USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Sub-Saharan Africa

Small Changes Make a Big Difference in Madagascar

On a hill amidst unkempt grass and wild vegetation in the outskirts of Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, stands a shabby-looking wooden hut, surrounded by banana trees and other makeshift shelters.  A few feet below, a middle-aged woman is attending to a few customers that come to buy a few items at her food stand. Her name is Honorine, and the hut is her home. Her life has substantially improved thanks to a USAID-funded food security program.

Christopher La Fargue, FFP Officer, buys fruit at Honorine’s shop. Photo: Bruno Rasamoel

Christopher La Fargue, FFP Officer, buys fruit at Honorine’s shop. Photo: Bruno Rasamoel

ASA or Ankohonana Sahirana Arenina (promotion of vulnerable families) is one of the five social protection centers partnering with CRS in Antananarivo to provide technical assistance and training, as well as food rations, to poor families in this teeming city.  Annually, the center identifies about 40 extremely vulnerable households –mostly headed by women—and provides them with training in an income-generating activity that will help them earn a decent living. The beneficiaries come to the center for a 10-month training, and receive a monthly food ration of corn-soy blend, fortified cooking oil, and rice. On completion of their training, the beneficiaries are given some equipment to help start the business of their choice.

Julienne is one beneficiary of the project, who received training and equipment from the center. She started pig farming in 2010, and she has ever since increased her livestock by 300 percent. Using the sales proceeds, she has embarked on brickmaking and is now building a house for her family.

Germaine used to do the laundry for a living, which would barely help her make ends meet. Joining the center helped her save some money, which she used to buy a sewing machine and start a sewing business. She then diversified into chicken farming and earned enough money to send her children to school. The farming is doing very well, and Germaine is now turning her mud house into a brick home.

Bodo, another beneficiary, is the widowed mother of five children. She felt ostracized earlier because she was poor, and her neighbors and relatives would look down on her. Her life improved soon after joining ASA as she could earn and even save money thanks to chicken farming. She was able to buy new clothes for her and her family, and the neighbors are now more considerate and respectful. Our life has changed thanks to the center and USAID’s support, she said.

With the help of the center, Honorine started a small food stand selling homemade soup, doughnuts, noodles, fruit, and other vegetables. Although she still lives in a wooden hut near a garbage dump, her life has improved. With the money that she saved, she bought two pigs that are kept in the countryside, and she is confident her life will continue to improve, as she has seen with her fellow ASA peers.

Ms. Sarah, the ASA project coordinator spoke highly of the project that helped many vulnerable families improve their living condition. Eight hundred and forty families in Antananarivo have benefited from the project since its start in 2009, and 2,549 people among the five social protection centers throughout the country. Although the food security program ends in June of this year, and the distribution of food rations ceased last September, her center will continue to provide training to the most vulnerable in the city, and she is seeking to expand the ASA activity with other donor support.

GE Turns on Power in Power Africa

Whether it’s kick starting local off-grid energy projects in Kenya and Nigeria, or  larger scale initiatives across the region, GE’s involvement in the Power Africa initiative is very much underway.

Mibawa Suppliers was awarded a $100,000 grant from Shari Berenbach, President and CEO of the USADF. Mibawa’s ‘rent to own’ solar scheme provides Kenyan villagers with cheaper, safer, and more regular power supply. Credit: Rudy Gharib/USAID

Mibawa Suppliers was awarded a $100,000 grant from Shari Berenbach, President and CEO of the USADF. Mibawa’s ‘rent to own’ solar scheme provides Kenyan villagers with cheaper, safer, and more regular power supply. / Rudy Gharib, USAID

Michael Wanyonyi, CEO of Mibawa Suppliers is among the first $100,000 award winners in the new GE/USADF Off-Grid Energy Challenge, launched as part of Power Africa earlier this year. GE partnered with the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), a US government agency, supporting African-originated solutions that generate jobs, improve incomes, and raise standards of living. With the Challenge, more than twenty, $100,000 grants will be awarded over the next three years to African organizations with off-grid solutions that help power economic activity.

