USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Food Security

Celebrating the One-Year Anniversary of the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog

Last March, Feed the Future launched a tool to measure women’s empowerment in agriculture—the first of its kind.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index—developed by USAID, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI)—tracks women’s engagement in agriculture in five areas: production, resources, income, leadership, and time use. Unlike any other tool, it also measures women’s empowerment relative to men within their households, providing a more robust understanding of gender dynamics within households and communities.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (or WEAI) makes empowerment a solid and quantifiable concept Feed the Future and partners can work toward. It also helps us improve the way we do our development work. We’re using the tool to systematically assess and improve our food security programs in regard to women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Azaratu Fushieni walks through her soy field. She has benefited from the assistance of a Feed the Future project, which helped her improve her agricultural practices and use better inputs. Photo credit: Elisa Walton, USAID

We asked Emily Hogue, the acting team leader for monitoring and evaluation in the Bureau for Food Security at USAID, to reflect on the one-year anniversary of this innovative tool, which she helped create.

1. How is Feed the Future currently using the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index?

We’re using the WEAI to track changes in women’s empowerment that occur as a direct or indirect result of Feed the Future programs. There’s a couple of different ways we do that. First, in our focus countries, we’re monitoring changes within the targeted geographic regions where Feed the Future works to track the contribution our food security programs make to women’s empowerment. Second, we’re collecting WEAI data within our impact evaluations on specific activities to learn more about the approaches we’re using and how effective they are. This helps us understand and assess how different approaches impact women and men and identify which program approaches are showing the most promise so we can expand their use.

2. What’s happened over the past year with the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index? What’s new?

In 2012, we collected data for the WEAI through population-based surveys in 16 of the 19 Feed the Future focus countries, alongside other Feed the Future indicators. We’re collecting data in the additional three focus countries in early 2013. This has allowed us to calculate baseline values for the WEAI so we can measure change from these baselines in future years. USAID and partners are also analyzing the large amount of data collected in the surveys to learn more about the relationships between empowerment, poverty, and nutrition, as well as relationships between WEAI indicators. Through our analyses, we’re also exploring how to further refine the tool to make it as practical and broadly useful as possible.

The WEAI team (USAID, IFPRI, and OPHI) produced a number of materials over the past year to support use of the tool, such as a brochure (PDF), a video, a webinar, and a discussion paper (PDF). So far, we’ve trained more than 600 people on how to use the tool—and that doesn’t include the number of people who have viewed our webinar training.

USAID is also funding the WEAI Resource Center at IFPRI, which offers assistance to users on fine-tuning the questionnaire for new contexts, tabulating and analyzing data, and interpreting the WEAI data to inform program design. Through IFPRI, WEAI partners selected four dissertation grants, funded by USAID, for research related to the WEAI. This research is helping build evidence on how women’s empowerment relates to other development outcomes, such as improved nutrition.

We’re excited to roll out a new instructional guide this week, published by IFPRI, that provides detailed information to users on how to use the WEAI questionnaire, analyze the WEAI data, and use the findings of the WEAI to inform program design.

3. How are you using the WEAI to improve the way Feed the Future works?

We created the WEAI as a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tool to track the effects of our programs over time, but one of the most exciting uses of the WEAI has been as a diagnostic tool to identify constraints women face in the agriculture sector. Because the WEAI examines several dimensions and uses direct measures of empowerment rather than proxies, it can identify specific obstacles to women’s advancement in agriculture, such as limited access to credit or limited involvement in leadership roles. Once we identify those constraints, we tailor our programs to address them.

We’re currently examining WEAI baseline data to better understand the primary constraints and how our programs are addressing them. Then, we use the WEAI to track change over time in those specific areas, along with all five dimensions. We’re closely tracking how our programs impact equality and empowerment so we can strengthen and replicate practices that work well and reorient programs that aren’t working.

