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Serbia Plugs Into Cow Power

In the past, I would speed up when driving by a farm. The only thing I could think of was the awful smell that made me hold my breath. Now, I slow down and think of endless supplies of clean energy, thanks to a USAID project that is helping convert manure into renewable energy– all the while, banking on American industrial expertise.

On one farm in Blace, a town of 11,000 people in southern Serbia, 700 cows produce thousands of gallons of manure each day. But this farm’s waste does not “go to waste.”

With support from USAID’s Agribusiness Project, manure from the Lazar Dairy is being “digested” by Serbia’s first biogas plant and converted into electricity, which the dairy sells to the national electricity company, EPS, at a preferential rate applicable to renewable energy suppliers.

Lazar pays about €0.05/kWh for the electricity it purchases from EPS, but it will receive about three times as much for the electricity that it sells to power company.

Lazar Dairy Biogas Plant 5

A DAI-led USAID project supported the construction of Serbia’s Lazar Dairy new biogas plant. The plant was designed by DVO Inc., of Chilton, Wisconsin, a leading U.S. designer and builder of anaerobic digesters.

Ushering the $2 million plant from drawing board to full operation took two-years. USAID’s Agribusiness Project acted as the “matchmaker” between Lazar Dairy and DVO, Inc., of Wisconsin, a leading U.S. designer and builder of anaerobic digesters.

The dairy had faced significant problems dealing with its manure, a major pollution issue. Now, this is virtually eliminated by the digester — a sealed container — as is the odor problem. Since its inauguration in May 2012, the plant has been operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, feeding up to 1 MW of renewable electrical energy into the national electrical grid every month—enough to power more than 1,000 homes.

In addition to generating biogas that powers the generator, the leftover solids and liquids are filtered and used for cow bedding and as fertilizer. The recycling of other organic waste (such as whey from cheese production at the farm) results in a liquid fertilizer and waste heat in the form of hot water that can be used to heat buildings.

Lazar Dairy Biogas Plant 3

A DAI-led USAID project supported the construction of Serbia’s Lazar Dairy new biogas plant. The plant was designed by DVO Inc., of Chilton, Wisconsin, a leading U.S. designer and builder of anaerobic digesters.

“The introduction of the bio-digester completely changed our business operations. We now have a steady cash inflow and dispose of our waste without harm to the environment,” said Milan Vidojevic, owner of the Lazar Dairy and one of Serbia’s most successful entrepreneurs.

Bolstering technological innovations like these, which encourage economic growth both abroad and at home, while supporting responsible agricultural practices, is a priority at USAID.

“This investment demonstrates that environmentally sound production can increase profits AND provide wide reaching benefits for the whole community. The U.S. Government is proud to have facilitated this process, through which this American technology has found its way to Blace,” said the former U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, Mary Warlick.

Lazar Dairy, which employs 120 people, is an economic engine for villages around Blace. In addition to its dairy farm, Lazar buys up to 45,000 liters (12,000 gallons) of milk per day from a network of more than 2,000 local farmers within a 100-kilometer radius. Its processing plant converts this raw milk to processed milk, yogurt, creams, and cheeses.

As a result of USAID’s assistance since early 2009, the company has generated annual sales of nearly $1 million, which translates to more than $600,000 in cash payments to the 2,000 raw-milk suppliers. Should future environmental regulations in Serbia allow it, the dairy would be eligible for additional revenue through the sale of carbon credits.

Eight Facts About ZunZuneo

On Thursday, April 3, the Associated Press published an article on a social media program in Cuba funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The article contained significant inaccuracies and false conclusions about ZunZuneo, which was part of a broader effort that began in 2009 to facilitate “twitter like” communication among Cubans so they could connect with each other on topics of their choice. Many of the inaccuracies have been re-reported by other news outlets, perpetuating the original narrative, or worse.

Photo credit: Manpreet Romana/AFP

Photo credit: Manpreet Romana/AFP

The article suggested that USAID spent years on a “covert” program to gather personal information to be used for political purposes to “foment” “smart mobs” and start a “Cuban spring” to overthrow the Cuban government.  It makes for an interesting read, but it’s not true.

USAID’s work in Cuba is not unlike what we and other donors do around the world to connect people who have been cut off from the outside world by repressive or authoritarian governments. USAID’s democracy and governance work focuses on strengthening civil society, governance, and promoting human rights.

