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World Water Day

As the Global Water Coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), I spend a lot of time thinking about water and figuring out ways to ensure we help more people have access to more water. It’s not an easy problem and one-size fits all solutions do not apply. Instead, I’ve found that the best solutions require catalytic problem solving and outside-the-box innovations, open collaboration and creative competitions. And it requires taking a closer look at previously overlooked sources of water.

 In Burma USAID and P&G partner to provide clean drinking water and promote sanitation practices for some of the country's most vulnerable.

In Burma USAID and P&G partner to provide clean drinking water and promote sanitation practices for some of the country’s most vulnerable. (Photo: Kelly Ramundo/USAID)

Last week, millions of people globally celebrated World Water Day and one of life’s most basic requirements – water.  A building block of life, water is also at the core of sustainable development and is linked to every major development challenge. The focus of this year’s World Water Day was the nexus between water and energy, underscoring the crosscutting nature of this issue.

World Water Day banner

World Water Day 2014

Today, I am pleased to say we are seeing greater emphasis on this “nexus” approach as more and more people focus on holistic, integrated approaches to water challenges; looking at linkages that include water and energy; water and health; and water and agricultural production and health.

We announced the launch of a couple of brand new efforts that I believe are redefining the way USAID invests in water. I’m particularly excited about the new Desal Prize, an innovative prize we are launching in partnership with the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of The Netherlands (MFA-NL) to identify small-scale, low-cost solutions to brackish water desalination.

Brackish water is what you commonly find in ponds.  It’s thick, it’s murky, and it’s not exactly something you’d want to drink. However, with estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population could be living in severe water stress conditions by 2025, brackish water is increasingly being considered a viable source of water for crops, livestock, and even human consumption.

The Prize, which won’t officially open to applicants until May, will award up to $500,000 in prize money and $75,000 in “seed” money to individuals or organizations that develop cost effective, energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable desalination technologies that provide safe water for drinking and for livestock and crops in developing countries.

Ten to 12 semifinalists will receive $5,000 as seed money to test or further develop their device. From this group, select finalists will receive an additional $5,000 to continue their project in the field before a judging panel selects the awardee(s) of the $500,000 grand prize.

The Prize is part of the $32 million Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development. Launched at the 2013 World Water Week in Stockholm, Securing Water for Food aims to source, incubate, and accelerate innovative solutions to produce more food using less water around the world.

In addition to the prize launch, we also announced the 83 semi-finalists from Securing Water for Food’s first $15 million open call for innovations. The semi-finalists were selected from over 500 applicants from 90 countries, 70 percent of which were developing countries. The 83 semi-finalists are working on groundbreaking water technologies and new financing products to improve water access. You can go to securingwaterforfood.org/SWFF-semifinalists.html to see the full list of semi-finalist organizations. Awardees, who will be announced later this year, will receive between $100,000 and $3 million in funding and business development assistance.

The Cost of Corruption

Many consider corruption to be an unavoidable cost of doing business around the Middle East and North Africa. The costs of corruption are obvious, and widely acknowledged. It is commonly accepted that corruption limits development, siphons off critical development resources, causes citizens to lose confidence in their governments, and undermines the region’s progress toward democratic reform. In spite of this, many just assume that corruption is here to stay, and that there’s little ordinary citizens can do to push back.

USAID-supported youth CSO coalitions share perspectives on constitutional reform, youth representation in parliament, and other government initiatives affecting youth.

Credit: USAID/K. Rhanem

In recent years, USAID has played a key role in supporting regional anti-corruption efforts. In partnership with Transparency International, we launched the ACTION program – Addressing Corruption Through Information and Organized Networking – in order to study corruption in the region and develop a roadmap for addressing it. The project examined corruption in Yemen, Morocco, Egypt and West Bank/Gaza. Last fall, activists from around the region gathered to present a series of case studies detailing examples of corruption, the costs corruption imposes, and potential solutions.

