bridge Program, which seeks to improve food security, nutrition, and long-term sustainability by sharing Indian innovations with farmers in Africa who will benefit from them.

Administrator at at The George Washington University’s Feeding the Planet Summit, where he announced the Feed the Future Innovation Labs. Photo credit: Joslin Isaacson, HarvestPlus

Administrator at at The George Washington University’s Feeding the Planet Summit, where he announced the Feed the Future Innovation Labs. Photo credit: Joslin Isaacson, HarvestPlus

AllAfrica covered USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah’s announcement of 10 new Feed the Future Innovation Labs that will partner with American universities to tackle the world’s most challenging agricultural research problems. A part of the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, these labs will work to address the challenges of climate change in agriculture and research ways to produce food in an environmentally sensitive manner to ensure global access to nutritious and safe foods.

Zawya reported on a joint effort between USAID and the Caterpillar Foundation, which seeks to provide intensive technical training to youth in Jordan. The program equips trainees with the skills to fill technician-level positions in key industrial sectors of the Jordanian economy. Rana Al Turk, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) Jordan Country Director says that the program aims to fill job positions, “while providing youth with a comprehensive employability approach that includes the technical training and soft skills they need to enhance their employment prospects and lead successful lives.”

Citizen News featured a story on a USAID-funded program that provides students in Kenya with laptops to enhance their educational experience. According to Jaribu Primary School headmaster Mohamed Gedi, the project has triggered a spike in the performance of the 300 hundred students that benefit from the laptops.

The Express Tribune reported on USAID’s hand over of a state-of-the-art Expanded Program on Immunization Coordination and Planning Resource Center to the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation, and Coordination in Pakistan. The center is equipped with technology and software that will allow the government to track vaccine supplies throughout the country. USAID Health Office Director Jonathan Ross, who inaugurated the center, reaffirmed the U.S. Government’s commitment to improving health indicators in Pakistan through continued health development assistance.

Liberian Radio Offers Creative Solutions to Rural Problems

In rural Liberia, information typically moves through verbal communication. People living in rural areas do not usually write letters, read the newspaper, or watch television due to high illiteracy and lack of infrastructure. As a result, community radio stations are quickly becoming the simplest way to relay information to isolated communities. There are over 40 community radio stations throughout the country, some of which broadcast to as many as 200,000 people. Since the Liberian conflict ended in 2003, donor support has increased the capacity and financial sustainability of the major rural community radio stations and created an opportunity to deliver important messages via the airwaves.

In today’s Liberia, the agriculture sector represents over 60 percent of the nation’s GDP, however there are only 130 registered agribusinesses, a mere two percent of all registered businesses. Improved radio stations have created the perfect medium to reach rural listeners with agriculture and community development messages. In 2013, the USAID Food and Enterprise Development Program began harnessing both the medium and the message to help smallholder farmers. The program is part of Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

As part of its mandate to strengthen the agriculture extension delivery system, USAID has worked with 27 community radio journalists from 14 radio stations to promote the farming sector, agribusiness, and increase communication among radio listeners. The USAID program provided journalists with training to reach a larger audience involved with agriculture through community radio platforms.

“We can’t rely on these radio stations to replace agriculture extension delivery, but they play a major role in notifying farmers about program information as well as best practices,” explains Doe Adovor, USAID Food and Enterprise Development Extension Specialist.

‘Soil, the Bank’ debuts on KR 94.5

Radio journalist Chester Dolo in Ganta, Northern Liberia. Photo credit: Nicholas J Parkinson

Radio journalist Chester Dolo in Ganta, Northern Liberia. Photo credit: Nicholas J. Parkinson

Chester Dolo, 26, never set out to become a journalist. In fact, he is studying business management at the Liberian International Business College in Ganta, Northern Liberia. But he has kept his day job at the Kergheamahan Radio station because jobs aren’t easy to come by in his hometown.

After graduating from high school in 2007, Chester quickly rose through the ranks of the community radio station. He started as a broadcaster, moved to senior reporter, then to program manager, and finally to station manager. Chester has made a name for himself on the Ganta radio station and it has much to do with his reading and speaking skills.

“My father’s a reverend and he made me read scriptures at church every Sunday because I could read out loud,” he explains.

KR 94.5—as it is known—gives the people of Ganta and the surrounding areas plenty of talk radio, especially politics, culture, and the weekend’s football results. The community station was born in 2004 after the Liberian conflict but never broadcasted news and information about agriculture, the main livelihood of the majority of the listeners. Now, Chester is changing the radio’s programming.

