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Having the Right Tools at the Right Time to Meet Food Assistance Needs

Imagine there is a major crisis unfolding. While one region in the affected country is in crisis, there are available food supplies and resources in another. In situations like this, USAID disaster response professionals have several key decisions to make — all with the goal of helping as many people as possible in the most rapid, efficient and effective way possible. Does it make sense to bring in food from the United States? Should we purchase food locally to distribute to those in need? Should we provide people the means to buy the food themselves? Using all the resources available under its Emergency Food Security Program, USAID strives to respond to crises with the most appropriate tools to best meet the needs of vulnerable populations. Here are some recent highlights:

Flour made from Turkish wheat purchased for the Syria response. Photo credit: State Department

In Syria, humanitarian needs grow more pressing every day, but the conflict means importing large quantities of food aid can be impractical and downright dangerous in certain areas. Without the flexible resources provided through the International Disaster Assistance account, USAID would not have been able to respond initially to the Syria conflict. The flexibility to use emergency food assistance tools like vouchers and local and regional purchase has provided much needed help to those fleeing the conflict. In Kilis refugee camp on the Turkey-Syria border, we’re supporting a program that gives debit cards to families so they can shop for their own meals at local stores. And wheat purchased regionally in Turkey is now being milled to stock bakeries in Aleppo with much needed bread.

Last year in Rwanda, USAID and the UN World Food Program fed more than 72,000 people, including 61,000 refugees fleeing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while supporting smallholder farmers within the country. By purchasing the food locally, USAID and WFP were able to save considerable time and money: saving $243 per metric ton on corn and $899 per metric ton on beans and getting food to refugees in just two months versus three to six months for U.S. food aid.

At the height of the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa, in the hardest hit areas of southern Somalia where militants ruled and blocked traditional in-kind food distribution, food aid couldn’t reach everyone in need. But through cash transfers and vouchers, we were able to help more than 90,000 families (PDF) in inaccessible and insecure areas buy readily available food from markets in their communities.

In Haiti, a pioneering food assistance program provided 20,000 earthquake-affected households with electronic vouchers to buy rice, corn flour, cooking oil and beans from participating local vendors. This not only helped Haitians in need, but also developed local private enterprise, by bolstering functioning markets and partnering with three Haitian companies – two banks and a cell phone company.

USAID was able to help those in need when providing U.S.-grown food assistance was either not possible or less appropriate due to market conditions or timeliness issues. We did so by drawing from the International Disaster Assistance account, which provides the Food for Peace program with resources to buy food locally or regionally, or provide support directly to beneficiaries to buy food in their local markets.  In FY 2013, much of these flexible funds will go towards the large-scale response for the Syria crisis, leaving too little in flexible resources left for emergencies in the rest of the world.

Through the President’s Food Aid Reform Proposal, USAID is seeking to expand the flexibility of these resources so we can meet the needs of hungry people around the world in as efficient and effective a way as possible. Recently, the Senate passed the Coons-Johanns Amendment to expand USDA’s flexibility for local and regional purchase in a non-Food for Peace food assistance program.

Senate approval of the amendment is a recognition of the program’s demonstrated success (PDF) and the value of LRP in providing food assistance around the world — and is consistent with the flexibilities sought in the President’s reform proposal for USAID to administer the Food for Peace program.

USDA and USAID’s proven track record with local and regional procurement food assistance programs demonstrate the efficiencies to be gained by using the most appropriate tools at our disposal.

SMART Training Enables Egyptian Woman to Educate Community on Nutrition, Healthy Behaviors

Gaz Mohamed Mohamed Hussein Al Masarah comes from Masrah, a small village on the Nile about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the governorate capital of Asyut, Upper Egypt. She is 25-years-old and delighted to be included in a group of 20 young women selected by the SMART Project (Community-based Initiatives for a Better Life, funded by USAID) to work as Community Health Workers (CHWs) in their own communities. This class of 20 future CHWs is part of a total cadre of 1,200 women who have been trained.

The SMART project—a USAID-funded MCHIP project that focuses on improving maternal and neonatal health and nutrition—works through community development associations in Upper and Lower Egypt to train physicians and CHWs to improve newborn care, nutrition, and the use of modern family planning methods. Providers and CHWs are trained to focus on the nutritional habits of pregnant and lactating women, implement perinatal practices (such as intensive care for preterm or low birth weight babies), and encourage exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

Gaz Mohamed, third from the left (in red scarf), attending the CHW training. Photo credit: MCHIP.