In rural Kenya, Wanyoni’s model provides Kenyan villagers with cheaper, safer, and more regular power supply. “We hope to go from 5,000 units now to 10,000 units by the end of next year,” says Wanyonyi, CEO of Mibawa Suppliers about his ‘rent to own’ solar scheme.

With Mibawa Suppliers’ IndiGo system, families make a small initial outlay of KS1,200 (around $14), for equipment and installation of a solar system with two lights and cell phone charging capability. Customers then pay a weekly charge of KS140 (around $1.6) through a scratch card until they own the system in full. The $100,000 Off-Grid Challenge award will help fund further growth of the scheme with a proposed doubling of units in the next 12 months.

Most customers previously spent up to $4 a week on kerosene, but could not shift to cheaper solar because of the set-up costs. As Wanyonyi says; “There are cost benefits but it is also a cleaner energy, better for health. It is helping local businesses and the performance of children in school with better light for study.”

Green Village Energy Group (GVE Group) is also  receiving an award for their  18kw solar powered off grid project generating electricity for 140 homes at Egbeke, in Rivers state, Nigeria, an extension to an existing successful 6kw project.

“This award has been absolutely wonderful”, GVE Group Chief Executive, Ifeanyi Orajaka said. “It has given us the opportunity to commercialise the project concept and take it to the next stage.”

The other four Off-Grid Challenge award winners in this first award round include proposals to construct solar powered water points in rural Northern Kenya, to put into place a bio-gas digester in Nairobi, to set up a standalone cold storage facility to allow farmers in north central Nigeria to store their produce and to study the feasibility of a renewable hydro-electric power system.

Work has also started on making this vision of Power Africa a reality with the launch of the ‘Ghana 1000MW Project’ with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to build a 1000 megawatts of power plant signed with the Ghana government.

Caption: Power Africa Coordinator, Andy Herscowitz, learns about the IndiGo’s energy kit. Each box contains a mini-generator, two lamps, a solar panel, and charging cables. Credit: Rudy Gharib/USAID

Power Africa Coordinator, Andy Herscowitz, learns about the IndiGo’s energy kit. Each box contains a mini-generator, two lamps, a solar panel, and charging cables. / Rudy Gharib/USAID

“We are looking to put together something that is really innovative, the creation of a gas to power solution that can be a model for the region”, says GE Managing Director for Western Africa, Leslie Nelson.

GE is involved in two major wind projects in Kenya as part of the Government’s objective to increase Kenya’s power capacity by an additional 5000MW over the next few years. GE will supply Wind Turbines to the 60MW Kinangop Wind Park project which reached Financial Close in November 2013. GE is also developing the 100MW Kipeto Wind Farm and is arranging for the project to be financed through Power Africa in a deal valued at US$300M.

In Tanzania, GE has partnered with Jacobsen, a Norwegian EPC, to build the 150MW Kinyerezi (I) power plant for Tanesco, the Tanzanian power utility. GE will supply 4 Aeroderivative gas turbines. Construction has commenced on the plant.

GE Africa President and CEO, Jay Ireland feels 2014 will be another milestone year for GE in Africa and Power Africa. “I think one important aspect”, says Ireland, “is how we are tapping into local expertise. We can bring in the technology, but local people on the ground have the most valuable insights on what works best for Africa and how we can meet the power needs of the continent.”

Business Students Tackle Childhood Pneumonia in Uganda

A collaboration between USAID’s Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact (CII) in the Global Health Bureau and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University led to teams of business students from around the world competing on ways to reduce child deaths from pneumonia in Uganda.

The 11th annual Kellogg Biotech and Healthcare Case Competition brought together eleven teams representing nine business schools from the US, Canada, UK, and Mexico on January 25th in Chicago. This year’s winning team was from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley and the runner-up from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

The winning team from the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley.

