USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Sub-Saharan Africa

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.

Coordinated Efforts Needed to Combat Infant Mortality in Africa

At the Africa regional conference of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) held last month in Nairobi, Kenya, one thing was clear. In order to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) of reducing infant mortality by two thirds before 2015, birth attendants in large numbers must acquire the basic skills and equipment to help newborns breathe.

The WHO estimates that one million babies die each year from birth asphyxia, the inability to breathe immediately after delivery. Simple means to stimulate breathing that could easily be done by a birth attendant could save a majority of these babies. However, such lifesaving care is not available in much of the world’s poorest regions.

Attendees at the session get a primer on the HBB program. Photo credit: Johnson & Johnson

Attendees at the session get a primer on the HBB program. Photo credit: Johnson & Johnson

As part of its MDG commitment, Johnson & Johnson is working with USAID and many partners globally to address birth asphyxia through its support of the Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) program in a number of developing countries where infant mortality from birth asphyxia is still high. HBB is a global public-private partnership working towards achieving a significant reduction in newborn mortality by increasing the availability of skilled birth attendants at every birth. Nurses and midwives with HBB training have the skills to save over 90% of babies with birth asphyxia.

The ICM meeting dedicated a core session to HBB, including providing attendees hands-on HBB introductory training and a related symposium that debated why little progress has been made in combating infant mortality in Africa.

The discussion continued at the stakeholder consultation meeting the morning after the conference ended, with a more specific focus on Kenya, where five babies die every hour. These discussions were attended by representatives from the HBB global alliance, including USAID, AAP, AMREF and Johnson & Johnson. Dr. Santau Migiro, head of reproductive health in Kenya’s Ministry of Health (MOH), was also in attendance.

What became increasingly evident was that to accelerate progress, all HBB activities need to be implemented in coordination. Rather than small scale activities done in isolation, the key to making a high impact is to address the issue on a much larger scale. Collaboration and synergy among players is important to maximize efforts, funding and resources, and to advocate for policy change.

To that end, all stakeholders agreed that the best way to push HBB forward in Kenya is to work under the MOH umbrella, making it part of the overall MOH maternal and child health strategy. Already, the Kenyan MOH has made HBB competency part of the core curriculum of medical training, recognizing that all health workers have a role in impacting maternal and neonatal health.

In addition to making the most effective use of resources and funding, a harmonized approach lends itself to better monitoring and evaluation. Standard guidelines for implementation will provide more meaningful data about the results of the program.

While the immediate focus of the stakeholders meeting was implementing HBB effectively in Kenya, there was general consensus that this direction is the right way to move the HBB initiative forward across the continent.

The evidence that HBB can be effective in Africa is there already. Tanzania, where over 3000 health care workers have been trained, has seen a drop of over 47% in infant mortality.

The conference was an opportunity to get all players in the region, including over 400 midwives from 20 African countries, on the same page. While recognizing that a lot more needs to be done, attendees left with a feeling of optimism, celebration and camaraderie overall.

Rene Kiamba manages the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies corporate contributions community support programs and initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa.

From the Field in Zimbabwe: Unexpectedly HIV-Free

For a pregnant woman, it takes courage to visit Epworth Clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe. Many must travel long distances to get there, but that is not the only reason. They come to the clinic to learn their HIV status or to receive antiretroviral (ARV) medication, and when they first arrive, many of the women have little hope of giving birth to a healthy child. Once they get there, however, they learn that although they have HIV, they do not need to pass it to their children.

I visited the clinic to learn how USAID is supporting the delivery of high-quality HIV/AIDS services in Zimbabwe.

Rosemary proudly holds her HIV-free baby after receiving prenatal treatment from a USAID-sponsored clinic outside Harare, Zimbabwe. Photo credit: Zoe Halpert, USAID intern

In the waiting room, I spoke with Rosemary, a 40-year-old, HIV-positive mother who was holding an 8-month-old baby. Rosemary came to the clinic for the first time several years ago when her husband’s health began to deteriorate and she suspected that they might both be HIV-positive. She was right; she tested positive for HIV and began ARV treatment several weeks later. While I was talking with Rosemary, her baby sleepily opened her eyes and chewed her blanket. She was born healthy and HIV-free.

The prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV-AIDS program at Epworth clinic started in 2001. USAID provides infant HIV test kits and ARVs to many clinics throughout Zimbabwe, including Epworth. USAID’s partner, the Organisation for Public Health Interventions and Development (OPHID), provides training and supervision to the health-care workers in the clinic.  With support from USAID, this local organization is quickly increasing its ability to better address the HIV-AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe.

Epworth clinic sees about 80 pregnant women and nursing mothers each day. When they first arrive at the clinic, they are tested for HIV and educated about family planning. As a result of the support the clinic has received from USAID, through OPHID, the number of HIV-positive babies has gone down significantly. Today, 98 percent of babies that are part of the program test negative.

When I talked with the clinic’s nurses, they told me, “If we didn’t have the USAID program, 98 percent of our patient’s babies would be HIV positive.” They also acknowledged that there would be a significant population decline.

As my visit came to a close, I asked Rosemary what advice she would give to other pregnant women. “Every woman should know her HIV status,” she said. She has found the courage to tell some of her friends her status, and strongly encourages them to get tested for their entire family’s benefit.

Visit OPHID for more information about OPHID.

Learn more about USAID’s work in Zimbabwe

From the Field in South Sudan: Mother of Nine Helps Rural Women Deliver Safely

At age 38, Mary Konyo has nine children, including a set of twins. She has been a traditional birth attendant since 1997, before South Sudan became independent, and has helped 23 women deliver children safely women in the last 16 years. Two years ago, she decided to stop having children so she could focus more on helping other pregnant women in distress.

I was touched by Konyo’s story when I heard it at a public forum in Juba (South Sudan’s capital), and I contacted her to learn more about her work to save the lives of pregnant women in her community.

Mary Konyo (right) testifies on the benefits of using misoprostol to reduce severe bleeding after childbirth.  Photo: Victor Lugala

Mary Konyo (right) testifies on the benefits of using misoprostol to reduce severe bleeding after childbirth. Photo credit: Victor Lugala

Her personal experiences with childbirth have inspired her. “When I delivered my first child, I bled excessively for three days. I was very weak,” Konyo told me.

A majority of rural South Sudanese women deliver at home, mostly without the help of a midwife, and some of them die from complications. Excessive bleeding after childbirth, or postpartum hemorrhage (PPH), is one of the leading causes of maternal death in South Sudan.

In recognition of her community work, Konyo was among a few women nominated from her community to attend a USAID-funded workshop on reducing PPH. Workshop participants gained knowledge and skills to help them talk with their communities about the importance of using misoprostol — a medicine that can prevent severe bleeding — to prevent PPH. They also learned what to do when a woman experiences PPH.

In addition to practical skills, the workshop emphasized the need for community outreach to help people understand the importance of giving birth in a health facility, where it can be easier to address complications. Konyo returned to her community as a home health promoter and started a door-to-door awareness campaign. She advises pregnant women to regularly attend antenatal clinic to help ensure that they have safe deliveries. “I particularly tell them about the dangers of excessive bleeding after birth,” Konyo said.

She is also able to give pregnant women misoprostol to take immediately after giving birth. But, she added, “I always tell women to deliver safely in the clinic.” Aware of rural poverty, Konyo advises pregnant women to save a little money for their transport to the hospital for delivery. In her community, women in labor are often transported to the nearest clinic on motorbike taxis, called boda-bodas.

Konyo told me she also encourages husbands to accompany their wives to the clinic, adding that men are expected to pay the hospital bills when their wives give birth.

She believes misoprostol will help drastically reduce severe bleeding immediately after childbirth in her community, pointing out that women who take misoprostol regain strength on the third day after delivery and can return to their everyday activities more quickly. Konyo says the men whose wives have used misoprostol are also happy: “Now they are asking for a ‘wonder medicine’ that will reduce birth pangs and hasten childbirth.”

Learn more about USAID’s work in South Sudan and follow USAID South Sudan on Facebook and Twitter (@USAIDSouthSudan)!

