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In Her Own Words: A Malian entrepreneur is given the tools to grow

I have always believed that better tools give better results.

For many years, farmers in West Africa have been struggling with low yields because good-quality seeds are not easily available. Most people need a little convincing to upgrade, especially when they are used to a certain way of doing things. In Africa, the majority of farmers use seeds saved from the previous year’s harvest, which often results in lower yields and vulnerability to disease. They don’t have access to affordable improved seeds: new varieties that have greater yields and are pest- and disease-resistant. Also, using saved seeds costs nothing and farmers are wary of paying for something when they are not sure of the return they will get.

Women farmers give their feedback during a tasting of three varieties of sorghum and groundnut. Photo Credit: Alina Paul-Bossuet, ICRISAT

My dream was to involve our local farmers in producing adapted high-quality seeds that can bring much better returns to smallholder farmers. And this is what’s happening now, enabled by Mali’s revised seed laws and support from initiatives like Feed the Future. To my knowledge, I am the first woman in Mali to develop a successful seed business through producing and marketing high-quality seeds.

The right support makes all the difference. Since 2008, my company, Faso Kaba, and a Feed the Future-supported seed project in Mali have been promoting improved seeds together on demonstration plots using seeds produced by four seed farmer cooperatives trained by the project. The seeds are then sold at Faso Kaba stores. This year, the West Africa Finance Fund (supported by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) enabled me to invest in a seed cleaning and packaging assembly line to ensure quality standards and facilitate packing. In return, we will clean, at reduced costs, the seeds produced by the seed farmer partners involved in the project.

The Feed the Future seed project has also helped me grow and develop Faso Kaba through business management training and international seed industry best practices. I have just returned from a visit to the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in India where I discussed the possibility of creating a seed venture incubator in Mali. I want Faso Kaba to be able to train Malian farmers to become local seed entrepreneurs producing improved varieties. They could then supply the seeds to farmers in their district, helping build local seed industries. Faso Kaba would ensure the supply of improved varieties, provide quality control, and help market the seeds.

I am very proud of Faso Kaba, which shows that a woman can drive this type of pioneering agribusiness in Mali. My mother was my inspiration; she used to produce a very respectable 500 kilograms of sorghum every season, but she didn’t have access to improved seeds. That is why distributing these seeds to both male and female farmers is a real source of pride for us.

I’m an ambitious person and I want to see more women involved in agribusiness. This is a tough challenge because women here are juggling so many responsibilities; they don’t have the time or support to develop businesses like this.

I hope that I can help show them the way.

Learn more about how Feed the Future is working to empower women farmers.

Three Questions about the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index

The new Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) will be officially launched today during the United Nations’ 56thsession of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York City. The WEAI is the first-ever measure to directly capture women’s empowerment and inclusion levels in the agricultural sector.

Chairwoman Rose Peter of the Upendo Women Growers Association in Mlandize, Kibaha, Tanzania, shows off the first batch of sweet peppers the women have grown in their new greenhouse. Photo credit: USAID/Tanzania.

The index is the product of a partnership between USAID, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) of Oxford University, in support of President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative to combat global hunger and poverty.

Paul Weisenfeld, Assistant to the Administrator for the Bureau for Food Security at USAID, Dr. Sabina Alkire who leads OPHI, and Dr. Agnes Quisumbing, Senior Research Fellow for the Poverty, Health, and Nutrition Division at IFPRI answer questions about this innovative measurement tool.

Q: What is the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index and what will it mean for the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative?

Paul: The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index measures the empowerment, agency, and inclusion of women in the agriculture sector to identify ways to overcome obstacles and constraints that hinder women’s engagement and equality. The Index is a significant innovation in its field and aims to increase understanding of the connections between women’s empowerment, food security, and agricultural growth. It measures the roles and extent of women’s engagement in the agriculture sector in five domains: (1) decisions about agricultural production, (2) access to and decision-making power over productive resources, (3) control over use of income, (4) leadership in the community, and (5) time use. It also measures women’s empowerment relative to the men within their households.

