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Archives for Sub-Saharan Africa

South Sudan Educators Acquire Skills to Teach the New Nation

September 8 was International Literacy Day. Below is a story of  how USAID is advancing education in South Sudan.

At Ligi Primary School in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria state, the majority of the school’s 11 teachers lack any formal teacher training. Only three have teaching certificates. Overall in South Sudan, only about half of teachers have professional qualifications and a third have only a primary school education. A quarter of those teaching students are volunteers.

The background of teacher Gaga Simon is typical. He completed high school in neighboring Uganda because South Sudan was immersed in war throughout his childhood. After returning to his homeland, he has taught for the past eight years without any formal teacher training.

According to UNESCO’s 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report on South Sudan, “South Sudan has some of the world’s worst indicators for education. Around 1 million children—half of the primary school age population—are out of school. The primary net enrollment rate is second to the bottom in world rankings, with a net enrollment rate for girls at just 37 percent. In a country with a population the size of Sweden, fewer than 400 girls make it to the last grade of secondary school. There are desperate shortages of classrooms and books—and just one qualified teacher for every 117 students.”

Gaga Simon shows his fellow teachers at Ligi Primary School how to make a lesson plan. Photo credit: Poni Allen

Gaga Simon shows his fellow teachers at Ligi Primary School how to make a lesson plan. Photo credit: Poni Allen

USAID supports the Ministry of Education’s efforts to deliver training to teachers like Mr. Simon through the South Sudan Teacher Education Project. The objective is to build and professionalize a South Sudanese teacher corps. The project is improving the quality of education in South Sudan’s schools by training teachers and providing children with a supportive environment in which to learn foundational literacy and numeracy skills.

As a result, Mr. Simon is now able to create a lesson plan and confidently apply a child-centered teaching approach that focuses on his students’ needs, abilities, interests and learning styles. He acts as a facilitator of his students’ learning, frequently requesting their input into classroom activities and even the assessment measures used.

“I intend to make the most of this training opportunity,” says Mr. Simon, who teaches mathematics and English to third and fifth graders.

After the training, Simon shared lessons learned with fellow teachers at his primary school and held mini teaching sessions throughout the school year where he taught teachers new skills he had learned. “I need to grow and support other teachers to grow along with me in the teaching profession,” he said. “I take my time with my fellow teachers and I explain to them what I learned so that we can all progress at the same level.” Together they are now more effective in helping the pupils learn by utilizing participatory teaching methodology, which encourages active learning through student participation instead of the traditional “chalk and talk” approach.

“We are now able to apply the child-centered learning [approach] and use any materials around us to demonstrate a lesson to the pupils … this helps the pupils to learn better,” says Peter Dara, one of the teachers who benefited from Simon’s experience and support. “This has made learning fun and interesting both for the teachers and learners.”

Headmaster Taban Philip Elema has noted a great change in Simon’s teaching style and class management since he completed the in-service training, including using local materials to explain key concepts. For example, Mr. Simon uses sticks and stones to teach basic numeracy concepts and to create fun math games. “It is a learning process,” says Elema, “and I am confident that by the time they complete the training, we will have all teachers in this school qualified and able to teach as professional teachers.”

This program is unique because teachers are receiving an accelerated certification. USAID is helping teachers get high-quality professional training quickly to alleviate the dire shortage of trained teachers in South Sudan. The certification includes an intensive focus on reading instruction, helping primary teachers learn to accomplish what is arguably their most important task in a country seeking to improve one of the world’s lowest rates of literacy.

Learn more about USAID’s education programs.

Like USAID Education on Facebook and follow @USAIDEducation on Twitter!

 

A New Presidential Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan

This originally appeared on the White House Blog

Today (Aug. 28), President Obama appointed Ambassador Donald Booth as the new U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan. A former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Zambia, and Liberia, Ambassador Booth is one of our most experienced diplomats and has extensive experience promoting peace and prosperity across the African continent. He is seasoned, determined, and deeply committed to pursuing peace between and within Sudan and South Sudan.