The winning team from the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley. Credit: Jason Brown

Thirty-two teams applied to participate from twelve different schools around the world. The teams invited to compete had impressive credentials; many of the participants worked at global healthcare companies and several had medical degrees.

Judges of the event were pharmaceutical executives who evaluated the teams’ business-minded supply and demand solutions. Pneumonia is the largest killer of children in the developing world and can lead to death if not correctly and quickly diagnosed and treated appropriately.

“This is business education at its finest,” observed Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at Kellogg and one of the directors of the case competition. “In this competition we have teams of students working to address a major global health issue. In the process, they are learning an enormous about global health, team dynamics and the power of business concepts.”

The case was developed over the course of several months by students and professors at Kellogg in close collaboration with CII. Students performed research and interviews throughout Uganda.

Professor Calkins and Kara Palamountain, Director of the Global Health Initiative at Kellogg, then wrote the case outlining the many barriers to increasing the use of antibiotics in a country with limited resources. At the end of the case students are asked to propose solutions from several options within a given budget to maximize lives saved.

“This case forced students to think both analytically and creatively. The challenges are significant; it isn’t a case with a simple answer,” said Calkins.

CII actively looks to support the already strong work across USAID’s Global Health Bureau by engaging a range of new thinkers and perspectives, many from the private sector. This event demonstrated the value of seeking out these new perspectives; many of the teams proposed promising, well-structured, and feasible solutions based on frameworks and analysis from their business school curricula. Some of the teams will be invited to present their proposals to the Pneumonia Working Group based at UNICEF to inform ongoing global scale-up efforts.

Kellogg Professor Tim Calkins discusses the case following the competition

Kellogg Professor Tim Calkins discusses the case following the competition

Exposing business students to the challenges and opportunities in these developing markets now will likely benefit them in their future healthcare careers. Many countries in Africa and South East Asia are among the fastest growing pharmaceutical markets in the world. Calkins noted, “I was delighted to use a pharmaceutical related case from Africa, since this is where some of the greatest needs and opportunities will be found in the healthcare world.”

In addition to this competition, the case will be a permanent teaching tool in a global health course at Kellogg.

Schools represented include:

  • Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota
  • Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University (Canada)
  • Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley
  • IPADE Business School (Mexico)
  • Judge Business School, University of Cambridge (UK)
  • Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
  • Rutgers Business School
  • Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan
  • University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on South Africa

Members of Rescue South Africa prepare to deploy to the Philippines in response to Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. Photo courtesy of Rescue South Africa.

Members of Rescue South Africa prepare to deploy to the Philippines in response to Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. Photo courtesy of Rescue South Africa.

In this Pounds of Prevention series, we travel to South Africa where thirteen years ago, USAID took notice of a nascent first responder organization based in Johannesburg. Rescue South Africa is now an internationally recognized rescue team.  Read more >>

Doing Business in Mozambique Just Got Easier

USAID supports the Government of Mozambique with streamlining construction permitting process

Mozambique has historically struggled with the process of issuing construction permits. The slow issuing process was identified by the private sector as a major obstacle impeding businesses. However, things are starting to change for the better. The latest World Bank Doing Business 2014 report shows a substantial improvement in the country’s construction permit indicator, jumping 46 places to 77th from 123rd in the most recent rankings. The country overall improved in rank by 7 places, from 146th last year to 139th this year, out of the 189 economies in the overall Doing Business country ranking. The World Bank Doing Business report is comprised of 11 indicators that measure a country’s business regulations, property rights, tax burdens, access to credit, and the cost of exporting and importing.

U.S. Ambassador Douglas Griffiths delivers IT equipment to Maputo Mayor, David Simango; this equipment will enable the Municipality to further streamline construction permits

U.S. Ambassador Douglas Griffiths delivers IT equipment to Maputo Mayor, David Simango; this equipment will enable the Municipality to further streamline construction permits. Credit: C. Miranda/USAID Mozambique

The USAID Support Program for Economic and Enterprise Development played an important role in this recent success. The program began working with the municipality of Maputo in October 2011 to simplify the process of obtaining construction permits.