The WEAI was developed to track the change in women’s empowerment levels that occurs as a direct or indirect result of interventions under Feed the Future.  The U.S. Government sees the inclusion of women in agricultural sector growth as a key component of the Feed the Future strategy.  We are paying close attention to gender integration at the country-, program-, and project-level, and trying to get it right at every stage of the initiative.  This is where the Index plays a critical role; we want to continue to study, assess, and monitor how our approaches impact women, men, and their engagement in overall agricultural sector growth.

Q: What makes the WEAI so innovative?

Sabina: The WEAI is the first index to directly capture women’s empowerment in agriculture and provides invaluable tools for empowering women and improving gender equality.

The WEAI reveals the areas such as time burdens, community leadership, and control over income and resources, where women are most disempowered. It also shows whether an ‘empowerment gap’ exists between women and men from the same household.

And because it gets closer in, it also transforms our understanding of who is empowered. Until now, wealth and education have been taken as signs of how empowered women are. The WEAI gives a more precise picture. Pilot results from Guatemala, for example, show that 76% of the sample region’s wealthiest women are disempowered in agricultural empowerment. The index is constructed using an adaptation of the Alkire Foster method for measuring multidimensional poverty.

Q: If we’re seeing that wealth and education don’t necessarily mean “empowerment” for women, then what does empowerment mean in the context of agricultural development?

Agnes: It means a woman is able to make decisions, access the tools she needs, obtain a loan if she needs to buy inputs to expand production, join a women’s group, and take on leadership roles to advance agricultural production and tackle shared problems in the community. It means that she can control her income, better manage her time, and make sure she remains healthy and productive in her multiple roles. These factors enable a woman to do things such as produce food for her family; identify and help raise awareness to address problems affecting output – like crop disease or drought –helping communities cope with unexpected shocks; bring her products to market; and have the opportunity to both advance and benefit from economic growth opportunities. 

All of this increases women’s bargaining power within her household and her ability to decide how she’ll spend her income. Our work at IFPRI has shown that women are more likely to spend additional income on their children’s health, nutrition, and education, as well as on other investments that ultimately result in dividends that advance the broader community. We know that empowering women is not only the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do. It helps advance families, communities, and the broader global good.

Learn more about the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index

 

International Education Week: Partnering to Improve World Literacy

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Today, the global community faces an economic crisis that has many people around the world feeling tenuous about the future. World leaders are grappling with how to handle rising debt and shrinking funds. Yet despite this uncertainty, one thing is certain: education is still the light shining on our path that shows us the way forward. Education, now more than ever, is critical to eliminating gender inequity, reducing starvation, sustaining our planet, and restoring world peace.

As countries improve the education of their citizens, they experience huge multiplier effects: better health, growing economies, and reduced poverty. The data show us that a child born to an educated mother is two times more likely to survive to age 5 . . . that educated mothers are fifty percent more likely to immunize their children and three times less likely to contract HIV/AIDS. Every year that a child spends in school increases his or her future productivity by 10-30%.

When we think of how much a country gains in terms of goods and services by investing in 6, 12, or even 14 years of education for its workforce, how can we all not make that investment?

As part of this investment, I am pleased to announce today that the U.S. Department of Education will be joining USAID, World Vision and AustraliaAID in the All Children Reading initiative as well. As a new partner, we will collaborate with the founding partners as they work to dramatically improve world literacy. We are joining this work because we also believe that enhancing the education of all people, both at home and abroad, is a path to solving our world’s economic, social, and health problems.

The All Children Reading Challenge’s focus on improving literacy could not come at a better time. If education is the answer, then literacy is the foundation upon which we must build our countries’ well being. Not only are reading and writing critical to learning all other subjects, but literacy is what enables people to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship. Literacy opens doors to better living conditions, improved health, and expanded opportunities. It empowers people to build more secure futures for their families.

To get serious about literacy, we have to realize that the challenges of achieving an educated citizenry cut across geographical and political boundaries. Educators everywhere, including in the U.S., are concerned about the growing achievement gaps that exist for the poorest of our children, including those with learning disabilities and speakers of other languages.

Working together and collaborating to solve our common problems is critical. In our global economy, the tired old “survival of the fittest” philosophy that pits countries against one another no longer applies. Instead, we have to recognize that the battle is not between our countries, but with complacency.

