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Meeting the President: How the United States is Helping Women Farmers in Senegal

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog

When I learned that I had been chosen to present my work with women farmers in Senegal to the president of the United States, the first thing I did was cry.

A minute later my thoughts cleared.

I have important things to tell President Obama, I said to myself, about how women farmers have benefited enormously from partnership with the United States.

Since 2002, I have been a member of a farmer organization of some 600 members—two thirds of whom are women—that works in 52 villages in the rural community of Mampatim, Senegal. I also work for a nongovernmental organization, supported by USAID through the Feed the Future initiative, that helps the group’s members succeed.

Anna Gaye prepares to demonstrate rice milling to President Obama in Senegal in June 2013. Photo credit: Stephane Tourné

Anna Gaye prepares to demonstrate rice milling to President Obama in Senegal in June 2013. Photo credit: Stephane Tourné

Farming in the valley

Since upland farming areas are traditionally farmed by men, our women members are obliged to work in the valleys, often under difficult conditions due to flooding. With little organization, many of these women worked very hard with negligible results.

Membership in our organization, known as an economic interest group, affords members like me legal recognition through which we can obtain credit. Historically, our group, called Kissal Patim, enabled us to cultivate small garden patches near village wells that provide off-season vegetables for market, as well as larger half-acre rice plots that yielded perhaps 200 kilograms during the rainy season.

But our partnership with Feed the Future got us to think much bigger. Feed the Future introduced members of Kissal Patim to several recently developed strains of seed that can produce yields as much as three times greater while using less water!

Meeting the president

On the big day, my mouth was dry as President Obama approached the booth we had set up to exhibit our activities, but he put me at ease right away. First, I demonstrated a traditional method of rice processing. I tried not to smile as he took the heavy ram from my hands and started pounding the pestle himself. “That’s painful!” the president said through his translator, examining his hands a minute later.

“That’s what women lived with every day before our partnership with Feed the Future,” I said.

That partnership brought, among other benefits, a portable, electric rice mill, which was also on display. The mill takes only 20 minutes to separate 40 kilograms of rice, which previously would take an entire day. The president was curious as to who actually owned the machine, and I explained our group manages it for our common use.

The mill, I explained, was very important to our progress. My fellow farmers and I were initially reluctant to grow more rice since the task of having to pound so much more would be huge. Our acquisition of the milling machines changed all that. We were free from the drudgery of the pestle.

The time saved also gives us more time to engage in commercial activities, such as the production and sale of palm oil and nutritious rice porridge made ​​with peanuts, not to mention time to prepare for the next growing season.

President Obama congratulated and encouraged us.

The visit was like a dream. The president of the United States! As soon as it was over, I was eager to get back to Mampatim and tell the story to my fellow women producers.

The visit had a positive impact on all our work: I feel more courageous and ambitious, and the photos I showed my colleagues inspired them to redouble their efforts in their production plots. It has created a spirit of competition among them all!

Begun in 2010, this partnership with Feed the Future through USAID’s Economic Growth Project has helped women access several new varieties of high-yielding rice, as well as introduce fertilizers that have further increased yields. Some of the plots have grown fourfold, up to an entire hectare, each of which yields and average of four-and-a-half tons. In the future, we hope to manage even larger plots.

(Translated from French by Zack Taylor)

This post is part of a series of posts by marketplace participants who met Obama in June 2013.

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Family Planning Improves and Saves Lives

September 26 is World Contraception Day

For more than 25 years, my professional and personal mission has focused on helping women and couples across the world have the ability to decide whether, when and how many children to have. I strongly believe in the importance of increasing access to voluntary family planning, because the evidence is so clear. Enabling women and men to plan their families, results in multiple health, economic and social benefits for families, communities and nations. On September 26, 2013, World Contraception Day draws attention to the fact that more than 222 million women in the developing world say they want to delay or avoid pregnancy but are not using a modern method of contraception.

A community health worker in Malawi counsels a woman on her family planning options at a gathering place in her community. USAID works in more than 45 countries around the globe to increase access to family planning information and services for all who want them. Photo credit: Liz Bayer

A community health worker in Malawi counsels a woman on her family planning options at a gathering place in her community. USAID works in more than 45 countries around the globe to increase access to family planning information and services for all who want them. Photo credit: Liz Bayer

Everyday an estimated 800 women lose their lives in pregnancy and childbirth. Voluntary family planning could reduce these deaths by 30 percent and save the lives of more than 1.6 million children under five each year by enabling women to delay first pregnancy, space later pregnancies at safe intervals, and stop bearing children when they have reached their desired family size.