The program provided extensive technical assistance to map out the improved processes. This was followed by in-kind grant support comprised of technology equipment to the Department of Urbanization and Construction and two consultants to design a working business process management system and a database that supports a file tracking system. A statistics consultant was also hired to analyze the amount of time required to get a license before and after the technology was introduced.

According to the latest Doing Business estimates, these efforts contributed to a savings of approximately 247 days in the process for obtaining a license, resulting in substantial savings to the private sector, increased investment, and employment. The program estimates indicate that the private sector saved approximately $3.7 million and created nearly 2,600 jobs over the course of the year as more licenses were processed, allowing construction projects to start sooner.

“This effort shows that a dynamic, committed partner can make real change happen over a short period of time, even in a difficult environment,” said Brigit Helms, the Program’s Chief of Party. The World Bank’s recognition of Mozambique offers further encouragement to continue work with the municipality on monitoring the implementation of other recommended reforms.

A U.S.-African Union

Every year, heads of state and cabinet officials from across Africa gather in Addis Ababa to meet with political, civil society, and business leaders at the annual African Union Summit.  Last week, I was honored to lead the USAID delegation to my first AU Summit. The AU’s role is critical to the future of Africa.

Mark Feierstein, Associate Administrator, USAID

Mark Feierstein, Associate Administrator, USAID

Established in 2001, the African Union’s vision is to support “an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa, driven by its own people and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.”  As President Obama’s Strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa indicates, the United States is committed to achieving that same goal, which is why our decade of partnership with the African Union has been indispensable to USAID’s work.

The African Union named 2014 the Year of Agriculture and Food Security—a pillar of USAID’s strategy on the continent because of its enormous potential to lift communities out of extreme poverty. Through our Feed the Future initiative, we provide support to the AU’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program, an African-owned and -led initiative to boost agricultural productivity.  CAADP turns 10 this year, and so far more than 20 countries have developed collaborative investment plans.  While these plans are country-specific, they have been created through the African Union’s regional leadership, and their shared principles allow for the peer review, cooperation, and shared experiences that improve the quality of the individual plans—and their results.

But agriculture is the focus of just one of USAID’s collaborations with the African Union.  Together, we’ve strengthened democracy and governance by training electoral observers.  We’ve joined with the African Union Commission to reduce maternal mortality and increase youth employment and volunteerism.  We are also partners in supporting the UN Climate for Development in Africa program, providing data, adaptation planning, analysis, policy planning, and strategy development for climate change in Africa.

A highlight of my visit was sitting down at the AU headquarters with 50 young women from 15 African countries who were participating in the 2014 Young Women Forum.  These young leaders led a high-level discussion that included topics like how to create more agribusiness, land ownership and financing opportunities for women in their countries.  They also advocated for increased access to sexual and reproductive health and opportunities for higher education.  Talking with these young women, I was inspired by their deep knowledge and dedication to improving their communities, their countries and their continent.  Hearing about the gains we’ve made in our partnership with the AU and listening to the ideas of these young African leaders, I left the Summit with great optimism for the future of Africa.

Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

February 6th marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.

While in Senegal, I had the opportunity to meet “village godmothers” who had endured Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) as young girls. Each described the raw pain of the excisor cutting her as the worst she’s ever experienced. Today, these women are standing in solidarity to prevent their daughters from being cut and advocating for reproductive health for girls in their village. With them are other activists and the government, who are working together to eliminate FGM/C in Senegal. Since the first Senegalese village publicly rejected FGM/C in 1998, more than 5,500 communities in Senegal have stopped cutting women’s genitals.

Every year, more than three million girls in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and among diaspora communities in the West are at risk of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. According to the World Health Organization, as many as 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide currently live with the consequences of this dangerous practice.