4. What has been the development community’s response to the WEAI?

Many development partners have expressed interest in using the WEAI for tracking their own programs.  Several international organizations like the International Fund for Agricultural Development, non-governmental organizations like CARE International, and a number of universities are planning to use or are already using the tool for program monitoring and research.

The WEAI team is developing tools and guidance to help our partners use and replicate the WEAI beyond Feed the Future’s focus countries and the targeted regions we work in. With the help of our development partners, we believe we can greatly increase the potential for learning through the WEAI. What started as a fairly modest effort to develop a monitoring tool for Feed the Future has greatly exceeded our expectations and provided the development community with a robust and accessible instrument to tackle one of the most complicated development challenges.

5. What’s next for the WEAI in its second year?

Now that we have a tremendous amount of data on the WEAI, most of our focus for 2013 is on analyzing and learning more about the context of empowerment in the areas where we work, as well as how the WEAI is working as a tool. The WEAI Resource Center and M&E partners are helping us conduct analyses to make this learning happen.

In 2013, we will also be designing and collecting baselines for a few impact evaluations of Feed the Future activities that use the WEAI. The WEAI team has many other materials in the works, so stay tuned in the coming months for baseline reports and a few case studies interpreting the results of the WEAI in our baselines. We’d also love to hear from others about how they are using and learning from the WEAI, so please let us know* about any work you will be doing in 2013 related to the WEAI.

While just a first step to improve learning and programming in this critical area, the WEAI signifies the commitment of the U.S. Government to prioritize empowerment as an essential development outcome that we will measure and strive to achieve.

Celebrating Peace Corps Week: Those Extraordinary Ordinary Volunteers!

This post originally appeared on Feed the Future.

This week, we’re celebrating our partner agency the Peace Corps during its annual Peace Corps Week. Today marks the anniversary of when John F. Kennedy signed the executive order to establish the Peace Corps. The following is a guest blog post by Jean Harman of the Peace Corps, highlighting Peace Corps volunteers’ contributions to Feed the Future’s goal to reduce global hunger, poverty and undernutrition.

Ever since John F. Kennedy and Sargent Shriver created the Peace Corps in 1962, it had been my dream to be a volunteer. But by the 1980s, having finally completed my undergraduate degree at 29, I thought I was too old. Turns out, I wasn’t too old for two years of volunteer service and I began my Peace Corps experience as an agriculture volunteer, helping villagers in Zaire (what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), raise sheep, goats, rabbits, and other small animals.

Peace Corps launched my career in food security. When I returned to the States, I went to graduate school and began a 25-year career as a resource and agricultural economist. Over the course of these years, I learned how many different facets there are to sustainable food security; a variety of issues help create or foster food security in households and communities. I’ve worked in trade, agriculture, natural resource management, and development, to name a few.

A Peace Corps volunteer trains his local community in Malawi on the nutritional benefits of growing soy. Photo credit: Peace Corps

Volunteers are never called ex-volunteers, but rather returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). And we’re a diverse lot, with more than 200,000 RPCVs today. We often hear about RPCVs of note—a former Cabinet member, the president of a university, members of Congress—but there are a lot of extraordinary ordinary volunteers as well.

Take for instance, Elaine Bellezza, who served as a Peace Corps teacher in Cameroon. She ended up helping her community develop an artisanal cooperative, which made bowls, bags, tools and other items out of leather, gourds and other local agricultural products. Through this cooperative, women in the community went from earning about $2 a month to between $60 and $100. Yes, this is food security! Increased income means more money to spend on quality foods. And women’s income is more likely to be spent on food and children’s goods, so increased women’s income can significantly impact food security and improve nutrition.

Elaine returned to the United States in the mid-1990s but was soon overseas again, this time working in Mali. She eventually opened a high-end boutique of household articles and furniture. As a part of the private sector, Elaine worked with a range of women’s cooperatives in Mali. She developed a staff capable of taking over the business for her and running it as a cooperative-owned, woman-led business in Mali—even to this day!