A critical first step in addressing corruption is ensuring that regional legislation protects citizen access to information. As Palestinian journalist Ahed Abu Teima observed, “access to information, and the provision of information to journalists, reporters and the media, is one of the most important factors in the success of anti-corruption efforts.”

The project documented how existing legislation in all four countries limits access to information critical to identifying corruption, for example through secrecy laws in Egypt and Morocco. As a result, citizens and citizen groups are unequal partners in their relationship with government institutions, undermining a country’s democratic development. Adequate legislation is a necessary first step in the battle against corruption. “The only way, the best way, to end corruption is to establish transparency on a broad scale. That isn’t going to happen without the passing of a law,” said Egyptian professor Khaled Fahmy.

ACTION launched an anti-corruption portal that for the first time provides Middle East and North Africa-region activists, academics and media professionals with research and action-oriented tools and resources. The project also developed a series of video case studies profiling anti-corruption activists in each of the four countries.

Initiatives such as ACTION are making a difference. In 2011 Morocco included language ensuring access to information in its constitution, and in 2013 drafted a corresponding law. In 2012 Yemen enacted an access to information law and may include it as a constitutional right. Prior to the change in Egypt’s government in July 2013, the government had drafted an access to information law and included the right in the 2012 constitution. Egyptians are now waiting to see how these commitments are carried forward by the transitional administration.

Disclosure of governmental activities and access to information are core principles of open government and democratic reform. They are essential tools in battling corruption, and promoting accountability, transparency and integrity. Through efforts such as our partnership with Transparency International, we are helping to lay the long-term foundations for a successful transition to democracy around the Middle East.

Meeting Water, Food and Health Needs in Kenya

On this World Water Day 2014, I am encouraged by how USAID’s water programs around the world contribute to integrated approaches that meet the objectives of the Agency’s Water and Development Strategy, as well as the Feed the Future and the Global Health Presidential Initiatives. During my recent work in Kenya with the USAID team at Kaputir and Kalimngorok, I was able to see first hand the efforts to strengthen Kenya’s resilience to disease, climate change, drought, floods and water shortages.

Across Kenya, USAID’s AIDS, Population, and Health Integrated Assistance Plus (APHIAplus) program is working to strengthen and improve healthcare systems. In Kaputir, the APHIAplus Integrated Marginal Arid Regions Innovative Socialized Health Approach (IMARISHA) project supports a health clinic and a Community-Led Total Sanitation project.

Photo Credit: Martin Mulongo

Photo Credit: Martin Mulongo

As I walked up a slight slope to the village of Kaputir, the first thing I saw was the gigantic masonry water tank that holds 13,000 gallons of water situated next to a one-story, concrete block clinic with maternity, pharmacy, consultation and emergency rooms. The front of the clinic has a small porch on which children and adults sit in a long line, partially shaded from the sun, waiting for their turn to receive basic medical care. The clinic staff proudly showed me their microscope, as well as their solar-powered refrigerator used to store medicines and blood samples.

Photo credit: Martin Mulongo

13,000 gallon water tank in Kaputir (Photo credit: Martin Mulongo)

Also as part of APHIAplus IMARISHA, the nearby community of some 6,000 people is working to achieve “open defecation-free” status. For example, the house right next to the clinic is leading the charge by being the first to add a pit latrine; it has a slab covering the hole, surrounded by a thatched fence and a “tippy-tap” handwashing device with water and soap.

In the same community, another project implemented by the Millennium Water Alliance, through their partner World Vision, supports a large water storage project connected to a nearby borehole. The combined efforts of these programs ensure integrated water, health, sanitation and hygiene services, which in turn reduce the prevalence of diarrhea, a major contributor to childhood mortality.