Here are eight claims made by article, followed by the facts:

1) The story says the “program’s legality is unclear” and implies the program was “covert.”

FACT:  USAID works in places where we are not always welcome. To minimize the risk to our staff and partners and ensure our work can proceed safely, we must take certain precautions and maintain a discreet profile. But discreet does not equal covert.

The programs have long been the subject of Congressional notifications, unclassified briefings, public budget requests, and public hearings. All of the Congressional Budget Justifications published from 2008 through 2013, which are public and online, explicitly state that a key goal of USAID’s Cuba program is to break the “information blockade” or promote “information sharing” amongst Cubans and that assistance will include the use or promotion of new “technologies” and/or “new media” to achieve its goals.

In 2012, the Government Accountability Office—the U.S. government’s investigative arm—spent months looking at every aspect of USAID’s Cuba programs. GAO’s team of analysts had unrestricted access to project documents, extended telephone conversations with Mobile Accord (ZunZuneo) and even traveled to Cuba. The GAO identified no concerns in the report about the legality of USAID’s programs, including ZunZuneo, and offered USAID zero recommendations for improvements.

2) The article implies that the purpose of the program was to foment “Smart Mobs,” funnel political content and thereby trigger unrest in Cuba.

FACT:  The “USAID documents” cited in the article appear to be case study research and brainstorming notes between the grantee and the contractor.  The specific reference to “Smart Mobs” had nothing to do with Cuba nor ZunZuneo. The documents do not represent the U.S. government’s position or reflect the spirit or actions taken as part of the program in Cuba.  The project initially sent news, sports scores, weather, and trivia.  After which, the grantee did not direct content because users were generating it on their own.

3) The story states there was a “shell company” in Spain formed to run the program.

FACT:  No one affiliated with the ZunZuneo program established a private company in Spain as part of this program.  The project sought to do so if it was able to attract private investors to support the effort after USAID funding ended.  Private investment was never identified and thus no company was ever formed.

4) The story implies that the USG tried to recruit executives to run ZunZuneo without telling them about USG involvement.

FACT:  A USAID staff member was present during several of the interviews for candidates to lead ZunZuneo.  The staff member’s affiliation with USAID was disclosed and it was conveyed that the funding for the program was from the U.S. Government.

5) The article states that private data was collected with the hope it would be used for political purposes.

FACT: The ZunZuneo project included a website, as is typical for a social network.  Users could voluntarily submit personal information. Few did, and the program did not use this information for anything.

6) The article says that the funding was “publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan,” implying that funds were misappropriated.

FACT: All funds for this project were Congressionally appropriated for democracy programs in Cuba, and that information is publicly available.

7) The story stated, “At its peak, the project drew in more than 40,000 Cubans to share news and exchange opinions.”

FACT: At its peak, the platform had around 68,000 users.

8) The article suggests there was an inappropriate base of operations established in Costa Rica outside of normal U.S. government procedures.

FACT: The Government of Costa Rica was informed of the program on more than one occasion.  The USAID employee overseeing the program served under Chief of Mission Authority with the U.S. Embassy, as is standard practice.

We welcome tough journalism – and we embrace it.  It makes our programs better.  But we also believe it’s important that the good work of USAID not be falsely characterized.

Commemorating World Health Day

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called upon our nation to join with the world in ending extreme poverty in the next two decades. Today, we have new tools that enable us to achieve a goal that was simply unimaginable in the past: the eradication of extreme poverty and its most devastating corollaries, including widespread hunger and preventable child and maternal death.

Preventing and controlling vector-borne diseases, diseases carried by insects, ticks and small animals, is central to achieving President Obama’s vision of ending extreme poverty. On World Health Day, commemorated each year on April 7, the World Health Organization (WHO) highlights actions we can all take to protect ourselves from the serious diseases that these “vectors” can cause.

Children wash their hands in Ghana, where USAID supports prevention and treatment of trachoma, a blinding eye disease.  International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) ..

Children wash their hands in Ghana, where USAID supports prevention and treatment of trachoma, a blinding eye disease.
International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) ..

More than half of the world’s population is at risk from vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever and neglected tropical diseases. The most commonly known vectors include mosquitoes, sandflies, bugs, ticks and snails, which are responsible for transmitting a wide range of parasites and pathogens contributing to deadly diseases.