Elaine never left Africa or economic development for long. She now works as a consultant in a variety of countries. An extraordinary ordinary volunteer.

There’s also Gordon Hentze, who served as a “fish” volunteer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was my mentor when I started my Peace Corps assignment, even as his own service was drawing to an end. We quickly discovered when I arrived at my village that we had both attended the same college and lived close to each other in Oregon. Gordon worked with farmers to build fish ponds for raising fish to eat at home and sell for income. Another facet of food security: sufficient food to eat at home and income to purchase additional foods, pay school fees, or buy medicine when it’s needed.

Gordon returned to Oregon after the Peace Corps. He owns a family farm in Junction City where he grows fruit, vegetables and nuts. He also caters to people who want to process their own fresh food: He developed small-scale processing equipment so a family can process its own fruits, vegetables and nuts in household-sized quantities. Innovation—a skill Gordon developed as a volunteer and now uses to foster food security through his business as a farmer in the private sector. Another extraordinary ordinary volunteer.

While many Peace Corps volunteers are extraordinary ordinary people, the same could be said of their service. Helping start a local cooperative. Training business owners. Teaching people to fish. These tasks are ordinary when taken at face value. But when you see each as a contributor to global food security, they take on an extraordinary quality. A local cooperative in a developing country that raises incomes of women so they can invest more in their children and families, sending both their sons and daughters to school. A business owner whose business sells nutritious foods and supplements in a community that sorely needed jobs and access to these items. A family that improves its diet with fish and is able to sell extra fish on the local market, sharing the nutritious value of the fish with the community and making extra money to invest in the family business, children’s education, and healthcare for all family members.

All this is happening thanks to the extraordinary ordinary work of Peace Corps volunteers at the grassroots level of agriculture and economic development. Seemingly ordinary tasks, carried out by individuals in partnership with developing communities, that are helping lift communities out of chronic hunger and poverty and into sustainable food security.

Peace Corps volunteers have been working on food security issues in their host countries for decades. Recently, Peace Corps teamed up with the U.S. Agency for International Development to work on food security issues under Feed the Future. In name, this designates the volunteers as Feed the Future Peace Corps Volunteers. In action, it provides better coordination between USAID and Peace Corps’ agriculture and economic development efforts and enables Feed the Future to benefit from one of Peace Corps’ major competitive advantages: grassroots development activities that support global food security.  

Meeting the President’s Challenge to End Extreme Poverty

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog.

“We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all—not only because it creates new markets, more stable order in certain regions of the world, but also because it’s the right thing to do. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades by connecting more people to the global economy; by empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve, and helping communities to feed, and power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation, which is within our reach.” – President Obama, 2013 State of the Union address 

In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama laid out a challenge for our generation to eradicate the scourge of extreme poverty. We are advancing this critical agenda through Feed the Future, the President’s signature global hunger and food security initiative. Here, we examine how.

Progress in the most impoverished parts of our world creates new markets and stability. Photo credit: USAID

“A little more than a dollar a day…” By standard definition, this means less than $1.25 a day. That won’t buy a latte, let alone a healthy lunch here in the United States. Hunger and poverty are inextricably linked. Through Feed the Future, we’re working to achieve the President’s vision to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in our lifetime. This is our generation’s legacy to leave. And reducing poverty is more than just a goal: It’s achievable, and we are already seeing results.

Since 2009, Feed the Future has supported agriculture-led growth in 19 focus countries, with investments that will lift 20 percent of the people in our targeted areas out of poverty in three years. Agricultural growth is an incredibly effective way to fight poverty – 75 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas in developing countries, where most people’s livelihoods rely directly on agriculture, and studies show that growth in the agricultural sector has up to three times greater impact on poverty reduction than growth in other sectors.

And Feed the Future is showing results.  We have improved farmers’ access to key technologies that we know transform their lives, increasing yields and incomes. In 2011 alone, we helped nearly 2 million food producers adopt improved technologies and practices to improve their yields, and our efforts to integrate agriculture and nutrition mean that healthier harvests can also mean better market opportunities.