A USAID training event emphasized agriculture issues and allowed journalists to work in groups and demonstrate their skills and creativity to create their first agriculture-based program. When the 10-day training ended, journalists returned to their radio stations armed with a new outlook on the role of agriculture and agribusiness in community radio.

“Prior to that [training], we didn’t think much about farmers as listeners. The radio is one way to make them see farming as a business and not just survival. We can share a lot of useful information,” Chester explains. “Liberians spend $200 million every year on importing rice. We journalists can create awareness towards growing our own rice for consumption.”

Chester Dolo on air. Photo credit: Nicholas J. Parkinson

Chester Dolo on air. Photo credit: Nicholas J. Parkinson

Every Wednesday night at 7pm and Friday morning at 9am the people in and around Ganta tune in to “Soil, the Bank”. The 30 minute program takes listeners to the farms in Nimba County to learn about the challenges and problems of farming in Liberia. Listeners hear interviews with farmers as well as USAID experts on rice, cassava, vegetable farming and animal husbandry. The program also involves agribusiness owners like fertilizer and pesticide suppliers to provide listeners a chance to ask questions. Experts also share ideas on finding markets for the region’s produce.

“A lot of farmers talk about being cheated by wholesalers. Now new buyers who want to find farmers and good produce can use the community radio to transmit their messages,” Chester explains.

After its first month on the air, “Soil, the Bank” is slowly gaining recognition. And as farmers and farm suppliers become more aware of the program, the radio station expects to sell more advertisements. Chester doesn’t plan to run the radio station his entire life, but if agriculture-focused radio can become successful, journalism might one day become a well-paid job.

From the Field in Madagascar: USAID Food Security Program Improves Livelihoods

As part of USAID’s 52nd birthday celebration, USAID/Madagascar shares a story of one woman who has benefited from a food security project. 

Sitting in the shade of an old mango tree, a group of villagers is intently listening to a middle-aged woman reading aloud from a booklet in her hands. The woman is Philomène, the ‘Treasurer’ of the local Village Savings and Loans association, and she is making her weekly report to the members.

Philomène (4th from left) volunteered to keep the VSL association’s books Photo credit: CARE International/Madagascar

Philomène (4th from left) volunteered to keep the VSL association’s books
Photo credit: CARE International/Madagascar

We heard about Philomène during a field visit to a food security project implemented by our partner CRS. The team was in a small village called Ampasimbola, in eastern Madagascar. Philomène is a farmer and she has been tilling the land for as long as she can remember. She is a single mother of six children, four of which are still in school.

Although Philomène puts a lot of effort into her work, she hardly produced enough food to feed her family. It was a challenge for her to make ends meet; on occasion, her children missed school to stay home and help her do farm work, her only source of income.

When USAID’s food security program started in Ampasimbola in 2010, Philomène did not think twice about joining the Village Savings and Loans association. She even volunteered to keep the books for the group. These village-level savings banks allow members to contribute some amount on a regular basis. They can then request loans with soft repayment terms and conditions. Philomène seized the opportunity to take out a loan and start a small restaurant offering doughnuts, coffee, fish, and even second-hand clothes to increase her income.

With hard work, Philomène’s restaurant quickly thrived. She soon had to choose between continuing farm work that brought home hardly any money, or focusing on a more lucrative and rewarding activity. She decided to drop farming— a savvy decision, because not only did she make substantial profits from the sale of food but she also received payments of interest from investing her savings back into the Village Savings and Loans association.

Philomène’s livelihood has improved and she is now able to send her children to school regularly, and pay for the annual school fees, Ariary 43,000 or about $22 dollars without any problem. The hungry season, which she had earlier coped with eight out of the twelve months per year, is today but a bad dream. Thanks to her contribution to the Village Savings and Loans association, Philomène extended her hut after two years and added a kitchen and a bathroom. She proudly bought new kitchen utensils and other household equipment, and was able to decorate her home.

I’m no longer alone. In our VSL group, we’re like brothers and sisters. We counsel one another, and we share knowledge and experiences. It’s a real new life for me!” says a proud Philomène.  In her spare time, Philomène engages in development and other social activities, and the community seeks her help for advice or assistance when visitors come to the village and seek accommodation for the night. Philomène can help because her hut is now large enough to put up guests. She is now, more than ever, an important member of the community.