Creating Partners in Conservation in Rwanda

Dr. Jane Goodall and the Critical Role of Development in Environmental Conservation

Tucked in the corner of southwestern Rwanda, along the borders of Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo and about four hours outside of Rwanda’s capital city is one of the most beautiful places in the world, Nyungwe Forest National Park.

Dr. Jane Goodall in Nyungwe. Photo Credit: USAID

Officially established as a national park in 2004, Nyungwe is a moist, cool rainforest that is home to a wide variety of rare plants and animals, including more than 13 different primates, 275 birds, and 1,000 plants, some of which have only been found in Nyungwe.

This past week, we had opportunity to welcome a very special guest visiting the park for the very first time — Dr. Jane Goodall.

Dr. Goodall is the famed primatologist who has dedicated her life to studying chimpanzees and traveling around the world telling people about the importance of conservation. Even at nearly 80 years old, she literally never stays in the same place for more than three weeks at a time. Dr. Goodall came to Rwanda to highlight the importance of protecting natural resources like Nyungwe and to explore future partnerships in conservation education between her organization, the Jane Goodall Institute, and local and international organizations already working in the Park.

During her visit, we had the opportunity to hear to her speak to park staff. What really stuck out was the emphasis she placed on the critical linkage between community development and conservation efforts. They go hand and hand.

“The poverty of people is one of the biggest problems for the environment. People must choose between eating today by destroying nature, or starving.” She acknowledged that anyone faced with that choice would choose food, but when you first acknowledge and meet the needs of people, they then “become your partners in conservation.”

Dr. Goodall also challenged us to think a bit deeper and more long-term. If we don’t act, what happens when all of the natural resources are gone? What happens when animals go extinct or water sources have dried up because we didn’t protect the forests that sheltered them? History tells us the unfortunate truth: in many cases, conflict ensues.

Here’s a real life example. Nyungwe supplies 70 percent of Rwanda’s water and is a source of water for people who live as far north as Egypt. What would happen if Nyungwe were destroyed and the water was all gone? Dr. Goodall was blunt: “If water runs out in Nyungwe, people will pick up guns.”

Dr. Jane Goodall in Rwanda. Photo Credit: USAID

But when investing in the environment, we must also invest in people. We need to teach people about the importance of conservation, and more importantly help individuals and communities maintain their livelihoods in sustainable ways.

USAID has been working in Nyungwe since the mid-1980s. Our work there has helped to build an eco-tourism industry through activities like trail maintenance, training park guides, and creating partnerships with the private sector to invest in things like lodging around the park. We’re also working with communities living in and around Nyungwe to help them earn steady incomes in ways that don’t deplete the park’s resources.

One community just outside the park entrance has formed a cooperative and created what they call a “cultural village,” giving visitors another place to stop and a fascinating peek into Rwandan culture. The community has replicated traditional Rwandan houses (including the King’s Palace) where you can stay overnight, see traditional dance performances, and have a snack with a spectacular view of the forest. The community is doing quite well, and many of the cooperative members have said that instances of villagers engaging in activities like poaching for income has decreased as a result.

Dr. Goodall’s guidance about the necessity of pairing environmental conservation with development rings true in places like Nyungwe National Park as well as the communities we all live in. And as Dr. Goodall stressed – in her seemingly endless optimism – it’s up to us: “Every single one of us matters, every single one of us has a role, and every single one of us can make a difference.”

 

 

Study Highlights Way Forward for African Higher Education Institutions

What do leadership, governance and management have in common? According to a recently released study by the Association of African Universities (AAU) commissioned by the U.S. Agency for International Development through the Higher Education for Development (HED) program they are three main obstacles to growth and sustainability in African Higher Education Institutions.

The Sub-Saharan Africa Higher Education Leadership Development (SAHEL) Study maps a strategy for institutional capacity building in senior- and middle-level management and leadership. The study identified the following challenges:

  • Lack of clear strategy for leadership development
  • Differences across countries and institutions regarding government appointments versus merit-based appointments
  • Poor or lack of succession plans
  • Lack of policies and/or commitment to implementing gender policies that support the advancement of women in leadership roles

Students in the Tabia Debre Abay community at an Alternative Basic Education Center in Tigray, Ethiopia. The community is now actively involved in the education of their youngsters. Photo by Nena Terrell, USAID

“Leadership and administration capacity are the most critical challenges in the effort to make higher education in sub-Saharan Africa more effective and responsive to development, while ensuring its quality and relevance,” stated Teshome Alemneh, Africa program officer at HED. “Access to higher education in sub-Saharan Africa is expanding. This study has reaffirmed the importance of leadership and administration capacity and proposes several mechanisms of developing such capacities in Africa.”