We’re strategically targeting our investments in countries where our support can have the greatest impact. We’re aligning our investments behind food security and nutrition priorities our partner countries have identified, and we’re helping foster the growth and accountability required to ensure that this impact lasts. And because we know we don’t have all the answers to reducing global poverty, we’re taking a rigorous approach to figuring out what works best, so we can do more of it. We’re identifying gaps in evidence and working to fill them. We’re engaging with global leaders, top scientists, business leaders, and communities to share what we learn so that we can beat hunger and poverty together.

“By connecting more people to the global economy…” Feed the Future supports countries in developing their own agriculture sectors to generate opportunities for economic growth and trade. We place particular emphasis on empowering smallholder farmers with the tools and technologies they need to produce more robust harvests and have better opportunities to participate in markets and earn better incomes.

Smallholder farmers are the key to unlocking agricultural growth and transforming economies. In supporting them, we’re also helping build tomorrow’s markets and trade partners, connecting smallholder farmers in rural areas to local, regional and global markets.

“By empowering women…” At the heart of our strategy is an understanding that investments in women reduce poverty and promote global stability. Take for example our horticulture project in Kenya, which is working with smallholder farmers, many of whom are women, to not only grow more nutritious crops to eat and sell, but to also diversify into growing higher value crops, like flowers. Higher value crops help these farmers increase their income, which in turn provides them with more money to pay for school fees for their children, medicine, and quality food. We’re also tracking women’s empowerment in agriculture and the impact our programs have on increasing it… [continued]

Why is ending extreme poverty important to you? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter

Flower Power: How Your Valentine’s Day Bouquet is Helping Fight Poverty

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog. 

The flower bouquet you bought (or are planning to buy) for your significant other today is doing more than you think. Besides showing your special Valentine that you care, flowers are also an important commodity that is changing the lives of Kenyan farmers and improving their food security.

As the head of a Feed the Future project in Kenya, I work with local partners to improve incomes, food security and nutrition for 200,000 smallholder farmers. These smallholders, many of whom are women, usually farm small plots to feed their families and generate small amounts of income. We work together to enhance productivity, improve processing, and connect these farmers directly to buyers to increase their incomes.

These bouquets were made from Kenyan smallholder flowers that are now sold in ASDA grocery stores in the United Kingdom. Photo credit: Fintrac Inc.

While most of our Feed the Future activities focus on nutritious crops, like orange-flesh sweet potato, we also promote high-value crops such as smallholder-grown cut flowers, like the ones many Americans give each other on Valentine’s Day. These high-value crops provide a valuable source of income for farmers to buy important foods, beyond what they grow on their farms, and to pay for household priorities like school fees and medicine.

More than two years ago we formed a partnership with Wilmar Flowers Ltd, Kenya’s flower exporter sourcing entirely from smallholder farmers. The company wanted to expand operations to meet growing demand in Europe and around the world. To do so, it needed to invest in more smallholder farmers.

We worked with Wilmar Flowers to find and train new farmers, link to more buyers, and attract private investment to further expand operations. As a result, Wilmar quadrupled its smallholder growers from 1,700 to more than 6,800 today. It also launched seven new products, including new flower varieties and bouquets. The added business enabled Wilmar to invest in collection centers, research and development trials of new flower varieties, and new technologies such as shade nets, charcoal coolers, water harvesting dams, and grading sheds. The company also added technical personnel to provide more extension services directly to farmers.

By expanding its own business, Wilmar is now providing services and livelihoods for thousands of smallholder farmers in Kenya. And the best part? Wilmar doesn’t need us anymore—after our initial help concluded, it continues to build a sustainable flower export business in Kenya that benefits smallholder farmers.

Valentine’s Day is a big day for the flower industry. Do you know where your flowers came from? Perhaps in buying some for your loved one, you helped make the difference in the life of a Kenyan farmer. Feed the Future is helping making that connection possible. What might seem like a small gesture of love today is actually making a big difference in the lives of farmers thousands of miles away.