During a break in the training on infant nutrition, Gaz recounts how, as one of six children, her family was never able to afford to send her to school. Her older sister married young and her brothers attended primary school, but Gaz was kept at home to help her mother. However, when she was 10-years-old, a relative started a literacy class in the village, and persuaded Gaz’s father to allow her to attend.

Gaz laughs when she tells how happy she was to carry her books around like the other students she had seen. She worked hard at the literacy classes and was soon able to join Year 5 in Primary School. She finished with good results and, with the support of her father, went on to secondary school, where at graduation her marks were good enough for her to have entered the faculty of agriculture, education, or commerce. However, her father did not want her to move into Asyut to continue her studies.

Not wanting to stay in the house all day, Gaz began to look for something she could do in her village. At the beginning of 2012, she was nominated by a local community development association to participate in the SMART training course for CHWs. The Smart Project selects CHWs in every community in the targeted governorates to visit pregnant and breastfeeding women in order to disseminate messages about healthy nutritional habits and infant care. Gaz’s best friend from school, Manal, was also nominated, and they were very excited to join the training together.

Gaz excitedly shares her knowledge from the training. She says she has learned about the benefits of breastfeeding and is convinced it will help mothers who traditionally start feeding their children different drinks and soup after only 40 days. She speaks confidently and enthusiastically about her new role in the community, saying how happy she is to be able to help her neighbors and friends in the village. Thankfully, her father has also accepted the idea that his daughter is working.

Gaz’s mother is proud of her daughter, too, especially for choosing to help other women. As the first woman in the family to have received an education and worked outside the home, Gaz contributes some of her monthly salary toward the family food bill. The rest she is saving for her marriage expenses. Although she is engaged, she is in no hurry to marry and insists she will continue working after she marries. She recognizes that the knowledge she has gained during the CHW training will be very useful for her when she has children of her own.

And reflecting back on her childhood desire to go to school, Gaz says she never would have imagined that she would one day have the information and confidence to go into women’s homes to discuss health and nutrition issues. “I just wanted to be educated like my brothers,” she says. “And that gave me the chance to be working and helping people. I wish that all the girls in Masrah could have an education. With education we could chase the ghost of malnutrition from Asyut!”

Learn more about USAID’s work on improving nutrition

Follow @USAID@USAIDGH and @FeedtheFuture on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation about global health issues including #nutrition.

The Positive Impacts of Transparency

At USAID, we feel fortunate to work on an incredible Mission to achieve results for the poorest  and most vulnerable around the world and to be transparent in the process. We are propelled by the belief that transparent aid is effective aid and the necessity of delivering “clear, compelling and measurable results.” The importance of making governmental and aid data open is underscored by the President’s Executive Order to make open and machine readable the new default for government information.

Shadrock Roberts talks about crowdsourcing in June 2012. Photo credit: USAID

The GeoCenter, in the Office of Science and Technology, takes this commitment to heart when evaluating projects, such as our collaboration with the Development Credit Authority for the Agency’s first-ever crowdsourcing event to open and map loan guarantee data. Crowdsourcing is a distributed problem-solving process whereby tasks are outsourced to a network of people known as “the crowd.” Without the staff or resources to pinpoint the geographic location of thousands of loan records on our own, we turned to a crowd of volunteers to help. The resulting maps, data, and methodology are available on the USAID website. While the crowdsourcing event clearly succeeded in creating an open data set and maps about where USAID is promoting economic growth, we wanted to know more. Did we catalyze a public discussion about USAID? Is our data really usable? Does the public really care about accessing our data?

We’ve recently compared conversations about the event on Twitter to web page visits and found that we did catalyze discussion and that the public is eager to engage with USAID’s data: see our analysis here (PDF). Our web page is in the top 3 percent of the most viewed web pages on the entire USAID.gov site. On average, our viewers spend almost four times as long viewing our page than any other. Almost 3,500 tweets from 80 countries demonstrate global enthusiasm for open data. The reverberations of this enthusiasm positively impacted the dialogue around aid transparency: the International Aid Transparency Initiative expanded their data schema to account for loan guarantees and the event was recognized in the Publish What you Fund’s Aid Transparency Report Card for 2012 (PDF).

These impacts are the results of public participation in USAID’s programs and the public’s desire for open government data. We’re thankful for the outpouring of support that the event received: private companies donated time to develop online tools so volunteers could donate their time to process the data, which is now one of the most popular features of the USAID web site.