President Barack Obama meets with Ambassador Donald Booth, Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, in the Oval Office, Aug. 28, 2013. Photo credit: Pete Souza

President Barack Obama meets with Ambassador Donald Booth, Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, in the Oval Office, Aug. 28, 2013. Photo credit: Pete Souza

Ambassador Booth joins our Sudan and South Sudan team at a critical time.  Working closely with the African Union and our other international partners, he will play a vital role in urging Sudan and South Sudan to make progress on resolving outstanding issues, including the status of the disputed region of Abyei. He will continue U.S. efforts to press for a peaceful and definitive end to the conflicts in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile as part of a holistic solution to Sudan’s human rights, humanitarian, and governance crises. And he will urge South Sudan to stay focused on protecting its people, meeting their needs, and realizing their aspirations for a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic future.

As the President told Ambassador Booth today during their meeting in the Oval Office, supporting peace between and within Sudan and South Sudan remains a priority for this Administration. As Ambassador Booth carries forward this important work on behalf of the United States, he does so with the President’s full support.

Read the President’s statement.

Learn more about Ambassador Booth.

Grant T. Harris is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs

From Addis Ababa: A Power[ful] Africa Message

On the outskirts of Addis Ababa sits the engineering and production facility of one of the world’s most cutting edge high technology firms, the Ethiopian-American firm dVentus Technologies. This firm and its success could be a harbinger of change across the entire African continent.

 United States Trade Representative Michael Froman (left) and USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa Earl Gast (center) discuss renewable energy technologies with Daniel Gizaw, CEO and President of dVentus Technologies during a visit to the company's facility in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Daniel Mesfin, U.S. Embassy Ethiopia


United States Trade Representative Michael Froman (left) and USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa Earl Gast (center) discuss renewable energy technologies with Daniel Gizaw, CEO and President of dVentus Technologies during a visit to the company’s facility in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Daniel Mesfin, U.S. Embassy Ethiopia

It was here, one early morning this month, that America’s top foreign trade envoy, Michael Froman, huddled with two officials of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Assistant Administrator (Africa) Earl Gast, and Power Africa Coordinator Andrew Herscowitz, to hear a briefing by dVentus CEO Daniel Gizaw.

Gizaw, an Ethiopian-American, is fascinating realization of the American Dream.  A graduate of the University of Gdansk in Poland, Daniel was able to transfer to the University of Wisconsin and work on his PhD there. With more than 20 years’ experience in the USA designing state-of-the art electric motors, generators and electronics drives and extensive expertise in management of technology, Daniel founded Danotek Motion Technologies in Ann Arbor, Michigan, about ten years ago to serve the specialized needs of the advanced transportation and renewable energy industries; by 2005, he formed an engineering team in Ethiopia to support the U.S. operation.

He also acquired expansive prior experience in the areas of research, product development, staff engineering, and operation management for General Electric, GM-Electric Vehicle, Cummins Power Generation, and Ford Motor Company. Gizaw’s success led into several patents and major commercial breakthrough including GE’s ECM motor, the Cummins variable speed generator, and Ford’s flexible fuel vehicles’ electronic brushless fuel pump and, most recently, Danotek’s high efficiency Generators for Wind Turbines and Cogenerations. Backed by venture capital and strategic investors, Danotek eventually became a world class manufacturer of large megawatt wind turbine generators. Gizaw was nominated entrepreneur of the year by the State of Michigan and Ernst & Young and served on Michigan Governor Granholm’s Committee for Renewable Energy.

It was then that Daniel Gizaw decided that it was time to return to the land of his forefathers and build out a major portion of his global business “dVentus” there to serve high growth and underserved market. Diaspora trade and investment linkages are often the strongest strands connecting developing countries to the wider global economy, but it is important to continually nurture them.

Interestingly, dVentus Technologies was not a major exporter or beneficiary under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the primary reason Ambassador Froman and other senior U.S. officials were in Ethiopia attending the annual AGOA Forum.  But dVentus is a private sector partner in Power Africa, the initiative announced by President Obama during his recent trip to Africa.

“This is exactly the kind of story that fits into Power Africa,” said Ambassador Froman.  “It’s cutting edge technology it will help both in the generation of electricity in terms of the wind power and generation capabilities here, but also  energy efficiency and the smart grid and the meters that will make electricity more manageable for governments across sub Saharan Africa.”

