USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Sub-Saharan Africa

Improving Rural Livelihoods by Empowering African Women Researchers in Agricultural Science

With sharp minds, inquisitive souls, and iron wills, they are an 11-strong group of top-level women scientists in agricultural research with their eyes set on influencing national and regional policy to improve livelihoods in Mozambique and across Africa. Through their work, they are helping to change the face of a continent where women are seldom heard, but are always called on to give and to nurture. They are Mozambique’s scientists in the AWARD program for African Women in Agricultural Research and Development, funded by USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr. Anabela Manhica proudly exhibits a laptop received from the AWARD program. Photo Credit: USAID/Mozambique

Esperanca Chamba, who specializes in natural resources management, is one of 11 women scientists in Mozambique who were selected from among hundreds of applicants from 10 sub-Saharan countries as fellows of the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) project. AWARD was established in 2008 by the Gender & Diversity Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, following a three-year pilot program in East Africa. It is a professional development program that strengthens the research and leadership skills of African women in agricultural science, empowering them to contribute more effectively to poverty alleviation and food security in sub-Saharan Africa. The US$15 million, five-year project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID, with plans to extend to a second phase starting in 2013.

Chamba’s example of a foiled attempt in experimental nutrition finely captures the context of women and agricultural research and development in Africa. “Most of the work in the fields is in women’s hands,” says rural extension officer Claudia Nhatembe, during a break from the sweet potato fields on the rich soils of IIAM’s Umbeluzi Agricultural Station, some 30 km outside the capital, Maputo. “It’s hard work–plowing, sowing and harvesting. For men, it’s mostly handling the plantation’s irrigation systems.”

In Africa, women like Nhatembe carry most of the burden of running the household, raising children, tending to their husbands, fetching water, collecting firewood, cooking and cleaning, and plowing and sowing. They are the pillars of society, yet are commonly ignored. “We give rural women a voice, because through our work, they will also have a voice,” says Carla Menezes, a researcher and Head of Nutrition at IIAM, who is studying alternative feeding options for small ruminants to lower production costs of animal breeding in rural households.

“Scientists are on the cutting edge of solving Africa’s food crisis. But we need to urgently address the gender gap in our scientific community,” says Akinwumi Adesina, Vice President of Policy and Partnerships of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. “We need more women pursuing careers in agricultural science because women are the face of African farming.”

Research shows that the number of women enrolling in agricultural sciences is steadily increasing, but women researchers tend to drop out as they move up the career ladder. Termed the “leaky pipeline”, this phenomenon is generally attributed to traditional, male-dominated organizational dynamics, in additional to cultural barriers to women’s education and advancement. AWARD seeks to reverse that trend.

“We need good collaboration to make sure that women are equal partners with men farmers all the way through the process,” U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said recently in Nairobi. “The AWARD program is a great example. It supports women scientists working to improve farming here in Africa and to fight hunger and poverty. And we need women represented in our laboratories, as well as in our fields.”

Recent studies indicate that the majority of those who produce, process, and market Africa’s food are women, but only one in four agricultural researchers is female. A study by AWARD and the Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators on “Women’s Participation in Agricultural Research and Higher Education”, which looked at key trends in sub-Saharan Africa, found that the overall proportion of female professional agricultural and higher education staff increased from 18 percent in 2000/01 to 24 percent in 2007/08. On a national basis, female staffing levels were particularly low in Ethiopia, Togo, Niger and Burkina Faso, whereas in Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa levels were high. However, the benchmarking survey—which was conducted in 125 agricultural research and higher education agencies in 15 sub-Saharan countries—showed that only 14 percent of the management positions were held by women.

“Only with the full involvement and leadership of women in agriculture will Africa succeed in its quest for food security and prosperity,” says Vicki Wilde, Director of AWARD and the CGIAR Gender & Diversity Program. “There is no time to lose.”

Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony in southeastern Africa, is a member of the Commonwealth and the only non-English speaking country represented in AWARD. With a population of 20 million, it was ranked 22nd out of 134 countries in the Gender Gap Index for 2010. Although the country scores poorly in terms of educational attainment (123rd), it boasts a good female-to-male ratio in terms of economic participation and opportunity. Analysts say there is an increasing trend in women’s contribution to economic growth, although there is a lowering contribution in sectors like agriculture, where there are more women but incomes are lowest.