Follow USAID Madagascar on Facebook and Twitter for ongoing updates in the region.

Join the #USAIDProgress conversation on Twitter and learn about our other successes!

Video of the Week: Partnering to Feed the Future in Ethiopia

As part of USAID’s 52nd birthday celebration, we highlight a Feed the Future partnership that is helping to improve nutrition in Ethiopia. 

Ethiopia has the highest cattle population in Africa, at 52 million, including 10.5 million dairy cattle.

In 2011-2012, Ethiopia produced 3.3 billion liters of milk but only about five percent of it was sold in commercial markets. Despite an active dairy sector, individual consumption of milk in Ethiopia is only 19 liters per year and child undernutrition rates are among the highest in the world.

About an hour and half drive outside of Addis Ababa, Project Mercy, a faith-based relief and development organization, owns a 350-acre dairy farm in Cha Cha, Amhara Regional State. Through its Dairy Cattle Breeding Program, Project Mercy has a vision to help improve the nutritional status of men, women and children and generate new incomes by cross breeding Ethiopian indigenous cattle with the local British Jersey breed.

Currently, Ethiopian indigenous cattle only produce one to two quarts of milk per day, which is not enough for the typical Ethiopian family of eight. As a result, the majority of children in Ethiopia do not consume milk, leading to malnourishment and other complications such as stunted growth.

As part of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative, the USAID Agricultural Growth Program-Livestock Market Development project is partnering with Project Mercy to help the organization achieve its vision.

Through this partnership, the project is providing technical assistance to beneficiaries before and after the dairy cows are transferred to local families. Technical assistance includes activities such as developing a farm management plan, hosting training sessions and improving animal feed production. All of these ensure that the crossbreed will achieve its highest levels of production and will increase milk production up to 12 quarts per day. In addition, the project is linking targeted households to new markets where families will be able to sell their milk products.

This project contributes to the goals of Feed the Future, which works to reduce poverty, hunger and undernutrition in 19 focus countries around the world. USAID is the lead agency for this whole-of-government initiative.

Watch the short video below to learn more about this partnership.

USAID in the News

Carribbean 360 detailed a new program launched by USAID to improve nutrition and access to locally produced foods in an effort to prevent hunger in the most vulnerable households in Haiti. A large focus of the program, which is a part of the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, will be on developing the agriculture sector in Haiti. Combined with the use of food vouchers, improved nutrition education, and better quality health and nutrition services, the program is expected to reach 250,000 households.

Food distribution in Haiti. Photo credit:  Osterman

Food distribution in Haiti. Photo credit: Osterman

Nehanda Radio featured a story on the $10 million increase in food assistance granted to Zimbabwe by USAID’s Office for Food and Peace. This funding will go to feeding the 2.2 million people who require food assistance in Zimbabwe, particularly during the hunger season, which is expected to affect 32% more people than it did last year. Melissa Williams, the USAID Mission Director in Zimbabwe said about the project, “Although the U.S. Government and other major donors are transitioning assistance in Zimbabwe from humanitarian relief to promoting sustainable development, humanitarian assessments continue to indicate that significant numbers of people in Zimbabwe still require seasonal assistance to meet their minimum food needs.”

The Nation (Pakistan) reported on a meeting between the Pakistani Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms, Prof. Ahsan Iqbal, and USAID Mission Director for Pakistan, Gregory Gottleib, where the Federal Minister praised USAID for economic and social support in the country and discussed important areas of study and focus to address as the partnership moves forward.

News Medical covered two five-year awards from USAID to International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) to advance new HIV prevention tools for women and ensure that they will be available to the countries where they are most needed. “Women urgently need a range of new tools that are tailored to their needs, and to the complex social, cultural and behavioral realities they face,” said Dr. Lee Claypool, USAID Biologist. “To beat the epidemic, we must continuously invest in innovative HIV prevention tools for women.”

CarDekho reported on a certificate of recognition given to Volkswagen India at the USAID-organized International Conference on Promoting Water Use Efficiency in Urban Sector to Address Climate Change. Volkswagen India received the recognition for eco-friendly measures they have taken to minimize their impact on the environment. Many of Volkswagen India’s initiatives have focused on adopting measures to reduce the consumption in fresh water, with scarcity being a problem in the area.