Power Africa seeks to address one of the critical constraints to sustained economic growth and human development on the continent: more than two-thirds of Africans do not have access to reliable electricity. Companies like dVentus are a key part of the Power Africa strategy: harnessing the private sector, its expertise and resources, to jump-start African power sectors in multiple countries that have suffered decades of under-investment and mismanagement. In some cases, Power Africa will increase electricity generation by reducing the risks and therefore the costs associated with key power projects. In other cases, Power Africa works directly with African governments to improve their capacity to manage and expand their power infrastructure.  In still other cases, Power Africa will work at the local level, providing grants to small developers to build out small scale clean energy solutions for rural communities that are too remote to connect with their national grids.

The dVentus story, and the U.S. Government’s role in it, is a unique one. Daniel Gizaw’s venture has contracted with the Ethiopian utility to develop and manufacture two million smart meters that will significantly improve the efficiency of energy use across the national grid.  dVentus also has plans to develop its other two lines of business in Ethiopia and the broader region: wind turbines and propulsion systems for clean energy vehicles. In each case, the innovation and the manufacturing will take place in Ethiopia and the United States, strengthening the commercial ties between both.

dVentus already invested from its internal resources over $2.5 Million USD. Different streams of government and private sector support have come together to support the dVentus expanding operation. AfDB is looking into providing $1M assistance for renewable energy and energy efficiency project. USAID will be providing a credit guarantee through its Development Credit Authority Diaspora Facility for a $1 million working capital loan to support the smart meter development. OPIC is exploring longer-term financing for the manufacturing phase. At the same time, RENEW, a private firm that channels angel investment into emerging markets, has arranged investment into dVentus from several American Angel groups.  The dVentus story exemplifies the public-private partnership approach of the Power Africa Initiative and how small, innovative firms are changing the landscape of the power sector in Sub-Saharan Africa.

 

No Longer Just Food: Communities Create Assets to Build Food Security in South Sudan

As USAID’s Food for Peace Officer assigned to South Sudan since October 2011, I have seen firsthand how U.S. government food assistance programs are simultaneously supporting communities’ efforts to create assets that strengthen their food security while providing vital timely assistance to food insecure South Sudanese.

A little over two years since declaring independence following more than 20 years of civil war, South Sudan is still struggling to build infrastructure and institutions to function as a sovereign state. Pockets of continuing civil conflict and erratic weather patterns plus a massive influx of refugees from Sudan and the return of thousands of people of South Sudanese origin after years of living in Sudan have strained food security in this new nation struggling to find its footing. Disputes with Sudan continue to threaten landlocked South Sudan’s ability to export oil through Sudan’s pipeline—and generate revenue South Sudan needs to finance its development. All these factors contribute to a continued need for substantial food assistance in South Sudan.

Women construct a water pond in South Sudan

Women constructing a water pond in South Sudan. Water ponds are built where there is a natural depression and water traditionally collects during the rainy season. The women are deepening and enlarging the area so that they will have water for a longer period of time during the dry season. Photo credit: Elizabeth Chambers, USAID

Poor, vulnerable communities are often risk averse, but in areas of South Sudan where peace has taken hold, citizens have embraced an innovative approach called “Food-for-Assets.” They build a critically needed asset in their community and receive remuneration in sorghum, pulses and vegetable oil, in lieu of cash. This reduces their susceptibility to shocks to their food security and contributes to the development of the community. As these activities are undertaken during the year when such commodities are scarce, this approach frees participants from the daily worry about accessing food for their families. To ensure sustainability, the participants themselves identify their key community needs and the resources required to implement the asset-building projects.

So why is this innovative? As a result of chronic food insecurity and conflict, South Sudan has received widespread free food distributions for years. By focusing on a Food-for-Assets approach, we are fostering a shift from dependency on food aid to sustainable livelihoods. By empowering communities to build or improve local assets, we improve their resilience to shocks, such as floods, so that one day these communities will no longer need food assistance.

Woman in South Sudan observes the construction of a water pond

Woman in South Sudan observes the construction of a water pond. Photo credit: Elizabeth Chambers, USAID

For example, in Warrap State, I visited a community benefiting from one of our food assistance programs supported by the UN World Food Program (WFP). The community had built a bridge over a marshland to connect 5,000 people in 24 isolated villages to main roads, thereby improving access to local markets, health centers and other services. The value of the bridge is incalculable as it not only drastically reduced transport costs for commercial produce and other goods, but also facilitated access to life-saving health care. More importantly, it brought the communities on either side of the bridge together to work on a common goal, become better neighbors and reduce tensions. Local authorities realized the powerful impact of this activity and provided the culverts needed for part of the construction, while USAID provided 48 metric tons of food through WFP to approximately 100 participants in return for their labor. Construction began in November 2012 and was completed in April 2013. When I visited in May 2013 to check on progress of the project, the pride of participants from the communities on each side of the bridge was palpable.

In Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, I visited an access road and cattle pond that a community built—more Food-for-Assets activities USAID implemented with WFP. Local participants provided labor for the road and water point, while WFP distributed 170 metric tons of food contributed by USAID in exchange for their work. WFP also provided hand tools, training and technical support. The road now connects 6,800 people in 48 rural villages to main roads as well as markets, health centers and social services, and the waterhole provides drinking water for their cattle.  As I drove down the new road, I saw new development activities along the way, including the opening of new agricultural lands and building of new markets and classrooms.

Through Food-for-Assets, WFP assisted 445,000 residents in South Sudan between April and December 2012, and plans to reach about one million people in South Sudan through Food-for-Assets activities in 2013. USAID, through its partnership with WFP, provides commodities for Food-for-Assets programs which not only support the construction of roads and bridges, but also rehabilitate farmland, plant vegetable gardens to improve nutrition, dig irrigation ponds, and train farmers on practical skills to improve crop and vegetable production. USAID is the largest provider of food assistance to South Sudan, contributing 41 percent of WFP’s funding.

Learn more about the Office of Food for Peace‘s work to reduce hunger and malnutrition, and ensure that all people at all times have access to sufficient food for a healthy and productive life.

Photos of the Week: AID in Action: Delivering on Results

Driving human progress is at the core of USAID’s mission, but what do development results look like?

USAID is measuring our leadership in results — not dollars spent — implementing innovative, cost-effective strategies to save lives. Through investments in science, technology and innovation, USAID is harnessing new partners and young minds to transform more lives than ever before. Our new model for development embraces game-changing partnerships that leverage resources, expertise, and science and technology to maximize our impact and deliver real results.

Take a look at the Agency’s top recent and historical achievements in promoting better health; food security; democracy and good governance; education; economic growth, and in providing a helping hand to communities in need around the globe.

Read the stories behind the results in the special edition of FrontLines: Aid in Action: Delivering on Results.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDpubs for ongoing updates on the best of our results!

From the Field in Mozambique: Gorongosa Rebirth Gives Communities Another Chance at Life

What happens to a magnificent wildlife and nature reserve if it suddenly becomes the stage for a civil war? Refugees find home in its forests, destroying them, poaching animals and burning fields. Inevitably, tourist facilities are abandoned and the park dies. It all happened to the Gorongosa National Park during the 16-year civil war that devastated Mozambique.

Today, 21 years after the fighting ended, I see a very different Gorongosa. Wild animals roam the park’s immense green pastures, birds dive for food in the river and crocodiles wonder curiously at the surface of Lake Urema. It’s no surprise that National Geographic recently published a story about the park.

I came to Gorongosa with U.S. Ambassador Douglas Griffiths, who wanted to see the impact of USAID’s restoration and health projects on the communities that live there.

A boy and his friends enjoy some fishing on the bank of Vinho River. Vinho village, in the “buffer zone,” has benefited from the park’s restoration with jobs, schooling and improved health services. Photo credit: Cristina Miranda USAID/Mozambique

A boy and his friends enjoy some fishing on the bank of Vinho River. Vinho village, in the “buffer zone,” has benefited from the park’s restoration with jobs, schooling and improved health services. Photo credit: Cristina Miranda USAID/Mozambique

USAID has been involved with the park restoration since 2006, a few years after Greg Carr — an American philanthropist who fell in love with Gorongosa —signed an agreement with the Government of Mozambique to manage it. When USAID partnered with Carr and the Mozambican government to restore the park, the vision was to generate a harmonious and mutually beneficial relationship between wildlife and the communities that share the park. As time passes, that vision is becoming reality through a network that connects biodiversity conservation with education, health, forestry, agriculture, eco-tourism, natural resource management, and livelihoods.

It is pretty obvious that Gorongosa’s success story lies in the communities living there. “Historically, national parks didn’t think that they had a duty to the human beings that lived next to them, but in the last 40 years people realized that it won’t work. You have to think of the greater ecosystem, the park and its buffer zones,” –Greg Carr said as he showed us the Community Educational Center, which was built and maintained with USAID funding.