Senegal: Demonstrating the proper use of ITNs in Senegal. Photo Credit: Maggie Hallahan

Senegal: Demonstrating the proper use of ITNs in Senegal. Photo Credit: Maggie Hallahan

Below, we highlight solutions to combat extreme poverty and vector-borne diseases.

Solutions

  • In this scene-setter, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah explains how USAID and its partners have embraced the challenge of creating a world without extreme poverty.
  • In “A Call to Action to End Extreme Poverty,” Alex Thier and Ilyse Stempler discuss how USAID and its partners are adopting an integrated, holistic approach that capitalizes on their collective expertise. They share past successes in addressing extreme poverty and introduce some new ideas to finish the job.
  • In “Your Voice,” a continuing FrontLines feature, Adm. Tim Ziemer, U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator, shares his perspective on leading a major presidential initiative to end deaths from malaria
  • Katherine Sanchez profiles Ghana’s efforts to become the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate trachoma, the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness.
  • A Yumbe survey team learns how to use electronic tablets to collect data on trachoma.  Christine Ninsiima

    A Yumbe survey team learns how to use electronic tablets to collect data on trachoma.
    Christine Ninsiima

    And in “Trachoma vs. Technology,” Phil Downs and Scott Torres uncover efforts to capture and analyze data quickly on mobile electronic tablets in rural Uganda. This approach is transforming the battle against an ancient eye disease, for which timely treatment can prevent blindness.

  • Students prepare to take part in a mapping survey at Pav Primary School in Rattanakiri.  Credit: Chan Vitharin ..

    Students prepare to take part in a mapping survey at Pav Primary School in Rattanakiri.
    Credit: Chan Vitharin ..

    In “Wiping Snail Fever Off Cambodia’s Map – by Drawing It On,” Sokhon Sea delves into an effort to enlist many, including school children, on a mission to wipe out the infection that can lead to debilitating illness and malnutrition and cognitive difficulties in children.

  • Finally, Ann Varghese and Chris Glass explore a unique drug-shoe combination that could stomp out two debilitating diseases endemic to Haiti and how wearing new sneakers kicks up that protection even more by creating a barrier between parasites and kids’ feet.

 

U.S. Global Development Lab Launches to Develop and Scale Solutions to Global Challenges

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton & Dr. Rajiv Shah on April 3, 2014 at the New York launch of the Global Development Lab

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton & Dr. Rajiv Shah on April 3, 2014 at the New York launch of the Global Development Lab

Imagine a world in which diagnostics for diseases that are prevalent in developing countries are available at pennies per use, renewable off-grid energy services are affordable for households earning less than $2/day, and every family has enough healthy food to eat.  USAID is helping to turn these ideas into realities by launching the U.S. Global Development Lab. The Lab is a critical part of delivering on the President’s commitment to game-changing innovation in the first-ever Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development.

The Lab’s creation is part of a strategic decision to emphasize innovation as one of the critical tools needed to end extreme poverty and achieve broad-based economic growth in light of a number of converging trends:

  • Recognition that quality of life and economic improvements in developing countries over the last few decades can be traced in large part to the use of scientific advances such as improved agricultural seeds and practices, oral rehydration therapy, vaccines, and the cell phone.
  • Emphasis on leveraging U.S. core competencies.  America is a global leader in innovation and invests $453 billion in public and private research and development annually.  It also has 17 of the top 20 research universities, and world-class innovation hubs such as Silicon Valley and Cambridge, MA.
  • The information economy is changing the way innovation occurs and is increasingly enabling people in even the most remote parts of the world to use mobile communications and data to learn, co-create, and deploy solutions locally and globally.
  • The emergence of new pathways to scale innovations via for-profit or social business models that are made possible by a surge in private sector investment in developing countries.  These pathways are critical since they exceed the level and reach of official assistance by the U.S. Government.
Farmers using a SuperMoneyMaker pump.

The U.S. Global Development Lab puts tools in place to create and scale solutions to global challenges in partnership with public and private innovators around the world, USAID Missions, and interagency colleagues.  The Lab has Centers that will focus on Data Analysis and Research (problem definition), Development Innovation (ideas), and Global Solutions (scale).  It will also have teams dedicated to private sector and Mission partnerships, and evaluation and impact.

The Lab brings together a number of existing programs from across the innovation pipeline: Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER), the Higher Education Solutions NetworkGrand Challenges for DevelopmentDevelopment Innovation VenturesMobile Solutions, and Global Development Alliances.