USAID works across the globe to enable individuals to access and use affordable, high-quality family planning information, commodities, and services as a means to improve their health and quality of life. For many women, currently available contraceptive methods don’t meet their needs. USAID is one of the few organizations that prioritizes the development of new contraceptives that will be affordable in low resource settings. USAID-supported products on the verge of introduction include:

  • The SILCS Diaphragm, a “one size fits most” reusable diaphragm that does not need clinical fitting
  • The NES+EE Contraceptive Vaginal Ring,  the first long-term hormonal method completely under the woman’s control that lasts for one year
  • The Woman’s Condom,  designed to be easy to insert, use and remove, making it unique compared to other female condoms

As the world’s largest bilateral donor of family planning, USAID is committed to expanding choice and access to a variety of contraceptive options. The ability to make important decisions about childbearing is one of the most basic human rights. Improving access to voluntary family planning information, products, and services is a necessary ingredient to helping women care for their families, participate in their communities, and build their countries.

Learn more about USAID’s work in family planning

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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.

Girls and Women Transforming Societies

This year’s United Nations General Assembly focuses on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities. 

Alex Thier is Assistant to the Administrator for Policy, Planning, and Learning

Alex Thier is Assistant to the Administrator for Policy, Planning, and Learning. Follow him at @thieristan

Elevating the political, social, and economic status of women and girls is a central and indispensable element of global progress towards creating a more prosperous, peaceful, and equitable world, and ending extreme poverty within our lifetime.

The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established in 2000 focus heavily on advancing women and girls (and intensively tracking that progress). And, as today’s USAID and UK’s Department for International Development event on Girls and Women Transforming Societies demonstrates, we’re making some astonishing progress.

Look for example in sub-Saharan Africa: net primary education enrollment for girls has risen substantially from 47 percent in 1990 to 75 percent in 2011. While a Gender Disparity Index shows only slight increases in secondary education in the same region – from .76 to .83, women are gaining ground in non-agricultural work employment, increasing a workforce presence from 24 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 2011.

Some countries, like Afghanistan, have made enormous transformations in access to education. In 2002, 900,000 boys were in school and virtually no girls attended due to a Taliban prohibition. As of 2012 over eight million students were enrolled in Afghan schools with girls accounting for over one third.

Similarly, the maternal death rate in sub-Saharan Africa has significantly dropped by 20 years – an estimated 41 per cent. Figures released by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank showed the 1990 rate of 850 deaths per 100,000 live births declined to a regional average of 500 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2010.

There is still enormous progress to be made, and in many areas the world we are still well short of the MDGs. But what this progress shows us is that these goals are achievable, and that as goes the welfare of women and girls, so goes the welfare of their societies.

In that sense, one of the most important advances may be in the area of women’s political representation. Since 2000, the proportion of women in parliaments in the developing world has increased by two-thirds, although it remains at only 20 percent. Rwanda has the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. Women there have won 56.3 per cent of seats in the lower house. Increasing women’s political participation can benefit issues that may be over looked by exclusively male decision makers. For example, research on panchayats (local councils) in India revealed that the number of drinking water projects in areas with female-led councils was 62 per cent higher than in those with male-led councils.

But, much more needs to be done. Improvements in employment and women’s reproductive health still lag. Women still are more likely to work in the informal economy, earn less than men, and be over-represented in low-wage jobs. For too many women, the process of childbirth is unsafe or results in the death of mother or child.

One thing we do know for certain though – the only way to bring people out of extreme poverty is to include and empower women in broad based economic growth and to close the economic gaps between women and men. Without inclusive practices that promote gender equality and female empowerment, extreme poverty is sure to persist well beyond the next generation.

Today’s event in New York City illustrates how women’s leadership in grassroots advocacy, local solutions and the power of technology can steer the global community on the path to meeting our MDG goals and advancing gender equality and female empowerment in the post-2015 framework.

Learn more about USAID’s work in education.

Learn more about USAID’s role in this year’s United Nations General Assembly. Follow @USAID, @thieristan, and @RajShah for ongoing updates during the week and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #UNGA and #UNGA2013.