The procedure, which involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, is largely performed on infants to girls as old as age 15. As the women I talked to in Senegal testified, it is extremely painful and generally carried out without anesthetics and  using implements ranging from kitchen knives and razor blades to cut glass and sharp rocks. The health risks are great: in the short term, death from blood loss is not uncommon, nor is serious infection that can cause long-term problems. FGM/C may result in infertility, incontinence, pregnancy complications and increased risk of obstetrical problems like fistula and infant death.

Genet, Tsiyon and their friends are the first generation in Kembata, Durame Woreda, Ethiopia, who do not have to undergo FGM/C at their young age. Their mothers are not willing to let them be cut because they have realized the consequences of that practice during their own lifetimes.

Genet, Tsiyon and their friends are the first generation in Kembata, Durame Woreda, Ethiopia, who do not have to undergo FGM/C at their young age. Their mothers are not willing to let them be cut because they have realized the consequences of that practice during their own lifetimes.

FGM/C has no basis in any religion, nor is it done for health benefits. Instead, the practice has been perpetuated for centuries through socio-cultural, psychosexual, chastity, religious and aesthetic or hygienic arguments. Almost all of these are linked to girls’ social status and marriageability and the practice is often seen as a necessary step towards womanhood. In many cultures, girls and women who are not cut are stigmatized and their families can be ostracized. The Sengalese, largely because of work done by the USAID funded non-governmental organization Tostan, created a community education program that has changed social norms. The program, the women tell me, has shown them that despite common perception that FGM/C is a good thing, it is in reality very harmful to their daughters.

USAID has supported FGM/C abandonment efforts since the 1990s, after being approached by many African women who asked why we were doing nothing about this issue. The Agency began programming and introduced an official policy that states the practice is not only a public health issue, but a violation of a woman’s right to bodily integrity. USAID assistance on this area has been a multi-faceted approach, focusing on surveillance, research, and program implementation.

The Agency has collected important information about the distribution and practice of FGM/C at the community level in 16 countries. This information is shared with all partner and donor organizations and used for decision making about program priorities and implementation approaches. A recent USAID-sponsored comparative analysis of data on FGM/C shows that although FGM/C prevalence is decreasing in many countries and among numerous communities, many girls are being cut at earlier ages and the service is increasingly performed in medical settings. To validate and improve interventions, USAID has supported important evaluations of existing programs.

When communities as a whole understand the physical and psychological trauma FGM/C causes, social transformation takes place – and this has proven to be the best way to ensure lasting support and an eventual end to the practice.

250 Million Children In The World Cannot Read And USAID Is Doing Something About It

Two hundred and fifty million children in the world cannot read according to the recently released Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All; 130 million of them are in primary school. That’s equal to more than a third of the population of the United States. If these children do not learn to read they will have fewer opportunities and struggle with learning for the rest of their lives. Learning to read in the early grades is critical and hard work. It is not a skill that can be “picked up.” With the help of teachers trained specifically to teach reading, children learn to read over time by practicing and honing their skills. Strong readers perform better in all subjects, so children who learn to read in the early grades have a better chance of graduating from high school and getting a job or pursuing a college education.

At the State of the Union the other night, I was sitting in the gallery listening to President Obama say, “One of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is a world class education.” I was on my feet applauding. His words ring true here at home and in developing countries around the world.

In Malawi, USAID partners developed a phonics-based reading program in the Chichewa language

In Malawi, USAID partners developed a phonics-based reading program in the Chichewa language.

I’m visiting Zambia and Malawi over the next two weeks where USAID is working hard with our partners to end extreme poverty and to promote resilient, democratic societies by investing in new, results-based reading programs that start with building capacity in the existing teacher corps and in training new teachers in the best practices of teaching reading.