As we drove into the Kalimngorok area, we looked out at the flat, brown, dry landscape with few bushes and no rivers or streams in sight. At first glance, I wondered how one could grow anything here. In the distance I saw a large water catchment, built to capture and store rainwater for both human and livestock consumption and irrigation. A secondary benefit of the catchment is that water has seeped through the earthen floor, helping to restore groundwater underneath. At the base of the catchment, the community has installed a substantial metal pump on a concrete slab to draw water from the restored aquifer. In the surrounding fields, farmers experiment with different crops resistant to drought, using soil tillage techniques to increase the capture of rainwater when the rains arrive.

WFP Irrigation project in Turkana -Kalemngorok

WFP Irrigation project in Turkana -Kalemngorok (Photo credit: Martin Mulongo)

We also visited USAID’s Turkana Rehabilitation Program in Kalimngorok, implemented by the United Nations World Food Program, which integrates rainwater harvesting technology and food production through a range of water management practices. I walked through the fields observing construction of on-farm contour bunds (embankments) that capture rain as it falls on fields and increases yields, and the building of water pans (shallow retention ponds that store water for irrigation and watering livestock).  The program also promotes improved nutrition by establishing fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, diversifies income through bee keeping, and reduces environmental degradation through establishment of micro-catchments.

At both Kaputir and Kalimngorok, I am left with the sobering firsthand realization of the challenges of assisting thousands of people in this arid environment. But I am also left with a sense of optimism. We saw progress in action in capturing and storing water, providing healthcare, navigating the lack of an electrical grid and producing crops in such an arid environment. USAID/Kenya’s approach of layering, integrating and sequencing its technical interventions and projects brings hope that over time these activities could be expanded and provided at scale, changing the lives of thousands of people for the better.

Registering for Democracy in Yemen

Yemen is poised to launch a high-tech Biometric Voter Registry (BVR) system representing a significant step forward in the development of a credible voter registry in that country. During my recent visit to Yemen, I met with the chairman of Yemen’s Supreme Commission of Elections and the Referendums (SCER) Judge Mohammed Hussein Al-Hakimi to learn first-hand about the opportunities and challenges that exist for Yemen’s upcoming electoral processes.

During her recent visit, USAID DAA Elisabeth Kvitashvili practices registering with Yemen's new biometric voter registration system.   Photo credit: USAID

During her recent visit, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Elisabeth Kvitashvili practices registering with Yemen’s new biometric voter registration system.
Photo credit: USAID

For a country with previous voter registries acknowledged to contain duplicate and under-age voters, as well as “ghost” voters, the use of the new registry will generate a list of voters that is far more rigorous and less susceptible to fraud. Past voter registries were compiled manually and took upwards of two years to complete.

Funded by international donors, including USAID, the registry is a public sector IT project with software procured in Yemen and ranks among the most sophisticated in the world.  I was eager to try it out and so I was fingerprinted–both hands–on a screen that “captured” my fingerprints and then photographed with special eye recognition technology.

The new biometric registration process will generate a far more accurate voters list. It will also provide the government, in particular the Civil Status and Registration Authority, with the basis to complete their civil register and assist in the issuance of a national identity card.  To our knowledge, this is the first biometric voter registration project undertaken in the Middle East and North Africa region and is on par with recent, high-quality projects, such as one developed in Kenya last year.

The registry is housed with the SCER which is charged with carrying out the registry in advance of national elections scheduled in the next year. The elections will follow a constitutional drafting process and referendum, both of which will receive major technical support from USAID.

As an essential foundation for a modern civil Yemeni state, the country’s upcoming constitutional referendum is an important process of giving citizens an opportunity to register their opinion on the outcomes of the recently completed National Dialogue Conference.

Improving Agriculture to Help Lift Nigerian Families Out of Poverty

Alex Thier (far left) looks on as a Nigerian farmer checks the starch level of his cassava crop. (Photo Credit: USAID)

Alex Thier (far left) looks on as a Nigerian farmer checks the starch level of his cassava crop. (Photo Credit: USAID)

Standing at the gates to the Nigerian cassava processing plant, Thai Farms, we held our breath while watching a local farmer anxiously weigh a sack of his latest cassava crop. Cassava, a starchy local staple crop, takes 12 to 24 months to grow, but begins to rot after only 48 hours out of the ground.  So for this local farmer, transporting and being able to quickly sell his crop is essential to getting a good price.