 

Photo of the Week: Teaching Special Needs Students a Vocation

John Nyanjui and studentsThe USAID-funded Nutrition Kitchen Garden Program launched in October 2011 at Maria Magdalena Catholic Parish School in Thika, Kenya cares for the special needs of mentally handicapped children. The program better equips them with vocational skills, like gardening. Recent graduate John Nyanjui, far left, now works with his former agronomy teacher Josphat Avunga to provide this vocational training to other students. Photo is from Natasha Murigu, USAID.

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.

Photo of the Week: Innovating in Tanzania for Water Quality

This innovation - implemented by USAID's MEASURE Evaluation project and supported by LAUNCH - is a simple test that can measure water quality in the field without a lab.  Photo Credit:

This innovation – implemented by USAID’s MEASURE Evaluation project and supported by LAUNCH – is a simple test that can measure water quality in the field without a lab. Photo Credit: Acquagenex

 

Empowering Women with the Female Condom

September 16 is Global Female Condom Day. 

Believe it or not, the female condom is a controversial tool in the arsenal against HIV transmission. Donors argue that it’s expensive and not widely used. Women complain that it’s too big and hard to insert. What no one can argue is that it works.

Female condoms are the only woman-initiated method available that offers dual protection from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. Studies have shown that the female condom is at least as effective as the male condom in reducing the risk of contracting STIs and can reduce the per-act probability of HIV infection by 97 percent. Studies from Madagascar, Brazil, Kenya, India and the United States demonstrate that female condom promotion and use increases the total number of protected sex acts.

RH Councillor Jonathan Kabanda in a councilling session with client Pauline Phiri at SFH Obote Site, Livingstone, Zambia. Photo credit: PSI

RH Councillor Jonathan Kabanda with a female condom in a counselling session with client Pauline Phiri at SFH Obote Site, Livingstone, Zambia. Photo credit: PSI

But to provide the dual protection it was designed for, female condoms must be used. And while gaining acceptability and uptake among women is not an easy task, it can be done.

Patience Kunaka first heard about female condoms in Zimbabwe in the early 1990s. “I first thought it might be a good prevention tool. In those days, HIV was taking its toll and antiretroviral therapy was not yet known and available.”

Patience worked then as a midwife trainer for the National Health Ministry. While her training provided her with knowledge of reproductive anatomy, she was still shocked when she saw the female condom. “I wondered how it would remain inside me with the movement of the penis. I thought it would be sliding in and out and become a really messy act!”

Despite her concerns, she attended a female condom training and decided to try one during her menstrual cycle. “It takes a lot of practice to get used to it. But it’s worth it in the end.”

Patience joined Population Services International (PSI) Zimbabwe in 2006 as the training manager and has become an outspoken advocate for female condoms. “It takes time to get used to female condoms but mainly it takes a positive attitude toward trying it. I am a regular user and talk to a lot of women about trying it.”

In the nearly 20 years since it started programming for female condoms, PSI has learned valuable lessons in supporting their uptake. Relying solely on traditional commercial marketing strategies is not effective. PSI targets female gathering places such as hair salons, which allow for prolonged interaction between potential users and promoters to encourage trial and repeat use. Promoters receive intensive training to demonstrate female condom use with interpersonal communication to their female peers. Non-traditional channels also include barber shops and gathering places for men, which can help programs achieve male partner buy-in.

As the international community gathers to celebrate Global Female Condom Day on September 16, it is important to remember that the female condom provides another option for women whose partners refuse to wear a male condom or women who want to take charge of their own reproductive health. As additional female condoms become commercially available, the prices will hopefully reduce, providing access to an even greater number of women. And while programming for female condoms can be complex—just as any behavior change can be—women like Patience Kunaka demand it.

Through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), USAID supports PSI and other implementing partners’ female condom programming in a number of sub-Saharan African countries.

Liberia: “When We Learn to Read, We Can Read to Learn!”

This originally appeared on the Global Partnership for Education Blog

Newton G. Teeweh is one of Liberia’s deeply committed teachers. He is proud to be doing the critical but unglamorous work of teaching the nation’s children how to read so they can read to learn. He once had been a struggling reader himself, so it wasn’t always obvious that he would become a teacher.

Student and teacher in Liberia. Photo credit: GPE

Student and teacher in Liberia. Photo credit: GPE

In Maryland, Newton’s home county on Liberia’s eastern border with Côte d’Ivoire, teachers and students alike frequently struggle with reading English or using English for classroom instruction. When Newton crossed the border into Côte d’Ivoire in 1991 to escape the civil conflict in his home country, it was as a senior in high school who still felt uncomfortable reading.