I look forward to seeing what innovative programs and practices come out of this All Children Reading Challenge. I couldn’t be happier to see these organizations make an investment in the literacy of the children of the world, and I am hopeful that we in the U.S. will learn some innovative strategies that can make a difference for us here.


FWD Day Surpasses Goal, Hitting 117 Million Forwards

 

The USAID FWD Campaign successfully garnered 117 million forwards of crisis facts on FWD Day, dwarfing the goal of 13.3 million—the number of people currently affected by the crisis in the Horn of Africa.  Celebrities, NGOs, corporations, and the American public joined forces to amplify the message through a host of online channels including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, email, blogs and listservs.  The results were staggering, not only because of the number of forwards, but because of the new audiences reached, many perhaps for the first time.

In this blog post we wanted to share some of the inspiring ways you got involved.

Social Media Explosion

YouTube partnered with USAID by highlighting FWD videos on its homepage and by hosting a featured page for the campaign.  This enabled over 1 million views of FWD videos.  YouTube also spread the word to their more than 47 million Facebook fans.

Americans across the country of all ages and backgrounds led the effort by relentlessly propelling this message to friends, colleagues, and family through social network channels.  Nearly 24 million impressions were generated by #FWD on Twitter alone. Many people used their creativity to craft their own unique messages.  Some even filmed personal public service announcement videos!  Here are a few highlights:

Musician, Arthur Garros performed and filmed a tribute for the Horn of Africa, which he mixed with photos of the crisis and posted to the FWD YouTube page.

Galen Carey, the Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals chose to post a call to action on YouTube, challenging evangelical communities to respond to the crisis.

Visit youtube.com/FWD to see these and more FWD videos submitted by YouTube celebrities and Americans throughout the county. You can view and share videos from YouTube celebrities such as Brittani, Lisa Nova, and the “Chocolate Rain” signer, as well as videos from Second City, Funny or Die, and Barely Political.

 

Amplified: Websites, Blogs, and Events

Online meal delivery company Seamless offered discounts on food orders for customers who forwarded the facts to friends on Facebook, offering up to a 20% discount for 800 people to share the facts. Customers willingly accepted the challenge, and shared the facts over 1700 times, reaching thousands of people.


In his blog, A View from the Cave, writer Tom Murphy explored the power of social media to reach bigger audiences.  By linking celebrity news to facts about the crisis on Twitter, he attracted more readers and generated more discussion and retweets.  Read about it here!

The White House also got invovled.  Jon Carson, White House Director of Public Engagement, held a Twitter Chat for FWD day with representatives from the FWD campaign and USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. Twitter users had the opportunity to send in questions about the crisis with the hashtag #FWDatWH. Questions came in from across the country on topics like irrigation, infrastructure projects, climate change, and how the public can get involved.

The staff at USAID was energized by FWD Day and organized a walk and reflection to commemorate the occasion during their lunch break.  Foreign Service officers and civil servants alike took the opportunity to share stories and insights. Many spoke from their own life experience in the Horn of Africa.

FWD>Day has proven the capacity of the American People to raise awareness through the accessible online platforms that we all use.  A choice to send an email, post on Facebook or upload a simple YouTube video can literally have a lifesaving impact.  The inspiring creativity of others showcased here helps us to renew our commitment to keep up the search for new ways to forward the facts!

Engaging Universities to Address the Global Food Security Challenge

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) is a national association of 217 state university systems, land-grant universities, and related organizations across all 50 states. This week, USAID Administrator Raj Shah and several Agency representatives are attending APLU’s Annual Meeting, the premier annual summit for senior leaders of public research universities, land-grant institutions, and state universities.

USAID has enjoyed a long and productive history of partnerships with U.S. universities — partnerships that are critical to our success in many areas and dating back to our very founding 50 years ago. These institutions’ education, research, and engagement missions directly align with USAID’s charge to help people overseas struggling to make a better life. USAID partnerships with U.S. universities have focused on research and graduate training for promising young developing country scientists and on strengthening colleges and universities abroad to create the next generation of agricultural leaders. Together, we have made great progress. But there is still so much more to be done.

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International Education Week: USAID and Peace Corps Expand Reach in Global Education

To mark both agencies’ 50th anniversaries, USAID and the Peace Corps signed the Global Education Framework (GEF) agreement to encourage and enhance collaboration in global education activities.