Public, Private, and Civil Society Partnerships in Action

This post originally appeared on the Save the Children Blog.

We like to think of development as a team sport requiring all players to work together toward the same goal. The game gets particularly exciting when you add new players to the team at half time.

Save the Children has served children and families in Nicaragua for almost 80 years. Three years ago, we began partnering with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. (GMCR), based in Vermont, on a project to increase the income and food security for families of workers on coffee farms. By helping families to diversify their crops, improve storage techniques, and bring crops to market, they can better withstand periods of food scarcity during the months between coffee harvests.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) joined the partnership two years ago, adding an ambitious health component through their regional “4th Sector Health” project. Implemented by Abt Associates, 4thSector Health develops public-private partnerships and supports exchanges between countries to advance development through health in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Nicaragua, 4th Sector Health is working with Save the Children and GMCR, along with local civil society partners, to boost maternal and child health and nutrition for the same coffee-growing communities.

USAID’s 4th Sector Health also recently funded an experience sharing trip for Save the Children staff from five Latin American countries, who were involved in implementing GMCR-funded projects. The participants learned from each other’s experiences and are replicating best practices in their own programs, serving to increase their impact and sustainability.

Save the Children visits neighborhoods in Nicaragua to monitor child health and nutrition, and treat sick children. Photo credit: Gerardo Aráuz

The alliance between USAID, Save the Children, and GMCR is intended to maximize the use of resources and help identify new solutions to challenges affecting these communities. Sometimes the alliance organizations face challenges of their own — coordinating work plans, reporting on technical outcomes, and carrying out their separate missions.

Public-private partnerships, otherwise known as the “Golden Triangle,” are a hot topic in the field of international development. Donors like USAID have invested millions of dollars in partnerships with the private sector, yet some development experts have questioned the development impact of such partnerships in achieving real benefits for the poor and marginalized in developing countries.

As part of its recent reform efforts, USAID has put more attention towards improving its public-private partnership model. For one, USAID is including technical experts in health and nutrition such as Save the Children in some partnerships, recognizing that U.S. civil society groups lend valuable expertise in maternal-child health and other technical areas. Moreover, USAID is steering the private sector towards achievement of concrete development targets through their partnerships, as well as ensuring that companies are held to certain standards, such as respect for workers and environmental stewardship.

From my perspective, this alliance between Save the Children Nicaragua, USAID, and GMCR, is having a transformative impact on the communities in which it operates.

Martha Lorena Diaz is one of many enterprising women working with us,whose partner, Jose Manuel Benavidez, is a coffee farmer on a cooperative that sells to GMCR. Martha was initially given five hens and now keeps 40 in her small business, earning about one dollar a day from selling the eggs and chickens. Save the Children project training sessions have helped Martha to identify nutritious sources of food for her three children, particularly during the lean months when she struggles to provide enough food for them. Martha now makes a corn flour drink to boost her childrens’ daily vitamin intake. Moreover, health promoters, trained by Save the Children, visit her neighborhood and others to monitor child health and nutrition and treat sick children in their communities, which are often far from the closest health center.

Successful partnerships, such as the one between USAID, GMCR, and Save the Children Nicaragua, are critical to achieving lasting results in the communities that we all serve. With an increase in USAID’s partnerships with private sector and NGO players, who are committed to making a real difference in the lives of families in Nicaragua and elsewhere, I believe our team will prevail.

FrontLines Year in Review: Catching Ethiopians Before They Fall

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines May/June 2012 issue.

Despite one of the region’s worst droughts, no famine struck rural Ethiopia last year. The drought’s impact was lessened by a food-and-cash-for-public-works program USAID supports and helped design. Today, one of Africa’s largest social safety nets does not just protect against chronic food insecurity, it helps communities weather the future.