“We know the people who matter most aren’t the financiers or the agriculture ministers or the assistance workers and partners. They are the women farmers who are the untapped solution to this problem,” says USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. “We’re working to ensure that women get equal access to services and support, such as financial services that preferentially target women and extension services delivered by female workers. To make this happen, we are investing in women producer networks and expanding fellowship programs, such as the AWARD program.”

The 11 Mozambican fellows cover a broad range of agricultural sciences, from forestry management to agro-economics and veterinary medicine, including animal production, reproduction, and nutrition. “I am inquisitive by nature. I feel enraptured by the process of looking at a problem, imagining solutions, and seeking the adequate answer,” says Paula Pimentel, a senior researcher at IIAM, who is currently studying gender relations in goat-breeding families in the remote district of Chicualacuala, about 500 km from Maputo.

What drives all these women is a focus on pro-poor, community-oriented research objectives, and an awareness of the need to combine traditional knowledge with modern methods as a fundamental contribution to scientific advancements. “Learning from local techniques should always be the starting point,” says Anabela Manhiça, Senior Researcher and Head of the Technology Transfer Department at IIAM. “Rural producers have abundant knowledge. It’s always best to learn what they are doing, how they are doing it, and then add the new technology. It doesn’t work when you try to introduce something completely new.”

“These outstanding Mozambicans debunk the myth in some science circles that qualified African women researchers ‘aren’t out there’—that they don’t exist in significant numbers,” says Wilde. “Qualified women scientists are out there. These women prove it.”

Pic of the Week: “A Historical Look Back”

USAID 50th Anniversary Logo

Peace CorpsThe work of USAID has been far-reaching and long-standing as evidenced by this photo of a Peace Corps volunteer working in the ORT center funded by USAID. In the mid 1970’s Joan Wadelton, a Peace Corps Volunteer from Princeton, New Jersey, holds one of the children she helps at a maternal and child health center in Niger. The center is operated by ORT, a voluntary agency, and the Nigerienne Ministry of Health, is financed by USAID. Photo is from USAID.

How You’re About to Help Save the Lives of 4 million Children

You may not know that the leading killers of children in the poorest countries are diarrhea and pneumonia.  You almost certainly don’t know that your contributions can help save the lives of 4 million children – many because of the introduction of two new vaccines to protect against those diseases.

Last week, I was in Rwanda, helping the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization plan the introduction of vaccines for rotavirus and pneumococcal diseases, major causes of diarrhea and pneumonia.  With your support as well as corporations, foundations, and countries rich and poor, GAVI, will save the lives of 4 million children in the next five years.

That sounds ambitious, but it’s very doable – and you’re a big part of the reason. With your help, GAVI supported childhood immunization in poor countries over the last 10 years, saving the lives of 5.4 million children, and shielding millions more from the long-term effects of illness on growth and development.

The U.S. has been a leader in immunization, but we can’t do it alone. Working with and through groups like GAVI helps ensure that other donor countries, companies and foundations, as well as developing countries themselves, all contribute their share: a global solution to a global problem. In addition to the U.S., fourteen other countries and the European Union are donors, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also a generous supporter.

People have been a big part of that success as well. GAVI has had strong, high-level leadership – the Rwanda meeting marked the last for Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland who served as chair of GAVI’s board, who deserves thanks for her advocacy. Norway has been a global leader in the fight to immunize children in the poorest countries, and its former health minister, Dagfinn Hoybraten, took over as chair – underlining Norway’s continuing commitment.

U.S. leadership isn’t just a matter of money.  The expertise of people at USAID has been crucial as well.  Since the ‘70s, USAID professionals have worked with partners across the globe to confront the challenge of vaccine-preventable diseases and help immunize children in remote parts of the world.  Working with an efficient partner like GAVI that mobilizes resources from other countries, foundations and companies multiplies the impact of U.S. expertise, as well as dollars.

GAVI is a model for the new approach the U.S. is taking through the Global Health Initiative: an innovation approach, a public-private partnership seeking innovative sources of finance for vaccines for poor countries, investing in children, with a clear focus on measurable results.  GAVI is a true partnership, accomplishing more than any nation could do on its own, and doing it efficiently, with a small staff.

As the U.S. expands the life-saving impact of our global health assistance through the Global Health Initiative announced by President Obama, our support for immunization will continue, because it is one of the most cost-effective ways to save lives and promote health.  Reaching children with this simple, affordable intervention is one of the smartest investments in global health – and the right thing to do.  And we can do it in a way that builds national systems, so they won’t need help forever.