To determine purchase prices, cassava is weighed and then tested for starch content through a simple, yet ingenious method of submersing the cassava tubers in water to test buoyancy. The higher the starch content, the more cassava flour is produced and the more money the farmer earns per kilo. The farmer breathed a sigh of relief when the starch content turned out to be high enough for the factory to buy his produce, but not high enough to fetch the best price.  The farmer left relieved, but somewhat disappointed and hopefully inspired to plant improved varieties next season.

In Nigeria, more than 70 percent of the population earns their livelihood from agriculture and 70 percent of the MARKETS II farmers live on less than $1.25 each day. By giving these farmers the tools to improve their harvest and connecting them with buyers, USAID is helping the farmers earn a higher selling price that is essential to increasing their household income and lifting their families out of extreme poverty.

a fish pond

Fish swim in one of many fish ponds at the USAID supported Timmod Farms in Nigeria. (Photo Credit: USAID)

Thai Farms exemplifies the MARKETS II model of connecting local farmers to new markets and technologies. However, there are several other local agri-business enterprises boosting the economy in Nigeria. Timmod Farms, for example, is a Nigerian success story. The farm was established in November 2004 with just four ponds of fish and is now one of the leading fish processors in Nigeria. Timmod Farms produces a smoked catfish that is well-known in the local Nigerian market and has been recognized by the Federal Department of Fisheries in Nigeria. The extremely entrepreneurial owner, Rotimi Omodehin, keeps adding new parts to the business, but is also concerned about the potential for further growth. Every step on the value chain suffers from some fundamental constraints, especially reliable access to energy and credit. These producers pay three to five times the price of energy from the grid to power their enterprises with expensive diesel generators. This is necessary as the power supply from the utility is unreliable and surges can damage expensive equipment. Credit, meanwhile, is hard to get at all and often costs 20 to 25 percent annual interest making loans hard to get, very expensive and very risky. To really enable small famers and small enterprises to drive inclusive economic growth, these problems will have to be addressed.

USAID has the opportunity to pull farmers out of poverty by sharing best practices in agriculture activities and focusing on value chains as a whole. Let us know what programs have been most successful for you or share your local stories of success.

Building Skills and Promoting Collaboration among the Middle East and North Africa’s Budding Journalists

I have a rule of thumb when looking at the democratic transitions underway around the Middle East and North Africa. When the press is open and objective, I am optimistic. When it’s muzzled and biased, I am concerned. At its best, an objective and professional media can hold accountable government and business leaders, and educate and inform citizens. At its worst, poor journalism can mislead, minimize growing problems, and even provide cover for incompetence and corruption.

Around the Middle East and North Africa, USAID is partnering with The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) to empower the region’s professional journalists, as well as  citizen journalists, to report on public-service issues that affect citizens’ everyday lives. The Building a Digital Gateway to Better Lives Program, administered by USAID’s Office of Middle East Programs, provides online instruction, in-person training and peer learning, and mentoring to participating journalists. Particular emphasis during the training is placed on the  use of digital media tools. The program also provides seed funding for promising investigative projects.

Journalists from Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco discuss a collaborative research project at a regional training program organized by USAID and ICFJ in Rabat, Morocco. (Photo: Frank Folwell, ICFJ)

Journalists from Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco discuss a collaborative research project at a regional training program organized by USAID and ICFJ in Rabat, Morocco. (Photo: Frank Folwell, ICFJ)

So far, over 250 journalists from Morocco to Yemen have participated in the training programs. ICFJ and USAID recently brought together 30 of the most talented participants, 11 of them women, to Morocco to work on cross-border investigative projects tackling regional topics that transcend national boundaries. The quality of their work is astounding. Research topics covered hard-hitting and challenging topics including trafficking of women, the black market for pharmaceuticals, and targeted recruitment of the region’s youth by extremist organizations.