It is December 2011, and life goes on as normal in the arid highlands of Tigray, the northern Ethiopian region whose burnt siennas, giant cactus flowers, and peaks and canyons could easily be confused with those of the American Southwest. Here, donkeys carry grain and pull packs on the side of the road. Farmers work their fields. There is no sign of a crisis.

Normality is not typically a measure of success, but in this case, and in this particular region, it is. Beginning in early 2011, a severe drought decimated parts of East Africa, leading to a June declaration of famine in parts of Somalia.

The drought was considered in some parts of the region to be one of the worst in 60 years, affecting more than 13.3 million people in the Horn of Africa. The month before the official drought declaration, USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) warned: “This is the most severe food-security emergency in the world today.”

In Tigray, a region held hostage to annual alternating dry and wet seasons, the impact has been minimal. The reason, according to many who live there, is a riff on the same theme: Because of “safety net,” they say, things are OK.

A beneficiary of the USAID-supported Productive Safety Net Program living near the Mai-Aqui site, in Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Nena Terrell.

“Safety net,” which several Ethiopian ethnicities know by its English term, refers to the flagship food-security program designed by the Ethiopian Government, USAID and other donors after another severe drought hit the country in 2003.

The Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), as it is officially called, originated as part of a new approach to address chronic food shortages through scheduled food or cash transfers to chronically food-insecure populations in exchange for labor on public works projects.

“The food ensures families living on the edge are not forced to sell off their assets, mainly livestock, in order to feed their families. The labor, the quid pro quo for those fit enough to partake, is channeled into public-works projects designed to improve communities as a whole,” says Dina Esposito, director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace.

As a result, crucial infrastructure—roads, watersheds, canals, terracing, irrigation systems, schools and health clinics—has been built or rehabilitated with the labor of the food insecure.

According to USAID/Ethiopia Mission Director Tom Staal, as the program was being designed in consultations led by the Ethiopian Gov­ernment, donors realized the need to not just respond to crises as they happened, but to build up resilience among the most vulnerable communities, giving them the ability to weather the inevitable dry stretches on their own.

“Before PSNP, those in chronic need were provided assistance through emergency programs,” says Scott Hocklander, chief of USAID/Ethiopia’s Office for Food Assistance and Livelihood Transitions.

“While this food aid saved lives, it did not contribute to development activities or address the root causes of food insecurity.”

Today, because of the safety net, approximately 8 million people receive assistance in a timely and predictable way…[continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

Related Content:

If you want an e-mail reminder in your inbox when the latest issue of FrontLines has been posted online, please subscribe.

Video of the Week: A New Kind of Development

In 2011, USAID, JP Morgan, and the Gates, Gatsby, and Rockefeller Foundations announced a first-of-its-kind effort to invest $25 million in the African Agricultural Capital Fund, which delivers much needed growth capital to boost the productivity and profitability of Africa‘s undercapitalized agriculture sector. NUAC Farm in Northern Uganda is one of the first agribusinesses to receive financing from this fund.

 

Enough Isn’t Enough: Why Food Security Matters to Me

This post originally appeared on the Feed the Future website.

Roger Thurow serves as Global Affairs Senior Fellow at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

The following is a guest blog by Roger Thurow. We asked Thurow a few questions about food security.

Traditionally centered around a big meal to celebrate good harvests and time with family, Thanksgiving is also an opportunity to reflect on what we’re thankful for and our wishes for the future. At the top of our list is the hope for a future in which no one goes to bed hungry. What is yours? 

Exactly the same: a world free of hunger. Some may dismiss that as an unrealistic goal, but ending hunger through agricultural development is within our grasp. We certainly have precedent on our side, for we have seen agricultural development work in so many countries. Be it here in the United States, or in Europe, or in India or China or Brazil. So we know it can be done: We have the science, the technology, the experience. We know the “way”, but what has been missing is the “will”.