Students using mobile devices

We believe that the U.S. Global Development Lab can help lead the transformation of the U.S. development enterprise and strengthen critical initiatives including Power AfricaFeed the Future and Global Health by increasing USAID’s ability to:

  • Invest in breakthrough technologies;
  • Scale what works;
  • Attract scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to work at USAID, and harness the growing interest of young people in development;
  • Leverage America’s $453 billion investment in public and private R&D – which can often have significant benefits for the developing world;
  • Effectively partner with governments, the private sector, researchers, investors, and civil society – at home and abroad; and
  • Excel at using new approaches to solve hard development problems, including Grand Challenges, incentive prizes, and other “pull” mechanisms, crowdsourcing, impact investing in inclusive businesses, managing a “pipeline” of innovations, user-centered design, and the formation of global “communities of practice.”

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

FrontLines: The End of Extreme Poverty

FrontLines March/April 2014: The End of Extreme Poverty
Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines to learn about the Agency’s plans for eliminating extreme poverty within the next two decades. Some highlights:

The Courage of Atefa: Afghan Women Learn to be Candidates

It’s hard to imagine someone more optimistic about her country’s future, more determined to be on the front lines of social change, than Atefa, whose last name is being withheld for security reasons.

Women provincial council candidates in training.

Women provincial council candidates in training. Photo credit: Jean-Marc Gorelick

Only 25 years old, and already a teacher with seven years of challenging classroom experience, she is running for provincial council in Kabul, a governing body similar to a U.S. state legislature.  It was an agonizing decision, made with full awareness of the risks she would face, but she couldn’t be clearer about her reasons:  “I am running because I want to serve the vulnerable groups, the women and especially girls. Girls who are educated stay at home because they are not allowed to work outside and even if they are allowed they cannot get good jobs,” she says.

This young woman’s leap into the democratic fray, fueled by a belief that Afghanistan’s successful future will require the talents and commitment of men and women from every walk of life, is occurring in the midst of what is almost certainly the most significant election (presidential and provincial) in her country’s history, scheduled to take place on April 5.

And Atefa is not alone.

 Hundreds of young women – and, to be sure, young men – have signaled their eagerness to be participate in a moment with so many seemingly intractable problems: insecurity, poverty, illiteracy.

Now come the formidable and often frustrating challenges of running for office. Atefa now must run her campaign, meet voters, prepare campaign materials, hone her ability to speak publicly, and present a vision for her country’s future.

USAID is helping women in Afghanistan learn to become candidates. / Photo c/o U.S. Government

USAID is helping women in Afghanistan learn to become candidates. / Photo c/o U.S. Government

First-time candidates often lack the skills needed to campaign effectively. Funds to produce materials can be hard to come by. And, in a country still confronting challenges from those who prefer rage over renewal, many candidates have had their lives threatened.

To address these challenges, USAID supported a campaign school, which began on November 9, 2013, training 290 of 308 women provincial council candidates.

This training is provided by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), through the Supporting Political Entities and Civil Society (SPECS) program.

Each five-day workshop provides candidates with nuts and bolts information on conducting a campaign, fundraising, staff management and voter outreach. On the last day of the training, candidates produce a plan to guide them through the campaign cycle.

The training plays a vital role in expanding women’s political participation, a key component of Afghan democratic development. By enhancing the ability of women to compete for provincial council seats, this program contributes to achieving greater inclusivity in the Afghanistan 2014 elections.

None of the formidable challenges seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of extraordinary Afghan women determined to be valued and included in a democratic Afghanistan.

With her drive and courage, aided by her new tools, Atefa will be ready.

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Texts Connect Midwives to Mothers in Timor-Leste

‘A pregnant woman has one foot in the grave.’ This common saying reflects the reality in many developing countries: bearing a child is one of the main risks to a woman’s life. In the poor countries of the world, giving birth is both one of the most significant days in a woman’s life but also a time when she is closest to losing it.

In Timor-Leste, a tiny country just north of Australia, progress against maternal deaths has been slow. Since independence from Indonesia in 2002, the country has made great efforts to provide trained midwives for pregnant women who seek them, but a wide gap remains. The rural population is widely dispersed in mountainous terrain and often far from health facilities. More than half of all babies in Timor-Leste are born at home with help only from family members. As a result, many women and babies die in those first few hours and days after birth.