Experience sharing is critical to the success of the program. I enjoyed watching how valuable the broader regional perspective was to individual participants. Group work was filled with moments of inspiration where participants realized that issues they encounter are also experienced elsewhere, or where participants from one country shared an experience which deepened the thinking of participants from another. A tight network has formed among participants, allowing them to share experiences, challenges and successes. USAID/Morocco Mission Director Dana Mansuri, who met with the group, relayed that her mother worked as a journalist and newspaper librarian, and how her comprehensive knowledge inspired her own curiosity and love of learning. As I watched this peer-to-peer learning and support develop, I understood better why developing the skills and capacity of local partners and participants sits at the heart of USAID Forward.

The success of the democratic transitions underway around the Middle East and North Africa will depend on well-informed voters educated by a professional and objective media. Ismail Azzam, journalism graduate from Morocco, confirmed that, “I learned more in these USAID-ICFJ workshops than I did in four years of university studies. This program teaches us the journalism skills we need in the real world.” Through our collaboration with ICFJ, USAID is helping regional journalists report with objectivity and impact. As Mission Director Mansuri recalled at the event, quoting Oscar Wilde, “In America, the President reigns for four years. Journalism governs forever and ever.”

Wafaa El Adawy is a Cairo-based Program Management Specialist with USAID’s Office of Middle East Programs.

Experts and Practitioners Discuss Global Trends in Civil Society

2012 CSO Sustainability Index coverUSAID relies on local civil society organizations (CSOs) to play important roles in the development and humanitarian efforts that we support worldwide.  However, current trends of governments placing restrictions on CSOs are requiring donors to find new and better ways to support civil society in difficult circumstances.

Following the release of the latest USAID Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI) reports for the Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Europe and Eurasia (E&E) regions, USAID organized and hosted a panel discussion entitled, “Closing Civil Society Space: Implications for Civil Society Sustainability,”  for practitioners, experts and CSO leaders to discuss the report findings.

Without exception, a free and active civil society remains vital to a nation-state’s health.   According to the findings of the CSOSI, however, civil society and CSOs in many countries around the world faces burdensome financial and legal restrictions carrying out their work.

In light of the growing trend of similar restrictive CSO/NGO laws appearing in countries around the world, the CSOSI tool “is more important than ever in helping us to understand the challenges and constraints CSOs face,” explained USAID’s E&E Bureau Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander who moderated the discussion.

Douglas Rutzen, the President and CEO of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) said that we are on the cusp of a “tipping point,” where civil society constraints become a social epidemic.  Referencing Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Mr. Rutzen noted the importance of the “messenger” and that constraints are being adopted and transmitted by well-connected, influential countries, such as Russia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Venezuela. He then noted the “stickiness factor,” commenting that these governments have been adept at casting constraints in rhetorically appealing terms, such as sovereignty, counter-terrorism, and aid effectiveness.  Mr. Rutzen concluded on an optimistic note, stating that it is possible to reverse the tipping point.  Indeed, he referenced numerous examples where the tireless efforts of local civil society, supported by long-term USAID assistance, have had significant, positive impact on civic space around the world.

Claire Ehmann of USAID’s Bureau for Democracy Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, Center of Excellence on Democracy, Rights and Governance, provided an overview of the CSOSI methodology and highlighted global patterns in sustainability .  For example, financial viability continues to be the weakest area of CSO sustainability in both the Africa and E&E regions while advocacy is one of the strongest.

CSO leaders in Egypt, Ukraine and Ethiopia weighed in with the realities on the ground.  According to Egypt’s Mohamed Zaree of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies, just getting CSOs registered remains practically impossible in his country.    Funding is also a significant problem in Egypt, where NGOs are prohibited from accepting foreign funding, on national security grounds.