Meet the Experts: New Fellow Helps Feed the Future Apply Lessons Learned in Scaling Health Care Innovations to Agriculture

This originally appeared on Feed the Future.

Meet Jon Colton, a new Jefferson Science Fellow with USAID. While at USAID this year, Jon will support the Feed the Future initiative’s work to scale up promising technologies that help smallholder farmers improve global food security.

We talked with him to learn more about technology’s relevance to agricultural development, and how innovations in one field can end up helping others in unexpected ways.

Tell us a little about your research and academic interests.

As professor of mechanical engineering and of industrial design, I’m interested in how technology, specifically mechanical technology, can be used to improve people’s lives. I’ve worked on projects in the area of humanitarian design and engineering such as medical facilities, immunization equipment such as plastic hypodermic needles, cold chain equipment and facilities, farming tools, medical devices, bio-mass fueled stoves, and charcoal makers.

One of my current research projects, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is developing a refrigerated warehouse for drugs and vaccines in Tunis that will generate as much energy, via solar, as it consumes. This technology can also be used to keep food fresh until it reaches markets.

I also have a strong interest in polymer and composites processing. In fact, my colleagues at Georgia Tech and I are working with Boeing on the next generation of composite aircraft technology.

Your research involves using mechanical engineering to improve wellbeing, particularly in developing countries. What drew you to this work?

A friend from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drew me into this arena. He had spent six months at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva starting the Safe Injection Global Network to address the dangers of needle and syringe re-use and disposal in developing countries. Upon his return, he challenged me to design and fabricate a plastic hypodermic needle to replace steel needles.

Steel needles are reused in developing countries and cause 25 million cases of hepatitis each year. A plastic needle is easier to destroy, for example by placing in a flame. It can also be recycled into commercial products such as trash cans and car battery cases. We worked on the project for a number of years and now a company in Australia is commercializing plastic needles.

This led me to work on medical waste disposal in developing countries, in support of mass vaccination campaigns. One thing led to another and I was asked to join an advisory committee for WHO as the engineering member; most of the other members are doctors, epidemiologists, tropical disease specialists, and the like. Through this activity, I met folks from WHO, UNICEF, PATH, and other global health organizations.

Ending up working with Feed the Future was a surprise. I thought I’d be working in global health or water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) at USAID, but my experience happens to apply well to the needs of farmers in developing countries.

Smallholder farmer agricultural technologies, like irrigation, increase production and productivity of crops, like bananas in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: Bill Wamisley

Smallholder farmer agricultural technologies, like irrigation, increase production and productivity of crops, such as bananas in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: Bill Wamisley

How does mechanical engineering relate to Feed the Future’s work to help the rural poor, especially smallholder farmers, increase their incomes and nutrition?

Mechanical engineering is the conversion of energy to useful work, including the design, construction and use of machines. At Feed the Future, I’ll be looking into how machines (mechanization) can help smallholder farmers: those with farms that are too small for large machinery such as tractors, but too large for hand-based agriculture. I like to use the analogy that my yard is too small for a riding mower, but too large for a hand-powered reel mower, so I need something in between.

I’m interested in both technology transfer (moving technology from research to adoption in the field) and technology adaption (moving technology from one field to another—for example cold rooms from health care to agriculture—or from one location of application to another, such as from Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa).

I’m investigating how mechanical technologies, such as seed drills, two-wheel tractors, drip irrigation, no-till farming, weeders, threshers, and winnowers, can be applied to the sustainable intensification of farming—producing more food on the same land and with less manual labor.

If farmers can produce more food with less labor, they’ll have more food to eat, they can sell the extra food to generate income, and their children will have more time to attend school and become educated. All of these will help to break the cycle of poverty. [cont.]

Read the rest of the post.

Stay tuned for future installments in our “Meet the Experts” series. 

Behind the Scenes: Interview with Andrew Hoell on Dryness Conditions in East Africa

This blog is part of an interview blog series called “Behind the Scenes.” It includes interviews with USAID leaders, program implementers, Mission Directors, and development issue experts who help fulfill USAID’s mission. They are a casual behind-the-scenes look into USAID’s daily effort to deliver economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world — and the results we’ve seen.

When did you first become interested in climate research?