Health Education in Malawi: Helping Create Safer Advancing Behaviors

In communities across Malawi, men and women like Eliza are attending facilitated discussions using interactive toolkits developed by BRIDGE II and implemented by local partners. BRIDGE II is a five-year HIV prevention project, supported by USAID, through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). As it winds down, data is being collected on the extent of the project’s reach and how it is impacting the knowledge, attitude and behavioral practices of individuals and communities. But how do we go beyond the numbers and document those successful approaches and tools and share the value of interpersonal communication and education as key to changing people’s beliefs and practices?

“Previously I was not faithful to my family. I used to have extramarital affairs. After attending Hope Kit sessions and listening and participating to the sessions, I realized that I was putting my life at stake and now I have chosen to be faithful to my family.” - Eliza Lupale, 37, married with five children. Photo credit: Edna Ndhlovu

BRIDGE II aims to reduce new HIV infections through eliminating barriers to individual action and shifting social norms. It addresses key risk factors for HIV in Malawi such as having more than one sexual partner at a time, lack of condom use, and alcohol abuse. Gender norms and inequities often lie beneath these risky behaviors, and BRIDGE II openly addresses these issues. A multi-sectoral project with a strong community focus, BRIDGE works directly through creative multi-media campaigns, transformative and participatory toolkits (like the Hope Kit, PDF), interactive radio programs, service referral and linkages, and community theater. BRIDGE also builds local capacity by providing support to community and faith-based networks to strengthen their HIV prevention programs. The goal is lasting, positive change that not only prevents new HIV infections, but also strengthens the ability of Malawi’s communities to care for and protect themselves.

Through concerted effort by dedicated staff and an engaged network of partners, these approaches and tools are showing promising signs of change, particularly in the lives of women like Eliza who have been empowered to make healthier lifestyle choices for themselves and their families. Men and women understand their HIV risk and are gaining the information, skills and motivation they need to prevent infection. People are utilizing HIV-related services and adopting safer sexual practices and couples are openly communicating about their relationship in a way they never have before. They are getting tested for HIV and keeping love within their homes. Systems and institutions are strengthened to take the lead in HIV prevention through greater coordination and thought leadership.

The tools created within BRIDGE II will soon be made available to a wider audience as a comprehensive online kit via K4Health. This toolkit can be used by others to facilitate open communication about behavior change to curb HIV. Click here for more information on BRIDGE II and please check back at the end of the year to find more information on the e-Toolkit!

Photo of the Week: Eating a Healthy Snack

A young child eats a healthy snack. Photo Credit: Courtney Stokes

Nursery school children enjoy a snack of peanut butter on cassava bread in Aranaputa, Guyana. The peanuts they are eating were provided by farmers in the region, supported by the Peanut and Mycotoxins Innovation Lab. Local cottage industries processed the peanuts, turning them into peanut butter for the children to eat at school.

This program was set up in seven villages throughout the region, serving 1,400 school kids one snack per day. Due to the success of the project, this has been expanded to 47 villages and now serves 4,300 children per day.

Learn more about USAID’s work on improving nutrition

Follow @USAID@USAIDGH and @FeedtheFuture on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation about global health issues including #nutrition.

Working to Keep Civil Society Open

Larry Garber and Sarah Mendelson are, respectively, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Policy, Planning and Learning and for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

Seconds after landing at Dulles Airport this past Tuesday, scrolling through the dozens of emails that have accumulated while flying from Europe, the many marked “Urgent” caught our eye: earlier that day, news broke that in Egypt 43 activists had been convicted of criminal offenses relating to their work promoting democracy and human rights that they performed while working for U.S. and German funded non-governmental organizations (NGO).

Ironically, we were arriving from Brussels, Belgium where we had held a day-long consultation with European Union and NGO counterparts to discuss the very grave topic of “closing civil society space.” Our European colleagues and we agree on the scope and seriousness of this rising threat to our ability to carry out development activities worldwide and on the need to coordinate our responses.

For the past year, we have led an internal USAID working group that has watched with dismay as governments have imposed restrictions on registration, funding and basic freedom of association, all designed to limit the activities of civil society in their countries. In Russia and Bolivia, the governments went so far as to expel USAID Missions. Experts will point to multiple reasons for these unprecedented actions, but fundamentally the governments sought to end USG support of civil society organizations. And now in Egypt, the government has criminalized the activities of our implementing partners, imposing severe prison sentences on both Egyptian activists and citizens of other countries, while intentionally mischaracterizing their work in support of democracy and human rights.