These times demand that we provide more health for the money we invest in global health. Despite the success of immunization programs, vaccine-preventable diseases are still estimated to cause more than 2 million deaths every year.

We will help because compassion is a fundamental American value — and so is efficiency in using the resources we have, innovation to make those resources go further, and realism to know we can’t do it all by ourselves.  Working with and through GAVI, we have changed the future of millions of children and families. That’s effective, efficient realistic compassion, and it’s worth doing more.

Zambia: Where the Roads End, Logistics Continue

During the rainy season, an ox cart is the only reliable way to get health commodities across the flooded plains to rural health centers in Zambia’s Western province. Photo Credit: USAID/Zambia

Mwanawina Rural Health Center is located approximately 80 kilometers from Mongu, the capital of Zambia’s Western province. Each year, during the rainy season, the facility becomes inaccessible by motor vehicles.

To get drugs and medical supplies to the health center, the District Health Office hires an ox cart—the only reliable transport through the flooded plains between December and June. The journey takes no less than six hours.

With its expertise in logistics, particularly in challenging environments, the USAID | DELIVER PROJECT is partnering with Zambia’s Ministry of Health (MOH) to help bring drugs and medical supplies to patients by strengthening the supply chain.

In the Western province, the project trains health center staff in logistics and provides technical guidance and mentorship to MOH staff in provinces and districts, and at individual health centers.

The project is also enhancing the computerized systems in all hospitals and major health centers to include important logistics information. The new information will help improve systems performance and increase commodity security in the province.

The USAID | DELIVER PROJECT works in all of Zambia’s provinces to improve access to health commodities. For more information, please visit http://deliver.jsi.com.

Sudan Takes Another Step in Its Peace Process

Last week we reported on the successful and peaceful close of voter registration in Sudan for January’s referendum on southern independence.  In another promising development, this month Blue Nile state began popular consultations, a political process guaranteed by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended Sudan’s violent, 22-year civil war.  Located on the north-south border, Blue Nile was on the frontlines of the war, and the state’s people had mixed loyalties—some aligned with the north and others with the south.

While the CPA stipulated that southern Sudan would vote on whether or not to secede from the north, it also determined that Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states are part of the north.  The agreement further required public hearings in the two states to determine the will of the citizens—whether they felt the peace agreement adequately met their aspirations.  If not, additional negotiations would proceed between the states’ democratically elected state legislatures and the central government.  Popular consultations are significant because they provide a unique opportunity to instill civic participation into Sudan’s public life, empowering citizens to understand their rights and responsibilities and make their opinions heard.

In Blue Nile, the process began with pilot citizen hearings in Damazin and Roseires December 12-13, where 876 citizens registered to attend, and nearly 300 of those expressed their opinions.  Participation among women was strong.  The Chair of the Commission encouraged women to come forward and minorities to speak in their own language, providing a positive sign that the state’s diversity will be reflected in the consultations.  Over 100 similar meetings supported by USAID will be held across Blue Nile by January.

In Southern Kordofan, popular consultations cannot begin until after state elections are held next year.

USAID has been helping Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan prepare for the popular consultations since 2008—providing logistical support, organizing civic education campaigns to inform citizens about the process, and taking community leaders on study tours to Indonesia and Kenya, which have conducted processes similar to popular consultations.  Many citizens have incorrectly believed that the process includes a vote on secession, like the southern referendum, which highlights the importance of civic education so that citizens understand the process and their rights.

For further analysis on the importance of the popular consultation process, read this special report from the United States Institute for Peace.

For more information on USAID’s work in Sudan:

Solving Transportation Problems and Preventing AIDS Deaths in Lesotho

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about innovation for health? DNA tests? Smart phones? How about ponies? In Lesotho, these four-legged vehicles might just be the best idea yet.

Lesotho is a tiny country landlocked within South Africa about the size of Maryland. Its 2 million people live mostly in rural areas. But despite its small size, it has big HIV statistics. One in four adults is HIV-positive, and more than 20,000 people are newly infected each year. Many people live in mountainous areas that are connected to larger towns and cities by a network of winding and unreliable roads.

Small clinics in the mountains serve as crucial outposts for health care. The roads to the mountains, however, are often unusable due to heavy summer rains and winter snowstorms. Clinics consequently can’t order lab tests or receive a reliable flow of drugs and supplies for four months or more every year. HIV patients, who need medication daily, and those seeking to find out their HIV status, can’t wait that long.

