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Archives for Innovation

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

This originally appeared on Feed the Future.

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

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

Tell us a little about your research and academic interests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of the post.

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

A New App Puts Tariff Codes at Traders’ Fingertips

Smartphone enthusiasts can find just about anything on the app store to entertain, connect with friends and learn new things that make our lives more enjoyable and productive. And this month, a new app is out that will make it easier for traders to do business in Vietnam.

Most of us have never had to look up an HS Code.  But there is one for just about every item used in daily life. Your coffee cup, your pen, your office furniture — maybe even what you had for lunch — all have a code in the Harmonized System (HS).

A woman tries the STAR Plus app. Photo credit: USAID Vietnam

A woman tries the STAR Plus app. Photo credit: USAID Vietnam

These internationally standardized classification codes cover 5,300 articles or commodities organized under headings and subheadings, arranged in 99 chapters, and grouped in 21 sections. Sound overwhelming? It can be. Because HS codes inform tariff rates, choosing the correct one is not only required by international law, but it can mean the difference between competitive or noncompetitive margins of cost for entrepreneurs who move goods across borders. Not long ago, HS classification information was hard to find and hard to navigate. Misclassification of HS codes is a common complaint of businesses in Vietnam. But now, thanks to our USAID STAR Plus Program, there’s an app for that.

The new Mã HS Việt Nam app, developed by USAID STAR Plus and available for free on iTunes, links traders directly to the Vietnam Customs website and places HS Code data at the fingertips of importers and exporters with iPhones or iPads. If and when Vietnam successfully joins the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, or TPP, having easily accessible HS Codes with new tariff rate data will be very advantageous.

The Mã HS Vietnam app is just one example of the innovation and adaptability of our program in Vietnam. USAIDSTAR Plus and its predecessor projects date back to 2001 and are credited with helping Vietnam implement a Bilateral Trade Agreement with the United States and accede to the World Trade Organization — two achievements acknowledged by many to be the foundation of Vietnam’s dramatic economic rise from developing to middle-income country status in less than a decade. The secret to USAID STAR’s success has been agility of program design combined with responsiveness, particularly to long-standing relationships of trust and mutual interest established over time with the people and Government of Vietnam.

Working successfully with Vietnam’s General Department of Customs to streamline processes, create business-to-government partnerships and align operations to international best practices in trade compliance are just a few of the project’s contributions. Similar progress is evident through other counterpart relationships, such as work with the National Assembly and the State Audit of Vietnam. Rule of law, banking and finance, fiscal transparency, and civic participation are all areas improved during the USAID STAR Plus era of informed cooperation. By remaining committed to innovation and adaptability the U.S.-Vietnam partnership will continue to achieve more inclusive, sustainable, and transformative growth long into the future.

Download and try out the Ma HS Vietnam app.

Learn more about what USAID is doing in the area of mobile solutions

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

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

When did you first become interested in climate research?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donors’ Dialogue on How to Effectively Combat Human Trafficking

Want to combat human trafficking effectively? Of course you do: who doesn’t want to see modern slavery end! Well, then we need to communicate, collaborate and innovate.

Those themes emerged Tuesday in New York at a meeting USAID and Humanity United convened, in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly. A year after President Obama’s landmark speech on combating human trafficking, we brought together—for the first time—public and private donors from Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States to discuss the need for more data, dialogue and innovation. We had an in-depth discussion about the gaps in our approaches and discussed where we might collaborate going forward.

Click to read USAID's Counter-Trafficking in Persons Field Guide.

Click to read USAID’s Counter-Trafficking in Persons Field Guide.

USAID has been actively combating trafficking for over a decade spending about $16 million a year making us one of the largest donors in the field. One of the issues that donors were most interested in exploring was how best to integrate and link Countering Trafficking In Persons (also referred to as C-TIP) with work on, for example, food security, health and education as well as in fragile and conflict settings. Breaking down silos was viewed as critical to enhancing our work.

USAID is of course joined by many parts of the U.S. Government in this work. Today, the White House released “Progress Report: The Obama Administration’s Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking at Home and Abroad” that highlights some of our work but also what others in the U.S. Government are doing to combat human trafficking.

During the meeting on Tuesday, we followed the Chatham House Rule so we won’t be attributing the good ideas to the smart people who suggested them. But let’s just say that working together with partners from around the world, human traffickers beware; there is a global movement to combat trafficking in persons and it’s growing, building and adapting. Through these types of collaboration, as well as important investments in innovation and increased evidence of what works best to close the space around traffickers and bring dignity to survivors, we are making significant in-roads in building a community of like-minded donors that can adapt over time to end trafficking in persons.

Learn more about what USAID is doing to counter human trafficking.

Learn more about this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and its focus on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities.

Follow @USAID and @RajShah for ongoing updates during the week and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #UNGA and #UNGA2013.

#TheKeyIsWe +SocialGood

This originally appeared on Social Good Summit

Astronaut Ronald J. Garan

Astronaut Ronald J. Garan. Photo credit: NASA

I launched into space on my last mission with a belief that we have all the resources and all the technology necessary to solve many if not all of the problems facing our world, yet nearly a billion people don’t have access to clean water, countless go to bed hungry every night and many die from completely curable and preventable illnesses.