GEF gives both agencies a flexible way to implement joint education initiatives at the local, national, regional, and global levels in basic education, higher education, youth development, and workforce development.

“The partnership builds on the work of Peace Corps volunteers who have been leaders in education and youth projects for 50 years,” said Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams. “We will utilize the agreement to support efforts to enhance the contributions our volunteers are making around the world with local communities at the grassroots level every day.”

The agreement allows USAID missions around the world and bureaus and offices in Washington to contribute funds that support education initiatives being implemented by the Peace Corps and its volunteers. Since the agreement’s inception, USAID has provided nearly $1.8 million in support of seven activities (see box). The collaboration under this agreement has been aimed at providing resources for the Peace Corps to enhance its technical training of volunteers and their host country counterparts.

USAID and the Peace Corps have three global framework agreements that allow this type of collaboration. The USAID/Peace Corps Small Project Assistance Agreement was implemented in 1983; and in July 2011, the agencies signed the Global Food Security Agreement.

The agreement creates a framework under which interested offices and field staff from both agencies can design a wide range of education, gender, and youth programs. For example, USAID support is enabling the development of new training modules for volunteers and staff positions to support common areas of interest such as promoting literacy and reading.

“The Global Education Framework Agreement demonstrates how we are effectively and efficiently programming every development dollar to deliver meaningful results in education,” says USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. “By working together, we strengthen our organizations to better assist the countries and people we serve.”

The first strategic goal outlined in the new USAID Education Strategy—improving early grade reading—also reflects a Peace Corps focus area in education. Additionally, the three primary crosscutting issues in the strategy—youth programming, gender equality, and learners with disabilities—are all key programming areas for the Peace Corps.

“This important collaboration helps USAID meet its education goals while helping support Peace Corps and its local partners to reach greater numbers of learners both in and out of school,” says Richard Whelden, director of USAID’s Education Office and a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in Chad from 1974 to 1978. “We also recognize that today’s volunteers are increasingly connected and bring valuable knowledge and other tech-savvy skills and expertise to the communities where they are serving.”

Over 200,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers since 1961, working in 139 counties to promote world peace and friendship. Currently, there are 8,655 Peace Corps volunteers serving in 76 countries worldwide. Approximately 40 percent of all volunteers today are assigned in either education or youth sectors, and over 60 percent of all volunteers report working with youth in their primary assignments.

Veterans at USAID: Continuing to Serve America and the World

In 1978, I was “roaming” the North Atlantic on a guided missile destroyer (USS Luce DDG-38) as a young Naval Officer. During my four years with the Navy, I saw much of what the military’s finest branch had to offer–first as an electronic warfare officer, then as a damage control officer in the engineering department and finally, as the ship’s navigator.

My military service gave me countless gifts that I have used throughout my professional and personal life.  I made lifelong friendships; got accepted to a top business school on the strength of my military career; and gained leadership experience and skills I have used my entire professional life.

It instilled in me a deep sense of commitment and service to our country.  Most recently I was asked to serve President Obama’s Administration as the Assistant Administrator for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade (EGAT) at USAID. At USAID, I have made it a top priority for my bureau to hire, develop, and retain our nation’s finest. Military service–my first experience serving our country, helps me fully appreciate the sacrifices and lives of veterans both as warriors and women and men, heroes in our midst–heroes who always deserve, and often need, jobs.

We recently brought on board Dane Thomas who is retired Air Force. He is currently in our office of Professional Development Administrative Management (PDAM) working on personnel matters for EGAT.   We also brought on board Jan Louis Argilagos, a six-year Navy veteran of Operation Desert Storm. He is currently supporting USAID’s Water and Global Climate Change coordinators, and assisting with communications, research and strategic planning for EGAT’s water and climate change teams. Fellow veteran and former Army Chris Holmes serves as the Agency’s Water Coordinator.  Joel Van Essen, currently on active duty with the U.S. Navy and on loan to USAID, is helping to develop USAID’s water strategy. He is engaged with senior leadership to focus on practical resolutions to water issues in the Horn of Africa.