To fill this need, USAID supports the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation to collaborate on an innovative way to reach those in need. The Horse Riding for Health program engages local pony riders to transport blood tests, drugs, and supplies between remote mountain health clinics and better-equipped hospitals at sea level. When roads are navigable by two wheels, motorcycle riders join the journey to further speed the process of rushing blood to the lab or medication to those sick with HIV. The transport system allows people to receive HIV test results sooner, access life-saving drugs, and ensure an uninterrupted supply of medication. (See more photos of the horse riders.)

The benefits aren’t limited to individuals receiving care; research shows that faster diagnosis and treatment for HIV leads to fewer future cases in the community. This is partly because the more people know their HIV status, the less likely they are to transmit the disease to others. Especially for pregnant women, learning her HIV status can be the difference between life and death for her baby.

Just a few years ago, even if expectant mothers knew they were HIV-positive, all they could do was hope for the best. In addition to improving transportation systems, USAID and the Glaser Foundation have rolled out comprehensive services to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission throughout Lesotho. Today, 80 percent of mothers have access to treatment and counseling programs that can allow their babies to be born HIV-free. The fight against HIV in Lesotho has been bolstered by strong leadership by Minister of Health Mphu Ramatlapeng as well as active involvement by the community.

To see the Lesotho programs in action, ABC News is featuring two videos on its website and will air a story Friday night on 20/20 for the first in a series of reports on global health. The event will span Good Morning America, World News with Diane Sawyer, Nightline, and 20/20 to showcase innovations in global health as well as the people behind the progress.

Voter Registration for Referendum Completed in Sudan

Last week, voter registration for the January referendum on self-determination for southern Sudan came to a close in Sudan after a process described as peaceful, well-managed, and participatory.  To see first-hand what voter registration was like, USAID staff captured video at the registration kickoff in Juba, the regional capital of southern Sudan, and Torit, the capital of Eastern Equatoria state.  U.S. Consul General in Juba Barrie Walkley encouraged southern Sudanese to register:  “It is your decision, whether it’s for unity or for separation.  The decision is yours.”

During Sudan’s 22-year civil war, 2 million people died and 4 million were driven from their homes.  The referendum on whether southern Sudan will become an independent country or remain part of a united Sudan is a key provision of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Government of Sudan and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army that finally ended the devastating war.  Two major components of the agreement have already been completed:  a national census in 2008 and national multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections earlier this year.

As part of efforts to promote peace in Sudan, USAID is supporting a free and fair referendum process.  In particular, USAID is:

  • Providing expert advice, training, and office space for the Sudanese commission in charge of carrying out the referendum
  • Delivering critical materials such as voter registration books and cards, training manuals, and polling kits
  • Training voter registration and poll workers
  • Educating voters about the referendum process through mass media and community outreach
  • Funding registration and voting for the Sudanese diaspora in eight countries
  • Supporting observation by both Sudanese and international organizations

Voter registration in Sudan was held from November 15 to December 8.  Registration in eight other countries with large southern Sudanese populations will be completed by December 22.  The referendum is scheduled for January 9-15, 2011.

For more information:

Taking a Stand Against Violence Now

“Girls have been made to believe that they need someone to survive.”

These powerful words came from one of the commentators in the short documentary, SASA!, a film about women, violence and HIV/AIDS.

Sasa is Kiswahili for “now.” As in now is the time to take a stand against women’s violence. And we need to make this change now.

SASA! tells the powerful story of Josephine and Mama Joyce, two women from different countries, but in similar situations. Beaten, abused, pushed down, and left HIV positive by the men they married.

As young women, they were made to feel powerless and told they wouldn’t be happy unless they were with a man—even a man who abuses them.

Their situations are not isolated cases; globally, at least one out of every four women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused during her lifetime.

One out of four.

Gender based violence (GBV), is a pervasive public health and human rights issue throughout the world. GBV consists of sexual, physical, emotional and/or financial abuse and is manifested throughout the life cycle.

Furthermore, this type of violence against another human being has negative health consequences.

In Mama Joyce and Josephine’s situations, they were both left HIV positive. Josephine’s husband slept with other women, and when she brought up the use of a condom, he beat her. And even though she protested, he forced sex on her. Adding salt to the wound, her in-laws blamed their son’s death on her. Mama Joyce’s husband left her and his second wife, leaving Mama Joyce to take care of her ailing “co-wife.”

But these women remained strong. They became leaders in their communities, hold support groups, and encourage other women who are in similar situations.End Violence Against Women Graphic

USAID, through the Global Health Initiative, is fully committed to preventing and responding to gender-based violence. Interventions work with both men and women to address the multiple factors at various levels that fuel the issue, and we are looking to help make a change in these women’s lives now.