We have tracked this global phenomenon with a mix of dread and determination. We have collected the experiences of our field Missions, many of which have creatively sought to counter the trend, taking into account unique socio-political contexts. We have catalogued these responses under three broad categories of “prevention,” “adaptation” and “continued support,” have shared the specific examples of Missions’ responses across the Agency, and encouraged our Missions to maintain their commitment to expanding civil society space and to working with a broad range of non-governmental actors.  We have engaged with both our international implementing partners and other donors to share experiences, as well as worked with State Department colleagues to sound the alarm. Perhaps most important, we have communicated to relevant partners in the field that we will not abandon them.

Some describe the closing space phenomenon as the “new normal.” If this is indeed the case, then the consequences for achieving our development goals, as well as the ambitious new development goals presented last week by the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, will be severely compromised. However, we are convinced that with concerted international attention dedicated to the issue by both diplomats and development professionals and using innovative approaches, we can keep civil society space open and ensure that the aspirations of people around the globe for freedom and dignity will be achieved.

Larry Garber and Sarah Mendelson are, respectively, Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning and the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. 

Video of the Week: Turning the Tide on Global Hunger

In this Feed the Future video, narrator Matt Damon discusses efforts to turn the tide against global hunger and increase agricultural production around the world. The video was shown at the “Feed the Future: Partnering With Civil Society” event on September 27, 2012.

This morning, during a global nutrition-focused event co-hosted by Bread for the World Institute and Concern Worldwide, USAID announced its ongoing commitment to work with the U.S. Government’s leadership to reduce undernutrition around the world. The event followed the Nutrition for Growth event in London. During his trip and on behalf of the U.S. Government, Administrator Shah signed the Global Nutrition for Growth Compact which commits donors and private partners to scale up nutrition programs specifically targeted to reduce undernutrition in women and children.

Also last week, Administrator Rajiv Shah and Tjada McKenna, deputy coordinator for Feed the Future, participated in a Google+ Hangout on the role of nutrition in child survival and food security nutrition with representatives from the ONE Campaign, GAIN and 1,000 Days, as well as Candice Kumai, who is a chef, food writer, Iron Chef Judge and nutrition champion for Future Fortified.

Learn more about USAID’s work on improving nutrition

Follow @USAID, @USAIDGH and @FeedtheFuture on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation about global health issues including #nutrition.

Winning the Battle Against Undernutrition and Stunting

Most people have never heard of stunting. It’s one of the least reported, least recognized, least understood issues facing humanity, yet tackling it should be seen as an opportunity both for personal health and national development.

Stunting, caused by chronic undernutrition in children, does not only affect a person’s growth or height. The damage that undernutrition causes to a brain’s cognitive capacity is permanent. It cannot be reversed.

As UNICEF documented in its 2013 report, ‘Improving Child Nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress’, chronic undernutrition scars the lives of some 165 million children around the world. Undernutrition contributes to half of all child deaths and around one fifth of maternal deaths.

Two children in Zambia. Photo credit: Nazo Kureshy, USAID

Stunting traps people into a lifelong cycle of poor nutrition, illness, poverty and inequity. Children’s poorer school performance results in future income reductions of up to 22 per cent on average. As adults, they are also at increased risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Despite the challenges, we can and must win the battle against stunting and other forms of undernutrition – and investing in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life shapes the future of nations.

Experts have consistently confirmed that taking action on undernutrition is the single most important, cost-effective means of advancing human well-being. This would accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, would save lives and should be a top global priority.

We know what works and what needs to be done to radically reduce stunting and undernutrition: from micronutrient and vitamin supplements to awareness raising, promoting exclusive breastfeeding and treating severe and acute malnutrition. Efforts should also be linked to improving access to education and safe water, promoting hygiene, preventing and treating diseases, and strengthening social safety nets.

Over the past 20 years alone, the number of stunted children under the age of five in the world has fallen by 88 million – from 40 to 26 per cent, or a one-third reduction.

However, a brand new Lancet series on nutrition from 6 June 2013 shows that progress is not fast enough. What is needed now is strong, global commitment and leadership to accelerate efforts.

UNICEF is a proud partner in the major global initiative called the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, which is bringing much needed focus and investment for nutrition in a number of countries. Through the SUN country network, government focal points from each of the 40 countries involved share experiences, seek advice and provide each other with assistance, analyses of progress and lessons learned.

Broader efforts to address child survival are also galvanizing partnerships. Governments including those of Ethiopia, India and the U.S. have thrown their weight behind the A Promise Renewed movement, which –  with supported by UNICEF – is uniting governments, civil society, faith based leaders and private sector around the clear and compelling goal: to end preventable child deaths and give every last child the best possible start in life.