The SAHEL study offers an analysis of AAU’s Leadership and Management Development programs and recommends strategies to build upon achievements by designing new elements that draw from the experiences of regional and international leadership training organizations.

AAU and HED presented the findings during AAU’s 13th General Conference held in Libreville, Gabon in May 2013. USAID and HED commissioned the study in an effort to gain a better understanding of the causes and current climate of leadership and management inefficiencies in tertiary education.

Read the complete Sub-Saharan Africa Higher Education Leadership Development (SAHEL) Study Report.

Sharing Agricultural Success with President Obama

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future blog

When I first got the idea back in 2008 that the women farmers like myself in central Senegal should join together to help one another succeed, I never would have guessed that five years later I would be sharing that story of success with the president of the United States.

On June 28, I found myself before President Barack Obama himself, explaining to him how bringing my producers’ network together with others in the Kaolack region and receiving assistance from a USAID project, part of the Feed the Future initiative helped us help each other, leading to the formation of a federation of some 3,000 producers who last year produced and sold 13,000 tons of corn on 5,000 hectares of land to feed our families and plan for next season.

Nimna Diayaté showed President Obama how technology helps her corn growers federation in Senegal. Photo credit: Zach Taylor, USAID

In our conversation, President Obama explained my story back to make sure he understood: “So you’ve got all these small farmers, and they all came together to better compete with big agribusiness.”

“That’s right,” I told him. “We created a network in the villages and each network worked together as the Saloum Federation of Corn Producers.”

I explained that our larger numbers afforded us better access to credit, with which our federation was able to access modern farm equipment, like the 12 tractors we have today. I pointed to a picture of the tractors on the display at the agricultural technology marketplace prepared for the president, and he asked me if I could drive a tractor myself.

“No, but I want to learn,” I said, knowing he was teasing me. But I really am going to learn.

To meet President Obama was wonderful. He seemed very happy to hear how a U.S. Government project was helping me and the members of our network. He was also very happy to hear that we now have enough good-quality, locally-grown corn for our own consumption and enough left over to sell, and that we are improving the quality of our seeds and equipment for the next growing season.

We want to make all producers in south-central Senegal aware of how we are producing quality corn so that we can be competitive with imports, find business opportunities, and sell our products at good prices.

Going back to before I had ever heard of USAID or Feed the Future, I was planting two hectares of maize a year. With USAID’s support, Feed the Future helped my little group access seasonal bank credit, with which we bought more seed and fertilizer than ever previously possible.

A year later, I planted 13 hectares and my income tripled. The 2011 harvest was a bad one, with a severe drought hitting our region hard. But the quality of the new seed was so good that despite the lack of rain, I still managed to increase my yield to 15 tons and earn close to $5,000 that year.

That money helped the federation qualify for a loan big enough to buy a brand-new tractor worth $35,000. The tractor has helped us prepare more than 350 hectares of land in our area. In 2012, my own cultivation grew to 18 hectares, including three hectares in new high-yielding hybrid varieties.

All this time our network was growing. In 2012, I was elected president of the new federation, which by then had 2,500 members. Now we can negotiate directly with banks, agro-dealers and buyers from the animal feed industry and today can speak for more than 3,000 corn farmers, both women and men, with the Senegalese government and the private sector with which we deal each day. This last season we produced nearly 4,500 tons, 3,000 of which was sold for a profit that will help us increase our yields still more next year.

Like the corn we cultivate, I feel the success of our federation can grow as high as our dreams. For a simple farmer from rural Senegal, to be successful enough to meet the American president shows that big dreams can come true after all.

Learn more about President Obama’s trip to Africa and view an infographic of the agricultural technologies marketplace where Diayaté met Obama.

(Translated from French by Zack Taylor)

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