50 Weeks to 50 Years at USAID – Week 3: Fighting HIV/AIDS

I had just finished my first year of graduate school at UCLA when the first case of HIV was reported in Los Angeles. Little did I know how that event, happening so close to my school, would affect and influence my professional life. Over the next three decades, HIV/AIDS would play a central role in my USAID career and become a passion and driver of my work.

As deputy director of the Health and Nutrition Office in the 1990s, I helped oversee the HIV/AIDS division’s work and program. But HIV/AIDS was only a disease I read about and discussed. It took my Foreign Service posting in Zambia in 1998 for HIV/AIDS to become real.

One in five Zambians was HIV positive, and because the epidemic had been underway for 15 years, illness and death were at an all time peak. Our home was on the road to the city cemetery, and long funeral processions were daily occurrences.

It was during my first year there that I personally experienced the devastating death of one of my staff from AIDS. It changed our entire office and we were inspired to do all we could to ensure others did not face the same fate. It was those five years in Zambia, at the heart of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which convinced me of the importance of prevention—especially reaching the next generation with effective messages.

Reading the predictions for the next HIV/AIDS wave to hit key Asian countries, I was motivated to share what I learned in southern Africa with this region.

With my five-year assignment to India, I was witness to the large scale expansion of the Indian response to high risk groups and key geographic areas. We focused the majority of our efforts on building the local capacity of the government and civil society to ensure sustainability.

The scale of this effort was enormous given that most Indian states’ populations are greater than those of many countries.

I am now back in Washington, leading the HIV/AIDS Office in the Bureau for Global Health. This is a very important time as the second phase of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is being implemented with a greater focus on sustainability and country ownership. And with President Obama’s Global Health Initiative underway, USAID is working with our U.S. Government partner agencies to improve integration among our programs.

We have made tremendous progress over these some 30 years—PEPFAR is currently supporting over 3.2 million people on lifesaving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, and with USG support in fiscal year 2010 alone more than 114,000 infants were born HIV-free.  Through partnerships with more than 30 countries, PEPFAR  directly supported 11 million people with care and support and provided nearly 33 million people with HIV counseling a testing.

It has also been an exciting time for prevention with the results of the USAID-funded CAPRISA trial proving a microbicide could help prevent HIV transmission. This was met with enthusiasm by the HIV/AIDS community, and Administrator Shah is supportive of an aggressive way forward to advance microbicides from proof of concept to impact in the field to slow transmission of HIV.

So on this World AIDS Day and in the coming year, we should all honor the 33.3 million people who are currently living with HIV and the millions more who have died from this epidemic, and recommit ourselves to do all we can to address the personal tragedy caused by HIV/AIDS.

A Brief History of USAID’s Role in HIV/AIDS

•         1986: USAID officially begins HIV/AIDS programs in the developing world. This is only two years after HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was isolated and identified.

•         1988: USAID’s Demographic and Health Survey begins collecting data on HIV.

•         1993: USAID is a founding member of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance

•         1998: USAID launches the IMPACT program for HIV prevention and care.

•         2000: USAID launched Regional HIV/AIDS Program for Southern Africa.

•         2001: USAID officially launches the Office of HIV/AIDS within the Bureau for Global Health.

•         2001: USAID begins partnership with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

•         1998: USAID launches the IMPACT program for HIV prevention and care.

•         2000: USAID launched Regional HIV/AIDS Program for Southern Africa.

•         2001: USAID officially launches the Office of HIV/AIDS within the Bureau for Global Health.

•         2001: USAID begins partnership with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

•         2003: The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is announced

•         2005: PEPFAR, in conjunction with USAID, launched the Supply Chain Management System Project

•         2008: The $48 billion Lantos-Hyde reauthorization bill on HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria is signed into law

•         2009: The President’s Global Health Initiative is announced

•         2010: the CAPRISA 004 trial provides the first ever proof of concept that a microbicide can prevent HIV transmission

Pic of the Week: Commemorating 2010 World AIDS Day

Woman and boy in MozambiqueEighty percent of Mozambique‘s people live in villages and must walk on an average 12 kilometers to reach a health clinic. Here, a woman and her daughter hold the anti-AIDS medicine that keeps them alive. They worried that neighbors would see the medicine and know they had the disease. Photo is from Ben Barber/USAID.

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