No child, no mother, no country should ever have to suffer the injustice of a lack of nutrition in the 21st century. We cannot stand by and allow a child to be condemned to a life of deprivation – especially when we know how to prevent it.

For updates on what the United States is doing to improve nutrition, follow the hashtags #Nutrition4Growth and #GHmatters on Twitter. 

USAID in the News

McClatchy reports on a campaign in Afghanistan that is spreading the word that under Afghan and Islamic law, women are entitled to a share of the property when their parents or husband dies. Lida Nadery, a senior official in the USAID’s Land Reform in Afghanistan program, stated: “Owning land is very important because it gives women the economic independence they need, and obviously that’s empowering. When a woman has her own money, then she can do whatever she pleases with it. She doesn’t have to ask her husband for permission, she doesn’t have to ask her father or her brother for permission, she can use it for her children’s education, she can buy a house, she can start a business, anything.”

The Tribune reported on the promotion of education through USAID’s Teacher Education Project scholarships in Pakistan.  U.S. Consul General Michael Dodman is quoted, emphasizing U.S. commitment to “building a strong Pakistan” through education. Senior Education Advisor of USAID, Muhammad Tariq Khan, said, “Until today, people became teachers in Pakistan by chance and not by choice. Those who did not find anything significant in life to do turned to teaching. We want to bring a change, making sure that those people come into the profession who are dedicated to the cause and take it up as a challenge.”

Chelsea Clinton visits a Clinton Health Access Initiative project. Photo credit: Thu Van Dinh

Chelsea Clinton published a blog in the Huffington Post about her recent trip to Southeast Asia and Burma.  She shares her experience delivering clean water as part of Procter & Gamble’s Clinton Global Initiative commitment to the country.

Dr. Jill Biden writes in The White House Blog about her recent trip with husband and Vice President, Joe, to Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil. Dr. Biden says, “In each country, I witnessed the good work of the United States to promote economic growth and development through education and empowerment of women entrepreneurs.” She continues to mention US partnerships such as USAID and their impact through positive, innovative programs.

Promoting Empowerment and Education in the Americas

This originally appeared on the White House Blog.

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying my husband Joe on a trip to Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil. In each country, I witnessed the good work of the United States to promote economic growth and development through education and empowerment of women entrepreneurs.

Dr. Biden and Colombian First Lady María Clemencia de Santos met with carpentry students at Escuela Taller in Bogota. Credit: Jenny Murcia, U.S. Embassy Bogota Public Affairs Press Assistant

Colombia: Vocational Training for At-Risk Young Adults

As an educator for more than 30 years, I enjoy meeting students wherever I go. I love to hear about their experiences and see exciting and innovative programs that are working. One of those programs is the Escuela Taller in Bogota, which I had the pleasure of touring with Colombian First Lady María Clemencia de Santos. Escuela Taller is a vocational school that serves low income and high-risk youth and provides training for jobs such as carpentry, culinary arts, construction and wood working.

Since 2006, USAID has provided funding to the Bogota, Cartagena, and Buenaventura locations of Escuela Taller, funding that, in part, supported the construction of the school’s in-house restaurant and kitchen. Through the U.S. partnership, the school is mitigating gang recruitment risk factors such as lack of education, unemployment and low-self-esteem for young adults. Alumni like Jonothan Medina who attended the culinary school are now dreaming big – he wants to study in France at the Cordon Bleu! In fact, over 90 percent of the graduates from the culinary program are employed in local restaurants.

Trinidad: Women Entrepreneurs Invigorate a Local Trade

As I travel around the US and across the globe, I always notice the important role women entrepreneurs play in local economic development. Trinidad and Tobago is known for its high-quality cocoa beans, but they only make up about 5 percent of the world’s market. Women like Isabel Brash, owner of Cocobel Chocolates, and Darril Astrida Saunders, owner of Exotic Caribbean Mountain Pride, use only local products from start to finish and are trying to revive the local cocoa trade, while simultaneously promoting women’s entrepreneurship.

I toured Isabel’s kitchen and saw her turn cocoa beans into delicious bars of dark chocolate. I also heard from Darril how the U.S. State Department’s Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas (WEAmericas) and the International Visitor Leadership (IVLP) programs provided her with business training and networking opportunities. WEAmericas connects women entrepreneurs from throughout the Americas and leverages public-private partnerships to increase women’s economic participation.

Read the rest of this post.

 

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