New England snow storms sparked my interest in weather at a young age. As an undergraduate, I attended the University of Massachusetts to study Meteorology. During my second year as an undergraduate, I became interested in how weather patterns behaved over the entire globe on longer timescales, climate time scales. I attended graduate school at the University of Massachusetts and worked on projects that linked Central Asia climate to the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans. The regional atmospheric circulations of Central Asia, the Middle East and East Africa are intertwined, so those are now my regions of focus.

Can you talk a little bit about how UC Santa Barbara and FEWS NET work together to explain the broader concept of food security?

I can only speak to the climate side at UC Santa Barbara. At UC Santa Barbara, we’re interested in how rainfall has recently changed over East Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia and what climate features have forced those changes. We take the lessons that we’ve learned from the recent changes and we draw conclusions about how the climate will change in the future.

When you first began researching climatic weather patterns in the Western Pacific Ocean, did you have any idea that your work would help guide future international development decision making?

I’ve been researching the links between the tropical western Pacific Ocean and the global climate since about 2006, my first year of graduate school. Initially, graduate students, including me, are usually focused on learning or pleasing their advisor. In 2008, I met Chris Funk of the Climate Hazards Group at UCSB, and we collaborated on a paper that investigated the links between the Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures and East African climate and how those links influence food security. This was the first time I considered that my work might guide international development and decision making.

What was the motivation for writing about drying conditions in the East Africa Horn? What did you and your team seek to explain?

Our overarching goal is to understand how climate variability influences East Africa. This paper is a very brief review that links recent changes in East African climate (since the late 1990s) to an abrupt warming in west Pacific sea surface temperatures. The video below explains more.

What sorts of technology and techniques did you use in this study?

In the beginning of our study, we show how the climate from 1999 until recently has behaved in terms of East African rainfall and tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures. From this, we were able to show that (at least) superficially that East Africa rainfall and tropical Indo-west Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures could be related.

In the second part of our study, we use an atmospheric model forced by observed sea surface temperatures to confirm that west Pacific sea surface temperature changes were influencing East African rainfall. The study can be found here (Article 15).

What’s next for you and your team? How will you continue to work with FEWS NET to explain climate patterns and its effects on food security?

Our team will continue to investigate what factors influence climate variability over East Africa, the Middle East (specifically Yemen) and Central Asia. We focus on a wide variety of time scales, from individual seasons to multiple decades. We are most concerned with changes on decadal time scales because they are most important to long-term food and water security. However, our understanding of climate variability for individual seasons is also very important because it is this climate variability that primarily forces short-term droughts and famines (e.g. 2010/2011 over East Africa).

Interested in learning more about one of USAID’s programs or want to hear from one of USAID’s leaders? We want to know! Please provide your suggestions below.

Meeting the President: How the United States is Helping Women Farmers in Senegal

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog

When I learned that I had been chosen to present my work with women farmers in Senegal to the president of the United States, the first thing I did was cry.

A minute later my thoughts cleared.

I have important things to tell President Obama, I said to myself, about how women farmers have benefited enormously from partnership with the United States.

Since 2002, I have been a member of a farmer organization of some 600 members—two thirds of whom are women—that works in 52 villages in the rural community of Mampatim, Senegal. I also work for a nongovernmental organization, supported by USAID through the Feed the Future initiative, that helps the group’s members succeed.

Anna Gaye prepares to demonstrate rice milling to President Obama in Senegal in June 2013. Photo credit: Stephane Tourné

Anna Gaye prepares to demonstrate rice milling to President Obama in Senegal in June 2013. Photo credit: Stephane Tourné

Farming in the valley

Since upland farming areas are traditionally farmed by men, our women members are obliged to work in the valleys, often under difficult conditions due to flooding. With little organization, many of these women worked very hard with negligible results.

Membership in our organization, known as an economic interest group, affords members like me legal recognition through which we can obtain credit. Historically, our group, called Kissal Patim, enabled us to cultivate small garden patches near village wells that provide off-season vegetables for market, as well as larger half-acre rice plots that yielded perhaps 200 kilograms during the rainy season.

But our partnership with Feed the Future got us to think much bigger. Feed the Future introduced members of Kissal Patim to several recently developed strains of seed that can produce yields as much as three times greater while using less water!

Meeting the president

On the big day, my mouth was dry as President Obama approached the booth we had set up to exhibit our activities, but he put me at ease right away. First, I demonstrated a traditional method of rice processing. I tried not to smile as he took the heavy ram from my hands and started pounding the pestle himself. “That’s painful!” the president said through his translator, examining his hands a minute later.