About 200,000 people live inside the park and in the surrounding buffer zones. Increasing tourism attracted a Portuguese hotel chain that took over Chitengo Safari Camp, the area’s primary tourist stop, creating a number of jobs. However, investing 20 percent of the park’s revenue back in the communities, in accordance with Mozambican law, has also made a big difference. While visiting the health facility in nearby Vinho village, we heard how well revenue-sharing is working. Marta, born and raised in the village, had brought her baby in for vaccination. “I am happy with the park,” she told us. “My sister works there, my husband works there. Now I also want to work there.”

USAID supports the health of Gorongosa communities with services ranging from family planning to vital medical treatment for malaria and other health problems. We visited a class at the Community Educational Center, where buffer-zone residents were learning about tuberculosis symptoms, treatment and prevention. Such activities also raise awareness of sustainable practices, such as organic farming, that help people earn incomes without damaging the park. In 2012 the conservation education team worked with 4,200 people, most from buffer-zone communities, including classroom sessions for children, workshops on fire prevention and other conservation topics and mobile movie sessions. Ambassador Griffiths told me how rewarding it was to see U.S. investments contributing to the health of the park and its residents. “By supporting this ecological jewel,” he said, “we’re also supporting the people around it.”

With the recent animal re-introductions and natural growth rates, wildlife has increased substantially since 2004, attracting scientists, tourists and businesses from everywhere. As we took the afternoon game drive we could see herds of Gorongosa’s small-tusked elephants and gaze at grazing wildebeest and African buffalo in the immense savanna near Lake Urema.

View more photos of Ambassador Griffiths’ visit to the Gorongosa National Park.

Planting the Seeds of Sustainability in South Sudan

In the world’s newest nation of South Sudan, the legacy of four decades of civil war continues to challenge efforts to gather reliable current statistics on health, education, the economy and other factors. USAID and other development partners are seeking to help the South Sudanese people build a robust and resilient economy. Key to that effort is modernizing and expanding the agriculture sector. Because decades of war often forced people from their land, South Sudan as a whole lost much of its agricultural knowledge base. As a result, most of South Sudan’s food is imported, despite significant arable land, plentiful water and good quality soil. In spite of the challenges, most South Sudanese are still involved in agriculture, typically as subsistence farmers producing crops such as maize, sorghum, cassava and groundnuts. Production levels are low, however, and even farmers in the most fertile region—the “Greenbelt” that crosses the three Equatoria states—are affected by a number of adverse conditions, including poor quality seeds, deficient farming equipment, lack of roads to get their goods to market and post-harvest losses due to inadequate or nonexistent storage.

A farmer inspects his crops. Photo credit: Sait Mboob

A farmer inspects his crops. Photo credit: Sait Mboob

To examine the effects of USAID’s assistance in South Sudan’s agriculture sector since 2012, a USAID team led by economist Paul Pleva recently completed a cost-benefit analysis of the $26 million in USAID funds currently being spent annually in South Sudan in support of the Feed the Future Initiative.  Part of the analysis examined two different techniques for improving crop yields, both being promoted under USAID’s Food, Agribusiness and Rural Markets (FARM) project.  Begun in 2010, the FARM project seeks to boost agricultural growth through improved inputs, strengthen market linkages, improve the conditions for private sector investment and improve infrastructure to facilitate trade.

Pleva analyzed the two techniques being implemented through the FARM project to improve crop yields. One technique required relatively expensive farming inputs, but promised potentially dramatic yield increases.  A second technique focused on more simple improvements such as improved seeds, proper weeding and seed row spacing for more modest yield increases.  The team observed actual outcomes produced by the two techniques and considered the sustainability of each.

Pleva led a collaborative effort to collect data from multiple sources, identify inconsistencies and compare the quality of those sources. He used inexpensive technologies such as Google Apps to ensure that USAID implementing partners around the world could provide input.

Cheaper farming techniques improve farming yields and result in greater profitability for South Sudanese farmers. Photo credit:

Cheaper farming techniques improve farming yields and result in greater profitability for South Sudanese farmers. Photo credit: Sait Mboob

After comparing the results, the USAID team found that of the two interventions, the cheaper technique of improving farming yields resulted in greater profitability for South Sudanese farmers and provided a much better chance of sustainability after the project ends.  The evidence for this finding was significant and, as a result, USAID turned the focus of the project toward the cheaper and more sustainable intervention.