In Malawi, USAID partners developed a phonics-based reading program in the Chichewa language, and provided Chichewa readers to students and accompanying scripted lesson plans to their teachers. Teachers received training on the use of the materials and extensive on-site coaching to help them use them every day in their classrooms. In 2012, after two years of the implementation of this program, the proportion of 2nd graders who could read at least one word in Chichewa had risen from 5.3 to 16.8 percent. The program is now in the process of being scaled up to all districts in the nation of Malawi.

Malawi and Zambia aren’t the only countries where we’re making an impact. In Kenya, USAID is sponsoring an initiative to improve reading outcomes in Kiswahili and English in 500 primary schools. The program has introduced innovative teaching methods, new, phonics-based reading materials for mother tongue instruction, and professional development to build the skills of educators and improve student literacy outcomes. In a recent study we found that children enrolled in schools using the USAID-funded program were up to 27 times more likely to read than students in schools outside the program. This program, too, is in the process of being scaled up to reach more schools in the future so that more children in Kenya will have access to a high quality education.

Children in class in Kenya. Credit: Derek Brown

Children in class in Kenya / Derek Brown

In the Philippines, USAID is supporting a program known as the Improved Collection and Use of Student Reading Performance Data. Each time a teacher participating in the program conducts a reading test (in either Tagalog or English), he/she submits the test results via SMS to a Department-of-Education administered database. Teacher supervisors from the department then use this information to provide timely feedback to the teachers on their reading instruction, based on the student results. This USAID program is heightening transparency about student outcomes and tightening the feedback between teachers and their coaches, leading to an increased likelihood that teachers will identify and assist children who are not meeting grade-level expectations in reading.

Through these programs children are learning to read and will have better lives thanks to the support of the American people, and USAID will continue to do more to get all children reading and access to quality education.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christie Vilsack is USAID’s Senior Advisor for International Education

Empowering Moms Through mHealth

This blog post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

My heart smiled the moment the four women entered the meeting room where I had been waiting. I stood to greet them and the babies they carried, eager to hear their stories. The young mothers sat in the chairs across from us and soon the babies were all up on the table, their proud moms making certain that we could see their precious little ones. The youngest baby was 4½ months old, the oldest 14 months. They were all adorable.

USAID harnesses the power of mobile phones to achieve results.

Credit: USAID

The conversation was lively. One young mother, Letty, described her pregnancy. Living in Johannesburg, she was far from her home country, Zimbabwe, and far from her mother,aunts,grandmother or anyone she trusted to give her the advice and information she craved.The cost of phoning these trusted relatives was prohibitive, so Letty found support when she enrolled to receive text messages via her mobile phone from MAMA, the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action. “I’m here. I’m alone. The SMS messages helped me a lot. They helped me feel that someone is there,” Letty told me.

MAMA South Africa was launched with the support of global partners USAID, Johnson & Johnson, the United Nations Foundation, the mHealth Alliance, and BabyCenter. In addition, Vodacom joined the South Africa partnership, offering MAMA’s mobile website, askmama.mobi, free-of-charge to its 25 million customers. The goal of MAMA is to deliver health messages that moms need at specific milestones during pregnancy and during the first year of their baby’s development.

An existing South African mHealth partnership helped bring MAMA South Africa to life: Cell-Life, Praekelt Foundation and WRHI at the University of the Witwatersrand. Through MAMA, new and expectant mothers receive messages that address important topics such as nutrition during pregnancy, how to prepare for childbirth and recognizing signs of trouble which, if unheeded, can lead to difficulties in labor and delivery.

I sat across from these four women who had benefited from the MAMA partnership and listened carefully as they described their experiences. For these mothers, the SMS messages calmed their fears. One of the women, Faith, said that she had enrolled in the program when she was five months pregnant and had found reassurance in the MAMA texts. “The messages sometimes tell you, ‘This is normal’ and then you don’t worry,” she said. Letty added that when her baby was up all night, she received a message that said “Your baby may be teething” and this convinced her that nothing was wrong with her baby.

Another mom, Ntando was seven months pregnant and already had one child when she enrolled in the MAMA program. On the day of our meeting, her baby boy was already five months old. “The way we raised the first one is different from the way we raise this one.” She looked at her son and then added a comment about MAMA. “They’ll help me raise this one,” she said.