We live in a world where the possibilities are limited only by our imagination and our will to act. It is within our power to eliminate the suffering and poverty that exists on our planet.

So we have to ask ourselves, “If we have the resources and the technology to solve the challenges we face, why do they still remain?”

During my half a year on the International Space Station, I spent the majority of my spare time with my face plastered to a window pondering that question.

I believe the reason our world still faces so many critical problems in spite of our ample technology and resources lies primarily in our inability to effectively collaborate on a global scale.

At the Social Good Summit this year I made the case for global collaboration. The goal of the discussion was to catalyze a global conversation about the need for sharing data. We want to continue this discussion and we want to hear what you have to say.

Please join us on October 11th at 11:00am ET for a Google Plus Hangout focusing on global collaboration and data sharing.Our hope is that the discussion serves as a call to action – disruptive action.

Please visit: http://unitynode.org/get-involved/ and tells us your thoughts on global collaboration. To join the global conversation, please join the Collaboration Community on Google +.

Resource:

Coordination Counts: Fostering Mobile Money in Malawi

One year ago, USAID joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, United Nations Capital Development Fund and Visa Inc. to launch the Better Than Cash Alliance.

This summer, the Government of Malawi joined those organizations in their work to lift millions out of poverty through electronic payments. Citing opportunities for transparency and reduced costs, the Government will begin by shifting $3 million of its existing payment streams away from cash. That may sound modest, but it’s a truly dramatic shift for Malawi.

Just a few days ago on September 13, Malawi Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo was shot because of his leadership to fight graft in the public sector by replacing cash payments with electronic, and thus transparent, payment methods. It is a sobering but incredibly important reminder of just how much this work matters.

A customer checks the details of a text message received after transferring funds via mobile money. Photo credit: Manpreet Romana/AFP

A customer checks the details of a text message received after transferring funds via mobile money. Photo credit: Manpreet Romana/AFP

When I first learned about mobile money, many people were working on it in Malawi but no one was doing it well. The mobile network operators, banks, government, and donors were focused on their own incentives rather than supporting the ecosystem in a coordinated way that would accelerate the creation of products Malawians could use. But to me coordination was critically important because I believe mobile money can have significant impact on the people we target in our programs in agriculture, education, health, and governance.

In Malawi, roads don’t reach many areas and are often in rough shape. Poor access to electricity and low incomes make brick-and-mortar banking too expensive to deliver to rural areas. However in just 10 years, more than half of Malawi has obtained access to a mobile network. In this expansion, we saw an opportunity for reaching financially excluded groups. But Malawi isn’t a country where we could immediately start using mobile money. So what did we do?

We started simple. We started with a demand assessment. This helped us understand the local champions, people’s needs, and how USAID could help bring mobile money to scale.

Our stakeholders were interested in mobile money, but they were fragmented, and no one could do it on their own. So we created a working group of mobile network operators, banks, the government, and donors. The working group allowed us to hear and understand each other. Through the group, we are solving common challenges and compromising where incentives conflict. For example, mobile network operator Airtel used this foundation to launch its mobile money platform in 2012 with its competitor TNM following in 2013.

Though we are a small country, and maybe because we are a small country, we have made great progress since we started. We’ve learned a lot, and I want to share a few of these lessons. I hope they will help any champion in any country or organization to think about supporting mobile money in your country.

  1. Plan for sustainability: We don’t want the working group to depend on donor funding or leadership, so we’ve institutionalized it as a subcommittee under the National Payments Council to encourage local ownership. By doing so, we are convinced it will continue to exist beyond USAID’s involvement.
  2. Maximize coordination: USAID’s ability to convene different partners taps into one of its unique strengths. For example, the World Bank is working on an access to finance project and targeting financial regulations. With the working group, USAID has also helped them understand the regulatory challenges with mobile money, and they’re taking on policy work that they’re best positioned to do.
  3. Prove your case: Mobile money is still a young technology. Many people haven’t used it and don’t see its value, so USAID is helping organizations transition from cash to electronic payments. When they see increases in accountability and find cost and time savings, we gain adopters that help us get to scale.

So, what’s next?  This technology could be expanded to help government fulfill its obligations to pay civil servants in a timely manner by giving it a simple vehicle for payroll transaction; it could help public utilities increase the proportion of customers who pay their bills on time; and it can provide a mechanism for simplifying the management and operation of social cash transfer programs. Most importantly, though, it can provide the means for millions of poor Malawians to participate more fully in the economic life of the country. Sometimes, revolutions start small.

USAID, Founding Member of the Better than Cash Alliance, Pledges Deep Commitment on One Year Anniversary

Rajiv Shah serves as Administrator at USAID

Rajiv Shah serves as Administrator at USAID

This time last year, I had the pleasure of helping launch the Better Than Cash Alliance (BTCA) on behalf of USAID. The room was filled with a sense of optimism and possibility, as co-founders gathered from USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, Visa, and the UN Capital Development Fund. Together, we knew that this group of impressive organizations and companies—with their broad reach, expertise, and enthusiasm—could improve the lives of the 2.5 billion people who currently lack access to formal financial services.