“That’s what women lived with every day before our partnership with Feed the Future,” I said.

That partnership brought, among other benefits, a portable, electric rice mill, which was also on display. The mill takes only 20 minutes to separate 40 kilograms of rice, which previously would take an entire day. The president was curious as to who actually owned the machine, and I explained our group manages it for our common use.

The mill, I explained, was very important to our progress. My fellow farmers and I were initially reluctant to grow more rice since the task of having to pound so much more would be huge. Our acquisition of the milling machines changed all that. We were free from the drudgery of the pestle.

The time saved also gives us more time to engage in commercial activities, such as the production and sale of palm oil and nutritious rice porridge made ​​with peanuts, not to mention time to prepare for the next growing season.

President Obama congratulated and encouraged us.

The visit was like a dream. The president of the United States! As soon as it was over, I was eager to get back to Mampatim and tell the story to my fellow women producers.

The visit had a positive impact on all our work: I feel more courageous and ambitious, and the photos I showed my colleagues inspired them to redouble their efforts in their production plots. It has created a spirit of competition among them all!

Begun in 2010, this partnership with Feed the Future through USAID’s Economic Growth Project has helped women access several new varieties of high-yielding rice, as well as introduce fertilizers that have further increased yields. Some of the plots have grown fourfold, up to an entire hectare, each of which yields and average of four-and-a-half tons. In the future, we hope to manage even larger plots.

(Translated from French by Zack Taylor)

This post is part of a series of posts by marketplace participants who met Obama in June 2013.

Additional Resources: 

Celebrating the Richness of Uzbekistan’s Harvest

I recently experienced the richness of Uzbek fruit at a USAID-sponsored local Peach Variety Contest in the Andijan Province of Uzbekistan. It was an unforgettable opportunity for me to witness the rich abundance of Uzbekistan’s land. Farmers came and presented their own samples from six provinces: Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, Namangan, Fergana and Andijan. It was difficult to believe that there were so many different varieties of peaches and nectarines! After a round of objective judging, the farmers with the best ones were awarded various farm tools as prizes. The event also served as an opportunity for farmers to learn new approaches for harvesting and post-harvest management of their produce, and female participants learned new techniques for processing their homemade jams and preserves.

Rural children enjoy prize-winning fruits of the Ferghana Valley at a USAID-sponsored agricultural contest. Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Rural children enjoy prize-winning fruits of the Ferghana Valley at a USAID-sponsored agricultural contest. Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

In rural and farming communities, word of mouth is the most meaningful means of information dissemination. Farmers are as curious and competitive as they are cautious; they are always interested in what crops their neighbors are growing, what approaches they use, and, most importantly, what results they achieve. These fruit contests are an important opportunity for local technical experts to share their knowledge with other farmers. For example, the household-level peach processing training conducted for Uzbek women during the Andijan peach contest will help them improve their family’s nutrition in the winter time. With over two-thirds of Uzbekistan’s population residing in rural areas, agricultural development is crucial to increasing local economic opportunity and addressing rural poverty and food security.

The history of private farming in Uzbekistan is very new; it has been only seven years since the production cooperative farm organizations (shirkats) were disbanded and all farm production responsibilities were transferred to private farmers. Since then, USAID agricultural projects have been at the cutting edge of providing Uzbekistan’s new private farmers with a strong production-based set of technology transfer activities that positively impact farm level quality and productivity. During our first year of this project, USAID introduced 3,000 farmers to new production techniques that, at a minimum, doubled crop yields and resulted in up to six-fold increases in sales. This agricultural assistance in Uzbekistan has increased some farm incomes by up to 80 percent through improved agricultural techniques.

Although prizes were given to farmers with the best varieties of peaches presented at the contest, one could see that there was not only competition among farmers, but collaboration among them as well. It was inspiring to see them discussing the characteristics of different samples that were presented; their advantages and their weaknesses; sharing their own experiences and knowledge; and offering tips to each other. A majority of farmers and their families attend variety contests because they learn something new that will help to improve their family’s nutrition, decrease spoilage and increase their profits. After most variety contests, farmers arrange for visits to each other’s farms to continue exchanging information and learning from each other. Winning farmers are inundated with requests for transplants and grafting material from their prized plants. For me, this is a classic example of how USAID fosters events with lasting results. The connections that farmers make with each other and the skills they transfer will continue beyond the life of any one project.