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Challenges & Approaches to Reducing Gender Gaps

Today, at the Pre-G20 Side Event: “Growing Economies Through Women’s Entrepreneurship,” co-hosted by the United States and the OECD, the US Treasury Department and the IFC, implementing partner to the G20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI), previewed the report “Strengthening Access to Finance for Women SMEs in Developing Countries,” (to be released in at the G20 Summit in Cannes on November 4) and USAID announced a new initiative to expand women’s leadership in the small and medium enterprise sector.  The report and USAID initiative are significant for both laying out the challenges and identifying possible approaches to reducing gender gaps.

Caren Grown is a Senior Gender Advisor at USAID. Photo credit: Caren Grown/USAID

First, across countries, data show a gender gap in venture creation and business ownership, especially as firm size increases.  It is difficult to draw solid conclusions, since the evidence base on women owned businesses is limited.  Yet, based on existing data, the IFC reports that small and medium enterprises with full or partial female ownership represent 31 to 38 percent of formal firms in this sector.  Women’s entrepreneurship is highly concentrated among smaller firms:  they represent between 32-39 percent of the very smallest firms, 30-36 percent of small SMEs and 17-21 percent of medium sized companies.[i]

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Embracing Enlightened Capitalism

For decades, strengthening country institutions and developing human capital have been the bread and butter of the development community. Over time, USAID and others have helped countries develop accountable government and civil society services while investing in the health and education of developing country populations. While there is no recipe for reliably delivering sustainable, broad-based economic growth, responsive institutions and strong human capital have always been key ingredients.

But there is another critical ingredient to growth that we have seen in every country that’s grown its way out of poverty: a strong and dynamic private sector.  And while USAID has been focused on private sector engagement for years, the development community does not always embrace the encouragement of private sector activity as part of our core mission.

Last week, I gave a speech at our Agency’s Public-Private Partnership forum highlighting how our community could embrace a new wave of enlightened capitalism to help drive the sustainable, broad-based economic growth called for in the President’s Policy Directive on Development and the Secretary’s Quadrennial Review.

I’m not talking about forming partnerships for partnership’s sake or photo opportunities. I’m not even talking about Corporate Social Responsibility or charity work. I’m talking about helping support the work of markets that can deliver profits and create jobs and deliver economic opportunity for women, minorities and the poor.

In the speech, I announced several new steps that I believe will be key to this effort, among them the formation of our new Innovation and Development Alliances Office, the expansion of our use of the Development Credit Authority to support local private sector growth and significantly increase our commercial leverage, the deployment a new cadre of investment officers to boost our field based transactions expertise and a reevaluation of the way we strengthen enabling environments abroad.

A lot of people are currently giving speeches about the need to move beyond foreign aid—you’ve probably heard a few. But I believe the private sector connectivity we drive with developing countries today will determine how much we can trade and partner with them tomorrow, creating economic opportunity for own country.

If we want to truly get to a world that has moved beyond aid, then we need to invest in exactly the kind of developmental and private sector engagement that will get us there.

Maximizing the Impact of Public and Private Global Health Commitments

Amanda Makulec is a Monitoring and Evaluation Associate, John Snow Inc.

In a time of international economic uncertainty, it is more important than ever for donor agencies to ensure global health dollars are being spent wisely for maximum health impact.  Investing in maternal and reproductive health programs around the world has supported a one-third reduction in maternal mortality since 1990, and saved the lives of millions. Moving forward, donor agencies are committed to maintaining and continuing that success through new mechanisms for providing basic maternal, newborn, and child health services which leverage both public and private resources and through integrated programs to improve service delivery,  like USAID’s Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP).

One such coordinated effort is the Alliance for Reproductive, Maternal, and Newborn Health (the Alliance), which was born over a year ago to support progress towards MDGs four and five in ten priority countries, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Together, these countries account for around 68% of unmet need for family planning globally, 54% of maternal deaths, and 56% of all neonatal mortality. The Alliance’s public sector partners include USAID, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), and the UK Department for International Development (DfID). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributes its private donor funds and expertise to the core group of partners.

While Alliances and Coalitions seem to spring up often in today’s globally-connected era, this partnership strategically focuses on fostering local country ownership of programs, emphasizing cost-effective spending of donor dollars through improved coordination across agencies, and ensuring it does not create parallel systems for working with countries, providing services, or monitoring and evaluation of its work, instead leveraging existing mechanisms.

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