The third woman, Memory, signed up to receive MAMA messages when her baby was five months old. She said that she appreciated the help in “how to say ‘no’ to my son.” Memory also told us that she found the messages so helpful that she shares them with a friend who does not have a phone.

Faith visits the MAMA website with her husband and they learn together. Her praise for MAMA struck a particular chord for me – “I like them because they don’t just take care of the baby, they also take care of the moms.”

As our time together drew to a close, I thanked Letty, Memory, Faith and Ntando for taking the time to meet with us. Many of their comments have stayed with me, but none more than this one: “You feel like you are alone, and these SMS messages make you feel loved.”

The MAMA partnership is based on the power and promise of mobile phones in empowering mothers to make healthy decisions for themselves and their babies. What a wonderful added – and unexpected — benefit that MAMA also makes moms feel loved.

Cash-for-Work Builds Livelihoods

It invades the farmlands in the Kelafe district of the Somali Region of Ethiopia, and it has been identified as the single most important factor contributing to livelihood vulnerability of local communities. What is it? This invader is the Prosopis juliflora weed. Prosopis juliflora forms impenetrable thickets of low branches and thorns that prevent cattle from accessing watering holes. The weed uses scarce water, causes soil erosion and loss of the grasslands that form important habitats for native plants and animals.

A view of Prosopis juliflora. Photo credit: Save the Children

A view of Prosopis juliflora. Photo credit: Save the Children

The weed had taken over the community’s farmland to the extent that it displaced many households who relied on the farmland for their living. Due to frequent occurrence of natural shocks such as drought and floods, coupled with huge weed encroachment, the community had lost the ability to clear up its farmland without external support. USAID, through Save the Children, is now implementing a project to build resilience in the drought-affected districts of Gode, Adadle and Kelafe in the Somali Region. The project addresses rehabilitation and protection of productive farmland and diversification of livelihoods. One of the key interventions in this project is cash-for-work.

Cash-for-work helps local communities meet their basic needs and also revitalize communal resources such as farmland, rangelands, and communal ponds. Following a participatory planning process, the community in Kelafe district identified clearing the invasive plants from the farmlands as its top priority. Through cash-for-work interventions, the community successfully cleared more than 420 hectares. As a result, about 1,000 households gained access to farmland occupied by the weed for more than a decade. Each household was given the opportunity to cultivate a quarter-hectare of the cleared land, including Abdi Farole.

Abdi, the father of seven children (three boys and four girls), lost his farmland to the weed like many other members of his community and supported his family mainly on relief food assistance. “I was surviving by burning charcoal, collecting firewood or working for others on farm weeding. Most of the time, I was away from my family because I was out doing labour,” he said.

After the land was cleared, he planted maize and sesame in his quarter-hectare using intercropping and, in 2013, had his first harvest from this field in more than a decade. He kept some of his harvest for his family’s consumption, loaned some to relatives, and sold the remainder. Since the harvest, Abdi’s family’s living condition has considerably improved. “My family’s life has significantly changed after my first harvest. I am now able to feed my children three times a day with diversity of diet that I was not able to do before. My children go to school dressed in uniforms and having their own books, pens and other learning materials, which they were lacking before,” said Abdi.

But Abdi’s story doesn’t end with the first harvest. He has already started irrigating his farm for the second season, planting sesame with the seed from his first production. While irrigating his plot, he enthusiastically expressed his interest in keeping his land cultivated as he knows that keeping the land cultivated prevents the invasive shrub from reappearing.

The cash-for-work scheme has also helped the local community to meet their basic needs and, at the same time, regain their key source of livelihood from the invasive plant. Moreover, the project is reducing the community’s vulnerability to future shocks. Abdi’s success demonstrates how community livelihood recovery can revitalize a traditional economic social support system, leading to improved community resilience.

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