Small sums can generate big returns—in this case for both farmers and USAID. USAID made a modest investment of resources—the staff time of a small team—to conduct the cost-benefit analysis, and in doing so, increased the development impact of taxpayer dollars significantly. Farmers in South Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries, stand to benefit economically from the findings of this analysis—a potential path out of poverty.

By using economic analysis to prove that simple techniques can best assist South Sudan’s farmers, USAID had avoided an all too common trap in development—unsustainable projects that fall apart when donors conclude a project or cease assistance to a sector or country. Lessons like this one not only save money in the short-term, but by helping people to increase their household income and food security they also decrease the likelihood that emergency funds will be needed to help these communities in the future.

The AGOA Forum: Promoting Sustainable Growth in Africa through Trade and Technology

This originally appeared on the White House Blog.

This week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman and senior members of the President’s economic team joined trade ministers, civil society, and business leaders from across sub-Saharan Africa to focus on “Sustainable Growth through Trade and Technology” at the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum. The Forum also kicked off the process leading to AGOA’s renewal in 2015.

As the President highlighted on his trip to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania this summer, Africa is experiencing historic growth. Six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. The continent has enormous economic potential, and it’s in our interest to help African countries expand trade and investment to fuel their development.

AGOA has transformed the way the United States and Africa interact on trade and economic issues. Since 2001 – the first full year of AGOA trade — U.S. total trade with sub-Saharan Africa has more than doubled, from $28.2 billion to $72.3 billion in 2012. AGOA enabled U.S. exports to the region to more than triple from $6.9 billion in 2001 to $22.6 billion in 2012. At the same time, AGOA imports (including GSP) to the United States have climbed to $34.9 billion in 2012, more than four times the amount in 2001. That increase in trade has created thousands of new jobs in Africa.

By providing new market opportunities for African exports, especially for non-traditional and value-added products, AGOA has helped African firms become more competitive both in the United States and internationally. Many African businesses that had never previously considered the U.S. market are attending trade shows and getting orders – for Ugandan organic cotton T-shirts, Mauritian seafood, Ghanaian cocoa powder, Ethiopian shoes, and a whole range of products.

AGOA has also been good for the United States. U.S. exports to sub-Saharan Africa have more than tripled as Africa’s growing middle class is increasingly able to buy high-quality products Made in America. African businesses have sought more U.S. inputs, expertise, and joint partnerships, and U.S. investment in Africa is creating good jobs and higher incomes for workers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The challenge now is to expand AGOA’s impact even further. At this week’s Forum, our team focused on further expanding our economic engagement with Africa, paving the way for AGOA’s renewal in 2015, and building a stepladder that furthers Africa’s growth, development and global economic integration. This is the vision we and our partners share, and this week’s discussions at the AGOA Forum will help chart our way forward.

President Obama delivered a video message to the Forum. Check it out below:

Gayle Smith is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director at the National Security Council and Grant Harris is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs

Helping Feed the Future One (Fortified) Rice Grain at a Time

In 1977, our father earned a USAID scholarship to leave Mali and pursue graduate studies at Purdue University. As one of the first Africans to benefit from an effort to identify and train the next generation of agriculture experts, he earned his doctorate and went on to work for the United Nations for the next three decades as a food security and sustainable development expert. In the 1980s, he was stationed to work in Ethiopia during the height of the famine, which made a lasting impression on our family. Almost four decades later, USAID brought us together with President Obama to share our idea for transforming the rice industry and combating farmer poverty and malnutrition in Mali.

Aiché and N'Baye Having Dinner

Aiché and N’Baye having dinner. Photo credit: Salif

Taking part in Feed the Future’s Agricultural Technology Marketplace during President Obama’s visit to Senegal was a great honor for us. The struggle against food insecurity and malnutrition forms a fundamental part of our identity due to our father’s work and our experiences growing up in Ethiopia and Mali. We are acutely aware of how fortunate we are. Our father—the only child in a family of 14 to finish high school—instilled a deep sense of obligation in us from a very young age.

And about four years ago, while still in college in the United States, that sense of obligation turned into action. A spike in rice prices in 2008 captured our attention. We were angered to witness how the increase in prices led to even greater food insecurity in Mali. We committed ourselves to tackling food shortages and malnutrition in Mali, in part by producing a locally grown vitamin-fortified rice.