At this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that we are now seeing this “will” emerging in so many places. As we sit down to our traditional national feast—to celebrate our harvests and our abundance—this is the ideal time to commit to ending hunger no matter where it may be, whether here at home or in Africa or anywhere else in the world.

Even as we are seeing progress in our efforts against global poverty and undernutrition, we know there is still work to do and that we must remain focused. Why do you think this is important, and why do you think Americans should care about global hunger and food security?

First, the very word “security” is important, for how secure can the world truly be with nearly one billion chronically hungry people? During the food price spikes of 2007 and 2008, when stockpiles of major grains dwindled, prices soared, and shortages spread, we saw how quickly gaps in the global food supply can lead to widespread unrest.

Second, how stable can the world economy be when such extreme poverty keeps so many people outside the global economic and trade system?

Securing the global food system is also one of the biggest—if not the biggest—challenge facing us in the coming decades. With the planet’s population expected to increase by more than two billion people by 2050, it is estimated that we need to increase our food production by as much as 60 percent to meet this rising demand. And it is important to not just focus on increasing production, but to put nutrition—growing a cornucopia of more nutritious food—at the center of our efforts as well.

So yes, indeed, Americans should care deeply about global hunger and food security.

Also, it’s what America does—and does best. We are the world’s breadbasket, with the mightiest farmers. Spreading agricultural development has been one of America’s top “soft power” achievements of diplomacy and international relations over the decades. Think of the Marshall Plan and the Green Revolution. Now, the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future initiative continues this lineage.

Feed the Future is a key piece of the U.S. Government’s effort to reduce global hunger and improve global food security. Having spent time observing Feed the Future’s work and reporting in depth about agricultural development, what do you see as different or unique about Feed the Future?

Feed the Future has set out to reverse the neglect of international agricultural development over the past several decades. Feed the Future also recognizes that food security is not just about increasing production, but increasing the nutritional value of the food as well; it focuses on not only the necessary ingredients of growing food but also on the elements farmers need to translate their harvests into profits, determined by the countries themselves. So post-harvest issues like storage and efficient markets are central to Feed the Future. It also stresses the importance of partnerships with the private sector and the governments of developing countries as well as with universities, foundations and humanitarian organizations. These partnerships were vital to the success of the Green Revolution 50 years ago.

I see two other important aspects of Feed the Future: an emphasis on long-term agricultural development (rather than solely focusing on short-term emergency food aid relief) and a focus on the smallholder farmers of the developing world. This means facilitating access to the essential elements of farming—seeds, soil nutrients, training and micro-financing—so that the smallholders can be as productive as possible. These farmers are indispensable in meeting the great challenge of food security I mentioned earlier. If they succeed, so might we all.

And they can succeed. This is the central message of The Last Hunger Season, which brings readers into the lives of four smallholder farmers in western Kenya.

Let’s talk about your book. After spending time with these farmers in Kenya, what did you see as the role and importance of food security, particularly agriculture and nutrition, in their community?

It is absolutely vital. While reporting the book, The Last Hunger Season, I learned that securing enough food for their families is the top priority of women smallholder farmers in Africa. All things flow from that accomplishment. With greater harvests, these women farmers can conquer the dreaded hunger season and the malnutrition of their children, and also have a surplus that can provide income to pay school fees, to afford proper health care and medicine, and to diversify their crops for better nutrition.

You’ve written two books on food security now and you often blog about it in your role at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs—what first interested you in this topic and why are you so personally invested in it?

Covering the 2003 famine in Ethiopia for The Wall Street Journal. It was the first famine of the 21stcentury; 14 million people were on the doorstep of starvation, dependent on international food aid. On my first day in Addis Ababa, I received a briefing about the extent of the famine by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). One of the WFP workers told me: “Looking into the eyes of someone dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul. You see that nobody should have to die of hunger.”