Health posts in rural Timor-Leste are often several hours' walk from remote communities. Credit: Henrique Bere, HAI

Health posts in rural Timor-Leste are often several hours’ walk from remote communities.
Credit: Henrique Bere, HAI

USAID has been working with Timor-Leste’s Health Ministry since 2004 to help find solutions to this terrible problem. In 2011, U.S.-based NGO Health Alliance International (HAI) won a USAID Child Survival and Health Grant to try a new approach.

“We realized that one basic reason that many women didn’t give birth with professional help was that their contact with midwives was so brief that they weren’t able to develop a sense of trust and confidence,” said Susan Thompson, HAI’s Program Director, based in Seattle. “There also was a lot that women could do to have a healthy baby that they didn’t know about, and it couldn’t be conveyed in the usual two or three short prenatal care visits.”

Midwife Justa Pereira and mother-to-be Rosalia Juela test the project's SMS messages. Credit: Catalpa International

Midwife Justa Pereira and mother-to-be Rosalia Juela test the project’s SMS messages.
Credit: Catalpa International

How could HAI help the Ministry bridge that gap between women and their midwives? Noting the dramatic increases in mobile phone use throughout the country, HAI proposed the first use of this technology as a permanent behavior-change tool. The focus for this new use of mobile phone technology is in Manufahi District, where cell phone ownership is fairly high at just over half, but, at 19 percent, use of skilled birth attendants is well below the national average of about 30 percent. Ministry statistics estimate that the district has about 11,000 women of reproductive age, and expected 2,200 pregnancies in 2013, the first year of the project.

The project is called “Mobile Moms” or Liga Inan (“connecting mothers”) in the local language of Tetun. The project team matched the technological opportunity to the needs of the Ministry and developed a dual approach to making use of the widespread availability of mobile phones.

First, working with Catalpa International, a software development group in Timor-Leste, the project team created an internet-based program to send SMS maternal health messages twice a week to pregnant women in Tetun, the language most widely spoken. The messages detail important actions that the women can take to safeguard their pregnancies, and include advice on postpartum and newborn care for the first six weeks after delivery.

Second, the project facilitates phone conversations between midwives and the expectant mothers at critical times. Women can send SMS messages very cheaply to ask for information or assistance, and midwives can call them back at the project’s expense.

Health Ministry officials in rural Manufahi District have been supportive and intensely involved since the beginning. Director of District Health Services Teofilho Tilman said that they have “seen … a significant increase in the number of women receiving antenatal care and delivering at the health facility” since the project began. Over the past year in Same Subdistrict, where the project started its work in February 2013, the number of women coming to a birthing facility, using a skilled birth attendant or making four or more antenatal care visits has doubled.

In a recent study on the impacts of this project on health professionals, midwives consistently reported that they liked the service because they can better follow the progress of their patients and meet their needs. In her response, one midwife said:

For me, it helps… because before Liga Inan we didn’t know the condition of the mothers. Through Liga Inan, we have their number and we know their due date. So for example, in November we know which mothers will give birth. We match that info with the data here to check, and if they didn’t come to the health facility, we call to find out how they are.

Amalia Martins Calapes is a new mother in Same, the capital of Manufahi District. Project SMS messages have encouraged her to visit her midwife regularly. Credit: Marisa Harrison, HAI

Amalia Martins Calapes is a new mother in Same, the capital of Manufahi District. Project SMS messages have encouraged her to visit her midwife regularly.
Credit: Marisa Harrison, HAI

In the first year of the project, Same Subdistrict midwives enrolled more than 1,000 women in the project. Nearly 600 women have completed their pregnancies and received the special postpartum SMS messages to help them give their babies a healthy start in life.

Women participating in Liga Inan provide the project with valuable input about project impact and success. Amalia Martins Calapes from the town of Same did not participate in the program through her first two pregnancies. During her third, she did. And it helps her stay motivated to seek care.

Sometimes I feel too lazy to go to the clinic… but on Mondays and Thursdays I read the SMS that comes to my phone, and think, ‘Today, I must make myself go to the clinic.’

An important goal of the program is to increase community understanding of better ways to assure a healthy pregnancy. Encouraging women to share the SMS messages is one way that can happen. According to Amalia:

When the messages arrive, the first person that I share them with is my husband. He knows and then the household knows, and then I can share information with my girlfriends. I can tell them that the Liga Inan program sent me messages about this, and this, and this. So when they need something, they can contact this number or go directly to the clinic.