In Ukraine, where CSO-led protests were occurring in real time, challenges lay in the relationship between citizens and the government.  In her presentation, Lyubov Palyvoda of the CCC Creative Center asserted that in comparison to CSOs’ strengths to advocate on behalf of citizens, service delivery lags far behind.

In Ethiopia, the trend is reversed, with the great majority of CSOs working in service delivery.  There, CSOs are burdened by the restrictions placed on the sourcing and utilization of funds.  Debebe Haillegebriel, an independent legal service professional with CSO experience, explained that stipulations in the CSO regulations further constrain organizations from effectively carrying out their work.

The Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. (AKF USA), a financial supporter of the CSOSI in four countries, remains committed to improving the enabling environment and promoting the sustainability of CSOs globally.  In his presentation, the CEO of AKF USA, Dr. Mirza Jahani, elaborated upon the Foundation’s commitment to developing the financial viability of CSOs in participating countries.  Through ‘community philanthropy’, public institutions can recognize and develop material resources locally to engage and change their countries for the long term.  Building trust within CSOs and between citizens and the public sector is the second area of AKF’s work related to the CSOSI.   For that, AKF USA supports an accreditation process, starting in Kenya and Pakistan. In those cases technological innovation such as e-platforms can help promote community responsiveness and resource-building.

Maintaining Women’s Potential in Yemen

“The women of Yemen should never again be relegated as second class citizens.”
-Attendee of the New Voices of Yemen Dinner, March 3, 2014

This was the heart of the messaging from the New Voices of Yemen: Women Leaders Dinner I attended on my second evening in the country’s capital, Sana’a. These women, a far larger network than the 20 who attended the dinner, gathered together once again to promote women’s political participation in the continuing transformation of the country.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Elisabeth Kvitashvili in Yemen

Deputy Assistant Administrator Elisabeth Kvitashvili in Yemen

With the recent successful conclusion of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference, the women lobbied me to ensure USAID would continue to maintain its support in amplifying their voices, calling for a commitment to the quota of 30 percent women’s representation in constitution drafting, elections, and cabinet positions. They also recognize the need to promote opportunities for women in leading private sector roles in support of much needed economic reforms for Yemen.

Women play such a critical role in all of Yemeni society as demonstrated by the small representation at the dinner of a much, much larger community. Women leaders from the government, civil society, and private sector connect through various networks such as Women’s Integrated Network and Women’s National Committee that they themselves established. These women transcend the country’s north and south divisions as much as political differences. They represent the women of Yemen, young and old.

The two women who facilitated the lively and energetic discussion, Entiem and Rabab both represent the dynamic and articulate nature of these new voices of Yemen. They are part of the youth segment representing the future of Yemen.

These new voices play a critical role in assuring Yemen continues on a path toward peace and prosperity, and USAID plans to continue to support their empowerment and equality.

Driving Progress in Asia through Science, Innovation & Partnership

Nepal is a place of mesmerizing beauty. Located in the Himalayas with eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains, including the highest peak on Earth, Mt. Everest, it’s no wonder more than 20 percent of the country is protected. The diverse terrain ranges from emerald green tea gardens, terraced paddy fields and historic temples nestled in hillsides to thick jungle, sprawling forest, pristine lakes and the largest concentration of glaciers outside the polar region.

The beneficiaries seen here grow off-season, high-value vegetable crops with drip irrigation technology, which increases crop yields by up to 30 percent and reduces water consumption by up to 75 percent, helping farmers cope with more erratic water supply from climate change while increasing their incomes.

The beneficiaries seen here grow off-season, high-value vegetable crops with drip irrigation technology, which increases crop yields by up to 30 percent and reduces water consumption by up to 75 percent, helping farmers cope with more erratic water supply from climate change while increasing their incomes.
Credit: USAID/ Bimala Rai Colavito

But what lurks behind this idyllic landscape is a growing problem — climate change. Nepal struggles with both water scarcity and increased flooding, impacting everything from health and nutrition to livelihoods and food production. With agriculture employing 80 percent of the population and one in three suffering from food insecurity, these ecological shocks can present serious setbacks for farmers and their families, robbing them of their livelihoods or ability to put food on the table.