He started working as a public school teacher when he returned to Liberia a year later, and throughout his 18 years in the profession the discomfort with reading did not abate. “I still found it difficult to read an article fluently until I moved to the Reading Program of USAID’s Liberia Teacher Training Program (LTTP) in 2011,” he said. “That’s when I began to see a great change.”

Teachers need training

Newton now trains teachers, principals and reading coaches around the country in reading pedagogy – the same training that transformed him. Many of them – like Newton himself – became schoolteachers immediately upon graduating from high school without having ever received formal pedagogical training of any kind.

With his improved reading skills, Newton has been able to go back to university part-time. He is now working toward a Bachelor’s degree in education at a teacher’s college in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. “Reading has helped me to quickly and accurately gather information. It has given me self-confidence. When I’m sitting in an exam, I can feel relaxed because I don’t depend on someone else to help me understand what I’m reading.”

While Newton already serves as a role model for the teachers he trains, he has set his ambitions even higher. “I am interested in becoming a policymaker,” he says. “What we have started in Liberia must continue. We need to have people in relevant positions that will continue the focus on reading, even if donors leave Liberia.”

Liberia’s first national reading campaign

Newton is just one of many champions of Liberia’s first national reading campaign, which kicked off this last weekend. The campaign will help raising awareness across all groups of society about the importance of reading. President Johnson Sirleaf and other prominent figures have pledged their support to the campaign’s central message: When we Learn to Read, we can then Read to Learn. The campaign’s motto – Reading Brightens Your Life – has held true in Newton’s experience and in the experiences of many politicians and government officials.

Spearheaded by the Ministry of Education and USAID’s Liberia Teacher Training Program (LTTP), the campaign combines efforts of several ministries, international and local civil society organizations and corporations. The President declared September 9 – 14 to be National Reading Week, with the aim of inspiring schools and communities to come together to improve literacy among students of all ages. Following an opening week in Monrovia with reading competitions, book fairs, and read-ins, activities will spread throughout the country. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will then hold their own events in various communities reinforcing the campaign’s messages and momentum.

Reading is the basis for future learning

Followers of this blog probably already know that reading is a critical skill and the foundation for future learning. Children who do not learn how to read in the early grades face an increasingly uphill battle in later years as more and more of the material to be learned is presented in written form. Difficulty with reading makes students more likely to drop out of school, which contributes to illiteracy. This in turn imposes substantial economic costs at the national level. The good news is that the situation can be changed. Countries that have found a way to boost literacy rates by 20-30% have seen simultaneous increases in GDP of 8-16%. That’s not peanuts – and it is one of the reason why Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her Ministry of Education are so committed to the goal of improving reading skills in Liberia.

GPE’s Education For All Blog will follow Liberia’s National Reading Campaign with a series of guest posts highlighting the work underway to improve reading in the country. Teachers who have recently been trained explain how a new, intense focus on reading has transformed their student’s classroom performance. Parents who are themselves preliterate will discuss how learning simple ways to support their children’s reading development has changed how they engage with schools and the larger education system. Students whose self-confidence and love of learning has blossomed along with their reading skills will describe some of the aspirations that are coming steadily closer to realization.

Stay tuned for more stories coming out of Liberia’s National Reading Campaign and hear how reading brightens the lives of so many Liberians.

Learn more about USAID’s education programs. 

Podcast of the Week: Changing the World One Property Right at a Time

Land tenure, or helping people in developing countries establish clear rights to their property, is a little-known issue that is nonetheless essential to the global fight on poverty. This podcast, based on an interview with USAID’s land tenure division chief Gregory Myers, explains the issue and how the U.S. Government is helping secure property rights around the globe. Follow our work on land tenure this month on Twitter by following #landmatters.

 

Video of the Week: Yaajeende Conservation Agriculture in Senegal

BioReclam is a major activity being conducted with vulnerable women to provide them with access to land for producing food and earning income during the rainy season. The project works with Communities to allocate abandoned lands to vulnerable people, This land is being reclaimed using a package of innovative techniques and is used to produce lucrative, low maintenance crops rich in micronutrients such as Okra and Hibiscus (leaves and flowers). These crops/varieties are selected to be particularly rich in Iron and Zinc. Learn more about we are doing in Senegal.

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