Today, Amalia agrees with Timor-Leste’s new saying for mothers:

‘Healthy mothers and healthy babies give us a strong nation.’

Eye in the Sky Moves Mountains in Development

THE WORLD IN HIS HAND: Him Lal Shrestha, a Remote Sensing Analyst at the USAID-funded SERVIR Himalaya initiative, explains how data is transmitted from a satellite and informs the Government of Nepal on how best to make use of their land. Photo by Richard Nyberg, USAID

THE WORLD IN HIS HAND: Him Lal Shrestha, a Remote Sensing Analyst at the USAID-funded SERVIR Himalaya initiative, explains how data is transmitted from a satellite and informs the Government of Nepal on how best to make use of their land.
Photo by Richard Nyberg, USAID

When Him Lal Shrestha wants to know what is happening on the ground affecting Nepalese farmers, he shoots a glance up—way up to an orbiting satellite. That great big white ball on the top of his building helps bring life-saving data down to earth. Here’s how.

Shrestha is a Remote Sensing Analyst at the USAID-funded SERVIR Himalaya initiative. He showed me around his facility and explained how satellite imagery can tell us what is happening to land in Nepal and across the countries surrounding the scenic Hindu Kush Himalayas.

Pointing to his screen, he explains how land cover, particularly in agriculture and forest, in many areas of Nepal is being depleted — a serious issue that will affect how local people plant, harvest and survive. It’s also a huge concern for government officials who are trying to thwart potential calamities that could make things tougher for people just trying to make ends meet.

Screenshot on the SERVIR Himalaya website shows land cover trends over time.

Screenshot on the SERVIR Himalaya website shows land cover trends over time.

Shrestha describes what he sees on his screen. “In the case of Nepal, from 1990 to the current year, we see remarkable pressure on the land cover changes,” he said. “Land cover is a function of population growth; because of population growth, there is urbanization. So ultimately there is pressure on the forest coverage,” he said, adding that the survey work is important internationally because “we are discussing reducing emission from the deforestation and degradation.”

Helping people understand forest cover and other development challenges at home and across borders is the goal of this USAID effort in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Some of the tools help people detect forest fires hidden behind mountain ranges and send SMS messages to firefighters so they can speed off in pursuit in less than an hour.

Dr. Rajiv Shah meets local scientists at SERVIR Himalaya.

Dr. Rajiv Shah meets local scientists at SERVIR Himalaya.

“It is hard to fix a problem that you cannot see,” said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah during a recent visit to Nepal. Dr. Shah believes that by harnessing science and technology, “we can put critical information in the hands of the people most affected by natural disasters.”

Other tools keep a big eye on glacier melts leading to water flows and help monitor food production and estimate crop yields to better inform the Nepal government so they can make critical decisions ahead of time to avoid famine and all the suffering that comes with it. Similarly, other governments in the region can use satellite imagery of land conditions within their borders to make informed decisions.

Top: Imja Glacier in 1956.  Bottom: By 2012, the Imja glacier had receded dramatically, leaving behind a lake 110 m deep and containing over 60 million cubic meters of water.

Top: Imja Glacier in 1956.
Bottom: By 2012, the Imja glacier had receded dramatically, leaving behind a lake 110 m deep and containing over 60 million cubic meters of water.
Photo Credits: (Top) Erwin Schneider, Courtesy of the Association for Comparative Alpine Research, Munich. (Bottom) Alton C.Byers, The Mountain Institute

According to Bronwyn Llewellyn, Environment Team Leader at USAID Nepal, a lack of transparency in decision-making is an issue to tackle across the region. “Science and technology can help a lot with that transparency. It’s a tool that is accessed by everyone online. By creating tools that cross boundaries, you are creating a language of science that can be used across the borders. So everyone is looking at the same tool and making the same decisions.”

So what’s USAID’s vision for this science-based development mapping toolkit? Governments across the region need the big picture. And the satellite data it collects enables them to track global climate change and make more informed decisions about land and water use that impact their countries’ future.

Grading Donors on Land Rights: Where We Are, and Where We’re Going

In 2010, I was sitting in a meeting at the World Bank where initial principles were being discussed for guiding large-scale agricultural investments– which had grown dramatically after the food price spike of 2008.