At USAID, one of our top priorities is developing innovative solutions that can help vulnerable communities withstand chronic threats, such as pandemics or climate change, and sustain progress when disaster strikes — not get pushed further into poverty. This is important across the globe but particularly in Asia, where half the world’s poor live and more than half of all natural disasters occur. In today’s interconnected world, our success matters to the United States. As the fastest growing region in the world accounting for more than half the world’s GDP and nearly half its trade, Asia has become a key driver of global politics and economics. Progress — or instability — in Asia has ripple effects throughout the world and can impact us here at home. Across the region, we’re hard at work.

In Nepal, we’re helping farmers and families mitigate the adverse impacts of a changing environment on their lives and livelihoods. We’re helping them adapt to new rainfall patterns and adopt new water-saving tools such as multiple-use water systems for sanitation needs, drinking and growing food. We’re also introducing solar-powered pumps, which enable farmers to use drip irrigation for high-value crops, increasing their annual income by over a third. Our work has had a transformational impact on women in particular — who are typically responsible for collecting water — freeing up their time and energy to invest in other aspects of their lives.

We’re forging partnerships that leverage resources and harness the science, technology and innovation that exist throughout the region to maximize impact — and reach. USAID recently announced three new partnerships with Indian organizations to share successful, low-cost agricultural innovations and technologies with African countries. These partnerships are a win-win for all: The organizations gain access to new market space; USAID advances its efforts to increase food security and farmers’ incomes in Africa; and African countries gain access to new tools to help their citizens escape extreme poverty. These include a low-cost tractor, an organic fertilizer made out of seaweed and a solar-powered food dehydrator — all devised to increase yields and incomes by mechanizing operations, fertilizing depleted soils and preventing post-harvest losses.

In Timor-Leste, we saw a great opportunity to extend our reach by partnering with ConocoPhillips, which has significant investments in the country and contributes to sustainable community development — particularly in agriculture and education to help Timor-Leste improve agricultural productivity and increase its pool of skilled workers. This is vital in a country where nearly 40 percent of people live in extreme poverty and more than 60 percent of the population work in agriculture. Together, we are helping more farmers than ever before diversify their crops to increase their incomes and improve their families’ health and nutrition. Through this partnership, we have been able to double the number of farm families benefiting from this project. Farmers practicing new horticulture techniques have boosted their incomes by up to 300 percent.

And we’re bringing transformative science and technology to remote corners of the world where they’re needed most. Due to climate change and rapid urbanization, the coastal nation of Bangladesh — which has the highest malnutrition rates in the region — is losing up to 1 percent of its arable land each year. Adding to the challenge, 80 percent of the country rests in a low-lying river delta prone to flooding. To tackle these challenges, USAID is training farmers in the use of high-yielding varieties of rice seeds that are tolerant to soil salinity and adverse weather, as well as in the use of fertilizer deep placement technology, which allows for fertilizer to be placed under the soil and closer to the root where it is most effective, as opposed to on top of the soil where it is more likely to be washed away. As a result, soil fertility is improved, fertilizer use is reduced and yields are increased. Our efforts helped the coastal district of Barisal end its rice-deficiency and produce enough rice to feed its people.

Asia faces complex and integrated problems on a scale never before seen in history. These issues demand innovative approaches that combine resources and expertise at every opportunity. We are committed to the task, and hope you’ll click here to find out how you can join us.

Cooking With Green Charcoal Helps to Reduce Deforestation in Haiti

An organization in northern Haiti is promoting a cooking fuel made from agricultural waste that can save trees, help farmers increase their yields and generate additional income.