The next day, I was down in the hunger zones, in an emergency feeding tent filled with dozens of severely malnourished children. What I saw in those eyes did indeed become a disease of the soul; I saw that nobody should have to die of hunger, not now, not in the 21st century when more food was being produced in the world than ever before. It was a turning point in my career as a journalist. All other stories began paling in comparison. I knew I needed to stop the usual routine of a foreign correspondent—moving from story to story, place to place—and focus on this one story: hunger in the new millennium. This led me to write my first book, with fellow WSJ reporter Scott Kilman, ENOUGH: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty.

But for me, ENOUGH wasn’t enough, so I plunged deeper into the issue of hunger and agricultural development. This propelled me to write The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change. And I intend to continue writing, taking readers into the eyes of the hungry, spreading the disease of the soul.

Do you have hope that things can change for the better? Why? 

Yes, because I see a burgeoning movement, a gathering momentum, to end hunger through agricultural development. I see it in renewed American leadership, manifest in Feed the Future. I see it at universities, at faith-based gatherings, on the ground in Africa. Earlier this year, at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ symposium on global agriculture, food security and nutrition, President Obama called for an “all hands on deck” effort to end hunger in the 21st century. I see these many hands getting to work.

Follow Feed the Future on Facebook and join the conversation on Twitter @feedthefuture.

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Afghanistan

USAID is helping farmers in Ghor Province, Afghanistan, improve how they identify potato seeds (A), sort and store them (B), plant them (C), and harvest them (D), reducing the risk of crop loss at every step. Photo Credit: Catholic Relief Services

In this installment of USAID’s Pounds of Prevention series, we take a look at how USAID—through its partnership with Catholic Relief Services— is helping vulnerable farmers reduce post-harvest losses as a result of poor storage conditions. We focus on western Afghanistan, where the potato plays a key role in nourishing families through the harsh winter months. In the traditional-style potato storage pit, farmers lost up to half of their potato seeds to rot due to poor ventilation. Read on to learn how, with just a few modifications to the pit design, losses have decreased from 50 percent to just 5 percent.

Bangladeshi Farmers Reap Rewards from New Agricultural Techniques

Half a world away from Des Moines, Iowa, where the World Food Prize “Borlaug Dialogue” International Symposium is being held this week, Bangladeshi farmers are hard at work sowing wheat and maize in their fields.

This year, however, something is different. For many farmers, new techniques supported by USAID are helping to reduce costs, achieve better yields, and earn higher profits. Something as simple as planting crops in raised beds or reducing tillage can have an outsized effect on crop yields and earnings.

Stamping out rural hunger and poverty in Bangladesh is not some distant dream. It is a real and attainable prospect, and with support from the U.S. Government’s global food security initiative, Feed the Future, we are doing our part.

To watch how the simple but powerful techniques we support are changing the lives of Bangladeshi farmers, check out the three embedded clips below on strip tillage, bed planting, and saving water and overcoming salinity. The longer version of the video (20 minutes)—”Save More, Grow More, Earn More“—is also well worth a view.

Strip Tillage
How do farmers produce a profitable crop with hardly any irrigation at all? Farmers in Bangladesh are showing the way by planting into mulch, and using simple machines that plow only a small line in their fields, into which seed and fertilizer are dropped at the same time. These easy-to-implement practices conserve precious soil moisture and improve their investment in fertilizer.

Bed Planting
Farmers across Bangladesh are putting the problem of high irrigation costs and water scarcity to bed—literally. Using the simple and effective technique of planting their rice, wheat, maize and legume crops on raised beds, farmers are getting more crop per drop and reducing irrigation requirements by up to 40 percent.

Overcoming Salinity with Conservation Agriculture
Despite increasing fuel and irrigation costs, as well as crop-damaging soil salinity, innovative farmers in Bangladesh are conserving soil moisture and overcoming salinity with conservation agriculture. By not fully plowing their fields, using appropriate machinery to sow their crops in lines under a layer of water-conserving mulch, and rotating between profitable crops, farmers are beating the odds to achieve profitable maize, wheat and legume yields.

Page 9 of 20:« First« 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 »Last »