Connected technologies like mobile phones are reinventing financial services—once the exclusive domain of the rich—and offering billions of people the opportunity to take control of their finances. With access to products like savings accounts, insurance, and credit, families have the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty and connect to the formal economy.

We know mobile and electronic payments can provide people with the power to protect themselves against economic shocks. A study published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011 found that families who do not use M-Pesa in Kenya—the largest mobile money system in the world—suffer a 7 percent drop in consumption when hit with a negative income shock, while the consumption of families who use M-Pesa remains unaffected. We are starting to see real evidence that access to mobile money services can make a real difference for vulnerable communities.

Mobile mobile and electronic payments have the potential to improve the lives of 2.5 billion people. Photo credit: Adek Berry / AFP

Mobile mobile and electronic payments have the potential to improve the lives of 2.5 billion people. Photo credit: Adek Berry / AFP

Not only do mobile and electronic payments benefit billions of poor people globally, they have measureable benefits for governments, development organizations, and private sector players, including cost savings, economic growth, and strengthened transparency and security. For example, when the Afghan government started paying police officers with mobile money, the officers thought they had received a 30 percent pay raise. In reality, they were just enjoying their entire paycheck for the first time, since small amounts were getting skimmed from the top when they were being paid in cash.

As we look back on the past year, there is a lot to celebrate. Fifteen new members joined BTCA, including the governments of Malawi and Afghanistan as well as Mastercard. In addition, four of USAID’s missions—Philippines, Zambia, Afghanistan, and Haiti—have revised their procurement practices to encourage or mandate the use of electronic payment methods among USAID partners, which is not a simple feat. Across our operations, we are making bold moves to eliminate cash, because we know it facilitates corruption, inefficiencies, and security risks.

While it is important to celebrate these accomplishments, it is equally important to ask:  are we, at USAID, doing enough?

Today, we are proud to step forward with a new and stronger pledge to the Alliance. I am pleased to announce that we will be incorporating language into ALL grants and contracts to accelerate the use of mobile and electronic payments globally.

I encourage fellow members of BTCA, and others who are working towards financial inclusion, to also ask the question: Are we doing enough? Are we achieving our original commitment and striving to do more? How are we going to measure our results? Are we leading by example?

Learn more about Mobile Money or the Better Than Cash Alliance. Contact USAID’s Mobile Solutions team at msolutions@usaid.gov and follow us on Twitter @mSolutionsUSAID for more information.

Making All Voices Count is Open for Business

Two short years ago, I was googling my way to google, skeptical about what some were calling the open revolution. That day in September 2011, when the Open Government Partnership was launched changed my mind.

A woman on a phone in India. Photo Credit: USAID

A woman on a phone in India. Photo Credit: USAID

Today, another September day in New York with the world gathering again at the United Nations General Assembly, I’m proud to see the White House touting the contribution that my team and I at USAID — together with DFID, SIDA, and Omidyar Network– have made to that revolution. Today Making All Voices Count: A Grand Challenge for Development is open for business and calling for proposals. And today the Open Society Foundations have joined our effort.

Some say that when you join government you spend down your intellectual capital. Not so in the 21st century! In the last few years, I’ve been witness to and learned from this open revolution. Citizens all around the world are getting more information and demanding more from their governments and technology is helping to close the gaps between citizens and governments.

But many of us in government need help listening and responding to how we can do better. This is where Making All Voices Count comes in: we expect to see proposals for innovative ideas to close that feedback loop, proposals to scale up important efforts that already exist, and proposals that will help the world understand how transparency and accountability are critical in helping new democracies deliver to their citizens.

So today, the President has called on all of us to double down on the open revolution and think in creative ways about how to support innovations for civil society. I’m excited to work with my team to respond to that call. We’ve got some great ideas and we will be working with partners around the world to make them real. I predict whether two years from now or in twenty, it will be increasingly hard to remain a closed society while the rest of the world opens up.

Join us by making all voices count! The first call for proposals is open now. Applications close November 8, 2013.

Learn more about this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and its focus on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities.

Follow @USAID and @RajShah for ongoing updates during the week and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #UNGA and #UNGA2013.

 

Video of the Week: Development Innovation Ventures at USAID

Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) is a flagship program which began at USAID in October 2010 to provide grant funds for innovative ideas. Through this open project, USAID is able to locate and attract innovators from across the globe with ideas that could radically reshape the landscape of development ventures. From students to tenured faculty, international NGO’s to development economists, anyone is eligible to apply for a grant. Innovation is a key topic in Administrator Shah’s Fall Semester message to university students this year and many of those young people will go on to solve our world’s development challenges, some with support from USAID and DIV. Learn more about DIV and how you can apply.

Also check out the #FallSemester page to learn more about how to engage with Administrator Shah during campus visits or via online web-chats.

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

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

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

Woman feeds her child. Photo credit: INCAP

Woman nourishes her child. Photo credit: INCAP

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

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

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

Woman tends to crops. Photo credit: INCAP

Woman tends to crops. Photo credit: INCAP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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