“Our aim is to try to stop deforestation in Haiti by teaching people to switch from cooking with charcoal to using cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste,” said Anderson Pierre, the Supply Chain Manager for Carbon Roots International (CRI), a USAID-supported non-profit organization operating in Quartier Morin.

Workers create cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste, in northern Haiti on Dec. 12, 2013. Photo copyright Kendra Helmer/USAID

Workers create cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste, in northern Haiti on Dec. 12, 2013.
Photo © Kendra Helmer/USAID

Despite the fact that only about 2 percent of Haiti’s forests remain, it is difficult to shift habits of cooking with wood charcoal to methods that are environmentally friendly.  According to Pierre, other alternative fuels are still not well-known – or accepted.

“We work little by little, changing perceptions and providing information on the benefits of using briquettes,” Pierre said.

CRI employs smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs to produce carbon-rich char from agricultural waste such as sugarcane bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice. CRI uses this waste to create two innovative products: renewable charcoal cooking briquettes called “green charcoal,” and “biochar,” a potent natural soil additive that increases soil fertility and removes carbon from the atmosphere. CRI sells the briquettes as an alternative to traditional wood charcoal through a network of women retailers, and disburses biochar back to farmers to increase crop yields and further raise incomes.

As a result, the project contributes to the sustainability of Haitian agriculture and provides income opportunities for women entrepreneurs. It offers a comparably priced, locally appropriate green cooking fuel to the Haitian marketplace, as well as encourages the adoption of biochar as a viable tool for increasing agricultural productivity and soil resiliency.

CRI’s efforts to promote green charcoal are gradually gaining ground in northern Haiti. While they’ve been focusing on market research and production, they plan to expand to bulk sales and more roadside kiosks this spring. In December, CRI ran a public awareness campaign in Quartier Morin under the slogan “Green Charcoal is Your Charcoal”, using demonstration stands and offering free samples of briquettes.

“The Haitian consumer likes the fact that this comes from a source other than wood. People have heard about a Haiti that used to be green. They understand that deforestation is not good. If they have an alternative, they will go for it,” said Ryan Delaney, co-founder of CRI. The briquettes are 5 to 10 percent cheaper to buy than wood-based charcoal and they can be burned in a traditional cook stove, making it an attractive fuel alternative.

USAID is supporting CRI through a $100,000 Development Innovation Ventures award. The USAID award has helped CRI prove itself — it developed a network of producers, started production and created viable markets for biomass products.

“We want this to be a self-sufficient project,” Delaney said. “We have just purchased a machine that can increase the briquette production from 3,000 briquettes a day to 3 tons an hour. There is a lot of sugarcane production in Haiti providing the needed sugarcane waste…. Right now we sell small-scale, but we have ambitious expansion goals.”

Delaney estimates the charcoal market in Haiti to be valued at about $700 million a year (approximately $90 million in northern Haiti).  “The potential to scale in Haiti and beyond is enormous, as there is little centralized production of charcoal,” he said.

This month, the U.S.-based CRI expects formal operations to begin for their for-profit entity in Haiti, called Carbon Roots Haiti, S.A.  Eventually CRI wants to hand over green charcoal production to Haitians, Delaney said. ”Ultimately, we envision this as a Haitian company run by Haitians.”

Launched in October 2010, USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) holds a quarterly grant competition for innovative ideas, pilots and tests them using cutting-edge analytical methods, and scales those that demonstrate cost-effectiveness and widespread development impact. DIV uses a staged-funding model inspired by venture capital to invest comparatively small amounts in relatively unproven ideas, and continues to support only those that prove effective.

For more information on DIV and how to apply, go to http://www.usaid.gov/div. For more information on CRI visit http://www.carbonrootsinternational.org/ and see photos of CRI in Haiti on Flickr.

Read another story about how USAID is fighting deforestation through an improved cooking technology program.

Anna-Maija Mattila Litvak is the Senior Development Outreach and Communications Officer for USAID/Haiti.

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