Additional resources:

Optifood: A New Tool to Improve Diets and Prevent Child Malnutrition in Guatemala

This blog is part of a series to coincide with A Promise Renewed in the Americas: ”Reducing Inequalities in Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health Summit“ during September 10-12 in Panama.

What does it REALLY take to ensure young children get the proper nutrition to grow strong and healthy? This is an especially important question in poor rural communities in Guatemala, where about half of the children under five years of age are stunted (too short for their age—a sign of long-term deficits in the quantity and/or quality of food, including the right vitamins and minerals).  In some parts of western Guatemala, more than eight in ten young children are stunted.

Woman feeds her child. Photo credit: INCAP

Woman nourishes her child. Photo credit: INCAP

Now there’s a new tool to help answer the question:  Optifood is a computer software program, developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance III Project (FANTA), and Blue Infinity, that provides scientific evidence on how to best improve children’s diets at the lowest possible cost using locally available foods. Optifood identifies nutrient gaps and suggests food combinations the local diet can fill—or come as close to filling. It also helps identify local foods’ limits in meeting nutrient needs and test strategies for filling remaining nutrient gaps, such as using fortified foods or micronutrient powders that mothers mix into infant or young children’s porridge.

The Government of Guatemala is fighting stunting through its Zero Hunger Initiative, which aims to reduce stunting by 10 percent by 2015 and 24 percent by 2022 through nutrition, health, agriculture, and social safety net programs. The U.S. Government and USAID are supporting these efforts through Feed the Future and Global Health Initiatives focused on the Western Highlands. USAID/Guatemala asked the USAID-funded FANTA/FHI 360 to help find strategies to improve the nutritional quality of children’s diets in the region. The challenge was to develop realistic and affordable diets for children that both meet their needs and are firmly based on scientific evidence. FANTA worked with its local partner, the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP), to collect the diet data needed for Optifood from communities in two departments of the Western Highlands, Huehuetenango and Quiché. FANTA then used Optifood to analyze the information.

The Optifood analysis found that a combination of locally available foods including tortillas, potatoes, beans, eggs, green leafy vegetables, and a fortified cereal known as Incaparina, along with mother’s breast milk, could satisfy children’s nutrient needs, except for two nutrients required for children 6-8 months—iron and zinc. Optifood results showed that adding a micronutrient powder, known locally as Chispitas, would help make sure these very young children get enough iron and zinc.  It is important to note that the Guatemalan Ministry of Health already provides Chispitas in some areas, but it does not yet reach all parts of the country where it is needed.

Woman tends to crops. Photo credit: INCAP

Woman tends to crops. Photo credit: INCAP

FANTA then found out how much this diet would cost and whether families in the Western Highlands could afford it. One feature of Optifood is it provides cost information and can identify the lowest-cost diet that meets or comes close to meeting nutrient needs. Optifood found that it would cost about 25 to 50 U.S. cents a day to give this improved diet to a child 6–23 months old in Guatemala. At first, this may not seem like much money, but for the 51 percent of the population in the Western Highlands who earn less than US$3.15 a day, it amounts to 8 percent to 15 percent of their daily earnings.

Next steps in the process include testing the diet to see whether mothers can really feed it to their young children. We’ll be asking questions like, “Do mothers have any difficulties? Is cost really a problem? Are the recommendations hard to understand or follow? Do children like the combinations of food?”

Once the diet is found to be practical, feasible, and affordable, FANTA will work with partners to develop a strategy and plan to promote the recommended foods in the right combination, quantity, and frequency to improve children’s diet intake as well as promote the use of Chispitas to help meet iron and zinc needs.

FANTA is also working with the Government of Guatemala, USAID, development partners, and the private sector to make fortified foods for young children even better and test their nutrient levels with Optifood. FANTA is collaborating with the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock to develop extension messages and materials to support production of the nutritious foods identified by Optifood, disseminate messages and improve practices through USAID-funded Feed the Future demonstration sites, with support from INCAP. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, FANTA will also help health workers (through an e-learning program) and community health workers learn about and promote the Optifood diet, and as needed, FANTA will provide additional ongoing training and technical expertise.

Optifood, which will soon be available for free download on the WHO website, is a truly powerful tool that can strengthen Guatemala’s ability to help its children thrive and reach their full potential.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDGH from September 10-12 for live tweets and Facebook content from the conference. Follow the hashtag: #PromiseRenewed or #PromesaRenovada.

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