We had almost no knowledge of the rice plant, rice production or rice processing, so we had to a lot of homework. We searched online for studies by USAID, picked the brains of professors, emailed our business model and financial projections to seasoned entrepreneurs to deconstruct, and video chatted with technology providers in Argentina and China to put together a business plan that won over $130,000 in prize money and awards. With these funds, we returned to Mali in 2011 to conduct a pilot study that culminated in the marketing of locally-produced fortified rice in Africa for the first time, selling 10 tons despite the new entry of this product into local markets.

Today, we are the founders of Malô, a Malian social enterprise that produces high quality, fortified rice to address the twin problems of farmer poverty and malnutrition. We work in partnership with a 30,000-member farmer cooperative in Mali’s biggest rice producing zone.

Our first processing and fortification facility, with the capacity to meet the needs of more than 25,000 people per year, will be up and running by the end of 2013. And plans for a processing center to feed a million people a year are back on track after a period of political uncertainty. Next year we will begin production of fortified rice kernels in Mali so other rice millers in West Africa can offer affordable fortified rice to their customers.

In our brief chat with President Obama, we were impressed by his desire to understand the details of Malô’s business model as well as what it meant for farmers and consumers. Hearing him articulate his philosophy for achieving food security, in person, was powerful. He stressed that economic growth as a result of improved performance in the agriculture sector was most effective in reducing poverty. He also said that food aid was no longer sufficient and that by leveraging investments by companies, the impact will be deeper and broader. And finally, he argued that bolstering African agriculture should not be seen as a burden or waste, but a remarkable opportunity for all.

After our experience in Senegal, we are convinced more than ever that helping nourish the future is our life’s calling. Together with our partners, we are excited about the promise of African farmers and consumers—and meeting their aspirations will be a fun and rewarding journey.

Resources:

 

HIV+ and Pregnant: A Deadly Combination?

Since 1990, the global number of maternal deaths has declined by almost half to 287,000 per year. Increased access to family planning and improved maternity care, including emergency care when needed, have played a significant part in this reduction. At the same time, the number of people dying from AIDS-related deaths has been declining since the 2000s because of access to life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ARVs) and a decline in HIV prevalence. Nonetheless, these positive trends are masking a troubling reality for many women in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to new estimates, HIV-positive pregnant women had 8 times the risk of death during pregnancy than HIV-negative pregnant women.

A couple from Nigeria holds their 5-month-old HIV-negative baby. Photo credit: Deidre Schoo, International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs, Columbia University School of Public Health

A couple from Nigeria holds their 5-month-old HIV-negative baby. Photo credit: Deidre Schoo, International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs, Columbia University School of Public Health

It’s a sobering statistic, and it calls both the HIV and maternal health communities to joint action. But what can be done? How can we improve HIV and maternal health programs to save the lives of these women? Unfortunately, the answer is unsatisfying. We just don’t know the solution…yet. Certainly the provision of ARVs to HIV-positive pregnant women for her health and the health of her child is a vital piece of the puzzle. Many countries are shifting their strategies to reach these women by providing lifelong treatment for pregnant women living with HIV. However, ARVs are probably not the entire answer as HIV-positive pregnant women also have an increased risk for complications relating to other co-infections like tuberculosis, sepsis, and pneumonia. Questions remain, and more research on the nexus of HIV and pregnancy is necessary.

In an effort to move the HIV and maternal health communities to action, USAID, CDC, and the Maternal Health Task Force convened a meeting in early June on “Maternal Health, HIV and AIDS: Examining Research through a Programmatic Lens.” We brought together technical experts from around the world who have been investigating the intersection of HIV and maternal health. We were electrified by the dynamic group and the data presented on topics ranging from causes of maternal deaths, stigma and discrimination in health services, and tough considerations around Option B+. A smaller group committed to develop a formal research agenda to outline the priority questions that remain.

This meeting was just the beginning of the dialogue, and we’d like to invite you to participate in the conversation and add to the evidence base as we move forward. The full content of the meeting is available online at the Maternal Health Task Force’s website. We continue to seek the latest resources, research findings, and publications from around the world on this topic. To read more on the subject, find relevant news and publications, and suggest additional resources, see here. Finally, watch for more news from USAID as we continue these important discussions and learn more from sub-Saharan African countries that are tackling this issue.

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