Governments, the private sector, civil society and others want to promote investment in ways that benefit all local communities, investors and governments; and improve economic growth and food security for many of the worlds most vulnerable populations.

However, four years later, the global community is still deeply engaged in developing these guidelines for the private sector, now known as the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI) and led by the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

While we do not yet have investment principles for the private sector, we do have guidelines for host governments to use in developing land policies, laws and procedures to promote good land governance, including in the context of investment. They are called The Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. Secure property rights are the gateway to broad-based economic growth, improved food security, reduced violent conflict, and improved natural resource management and, by extension, one of the best tools to address global climate change. Weak land and resource rights limit investment (of any size),threaten good natural resource management, often promote conflict and pose special problems for vulnerable groups including minorities, indigenous people, the poor, and women.

This past week, nearly 1000 experts and influencers in the land rights sector gathered at the World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty to present field-based research, announce new initiatives and to develop innovative partnerships. Many of these presentations and announcements are rooted in the desire to implement aspects of the Voluntary Guidelines.

I had the pleasure of chairing the Voluntary Guidelines negotiations back in 2011 and 2012 for the eventual adoption of this seminal agreement. Having had a unique position to participate in the negotiations, and now managing USAID’s global program supporting the Voluntary Guidelines, I feel compelled to take stock of where we are now and what have we accomplished in the past two years and, most importantly, to ask where we should go next.

Asilya Gemmal proudly displays her land certificate

Youth Benefit from Land Certificates (Photo: Links Media)

So Where Are We Now?

I believe we are witnessing the emergence of a global consensus among bilateral and multilateral institutions, the private sector, and civil society organizations that the Voluntary Guidelines are the guiding doctrine for emerging-economy governments to be able to recognize and promote the protection of property rights around the world.

In the two years since the Voluntary Guidelines were adopted, donors and development agencies have started to align their bilateral and multilateral assistance programs supporting property rights and improved resource governance to them.

Throughout 2012 and 2013 USAID led an initiative through the Global Donor Working Group on Land that collected information on the land and resource governance programs of 16 donors and development agencies to help us better coordinate our programs, and understand their successes and pitfalls as they pertain to supporting the Voluntary Guidelines. The result is a comprehensive database of 445 programs, being implemented in 119 countries, with a value of over $2 billion.

In December the Governments of Ethiopia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany formed a partnership to support the Voluntary Guidelines and promote greater transparency in rural land governance. This partnership was a result of coordinated work under the 2013 G8 transparency initiative on land.

Proud Holders of Land-Use Certificates

Proud Holders of Land-Use Certificates (Photo: Nina Terrell/USAID)

And Where Are We Going?

While the development community has made important progress supporting the Voluntary Guidelines, I believe we have far more to do.  Here are some suggestions:

  • While the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has developed initial advice, we must strive to develop additional guidance for emerging economies, including “how to” manuals for the Voluntary Guidelines that make them easier for governments to implement.
  • We should also increase our efforts to raise awareness, provide training, and build capacity at the local level to bridge the gap between global best practice and what is understood and pursued on the ground in the developing countries.
  • The development community should also recognize that the private sector plays a key role in the success of this process. The private sector is moving forward—in consultation with civil society and donor organizations—to develop better practices for acquiring land for commercial agriculture, extractives, and biofuels. Last year, the Coca-Cola Company negotiated an agreement with Oxfam to respect local property rights along its supply chain. PepsiCo and eight other large companies have recently agreed to do the same under the ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign.
  • Another possible next step could be the development of a certification standard – as was done with Fair Trade Coffee or the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – under the rubric of “Fair Land.” Industry certification would set an acceptable expectation for how companies will invest and conduct business with respect to land rights in emerging economies and could help build the private sector expertise required to effectively manage land throughout supply chains. Such a scheme would also empower civil society to monitor investments in a more systematic way and allow consumers to reward companies that behave responsibly and apply pressure to those that do not. Through certification, we might see an uptick in investments leading to local economic growth that could propel the bottom billion out of extreme poverty.

These ideas and recommendations were echoed in more than two dozen meetings USAID hosted with private sector, civil society, development partners and academia at this year’s World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty.

If we want a stable world, where market-based democracies thrive and trade and job markets expand, we must focus on empowering every global citizen to make private decisions about how they will acquire, use, enjoy, and dispose of property.

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.

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