USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for USAID

Enough Isn’t Enough: Why Food Security Matters to Me

This post originally appeared on the Feed the Future website.

Roger Thurow serves as Global Affairs Senior Fellow at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

The following is a guest blog by Roger Thurow. We asked Thurow a few questions about food security.

Traditionally centered around a big meal to celebrate good harvests and time with family, Thanksgiving is also an opportunity to reflect on what we’re thankful for and our wishes for the future. At the top of our list is the hope for a future in which no one goes to bed hungry. What is yours? 

Exactly the same: a world free of hunger. Some may dismiss that as an unrealistic goal, but ending hunger through agricultural development is within our grasp. We certainly have precedent on our side, for we have seen agricultural development work in so many countries. Be it here in the United States, or in Europe, or in India or China or Brazil. So we know it can be done: We have the science, the technology, the experience. We know the “way”, but what has been missing is the “will”.

At this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that we are now seeing this “will” emerging in so many places. As we sit down to our traditional national feast—to celebrate our harvests and our abundance—this is the ideal time to commit to ending hunger no matter where it may be, whether here at home or in Africa or anywhere else in the world.

Even as we are seeing progress in our efforts against global poverty and undernutrition, we know there is still work to do and that we must remain focused. Why do you think this is important, and why do you think Americans should care about global hunger and food security?

First, the very word “security” is important, for how secure can the world truly be with nearly one billion chronically hungry people? During the food price spikes of 2007 and 2008, when stockpiles of major grains dwindled, prices soared, and shortages spread, we saw how quickly gaps in the global food supply can lead to widespread unrest.

Second, how stable can the world economy be when such extreme poverty keeps so many people outside the global economic and trade system?

Securing the global food system is also one of the biggest—if not the biggest—challenge facing us in the coming decades. With the planet’s population expected to increase by more than two billion people by 2050, it is estimated that we need to increase our food production by as much as 60 percent to meet this rising demand. And it is important to not just focus on increasing production, but to put nutrition—growing a cornucopia of more nutritious food—at the center of our efforts as well.

So yes, indeed, Americans should care deeply about global hunger and food security.

Also, it’s what America does—and does best. We are the world’s breadbasket, with the mightiest farmers. Spreading agricultural development has been one of America’s top “soft power” achievements of diplomacy and international relations over the decades. Think of the Marshall Plan and the Green Revolution. Now, the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future initiative continues this lineage.

Feed the Future is a key piece of the U.S. Government’s effort to reduce global hunger and improve global food security. Having spent time observing Feed the Future’s work and reporting in depth about agricultural development, what do you see as different or unique about Feed the Future?

Feed the Future has set out to reverse the neglect of international agricultural development over the past several decades. Feed the Future also recognizes that food security is not just about increasing production, but increasing the nutritional value of the food as well; it focuses on not only the necessary ingredients of growing food but also on the elements farmers need to translate their harvests into profits, determined by the countries themselves. So post-harvest issues like storage and efficient markets are central to Feed the Future. It also stresses the importance of partnerships with the private sector and the governments of developing countries as well as with universities, foundations and humanitarian organizations. These partnerships were vital to the success of the Green Revolution 50 years ago.

I see two other important aspects of Feed the Future: an emphasis on long-term agricultural development (rather than solely focusing on short-term emergency food aid relief) and a focus on the smallholder farmers of the developing world. This means facilitating access to the essential elements of farming—seeds, soil nutrients, training and micro-financing—so that the smallholders can be as productive as possible. These farmers are indispensable in meeting the great challenge of food security I mentioned earlier. If they succeed, so might we all.

And they can succeed. This is the central message of The Last Hunger Season, which brings readers into the lives of four smallholder farmers in western Kenya.

Let’s talk about your book. After spending time with these farmers in Kenya, what did you see as the role and importance of food security, particularly agriculture and nutrition, in their community?

It is absolutely vital. While reporting the book, The Last Hunger Season, I learned that securing enough food for their families is the top priority of women smallholder farmers in Africa. All things flow from that accomplishment. With greater harvests, these women farmers can conquer the dreaded hunger season and the malnutrition of their children, and also have a surplus that can provide income to pay school fees, to afford proper health care and medicine, and to diversify their crops for better nutrition.

You’ve written two books on food security now and you often blog about it in your role at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs—what first interested you in this topic and why are you so personally invested in it?

Covering the 2003 famine in Ethiopia for The Wall Street Journal. It was the first famine of the 21stcentury; 14 million people were on the doorstep of starvation, dependent on international food aid. On my first day in Addis Ababa, I received a briefing about the extent of the famine by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). One of the WFP workers told me: “Looking into the eyes of someone dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul. You see that nobody should have to die of hunger.”

The next day, I was down in the hunger zones, in an emergency feeding tent filled with dozens of severely malnourished children. What I saw in those eyes did indeed become a disease of the soul; I saw that nobody should have to die of hunger, not now, not in the 21st century when more food was being produced in the world than ever before. It was a turning point in my career as a journalist. All other stories began paling in comparison. I knew I needed to stop the usual routine of a foreign correspondent—moving from story to story, place to place—and focus on this one story: hunger in the new millennium. This led me to write my first book, with fellow WSJ reporter Scott Kilman, ENOUGH: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty.

But for me, ENOUGH wasn’t enough, so I plunged deeper into the issue of hunger and agricultural development. This propelled me to write The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change. And I intend to continue writing, taking readers into the eyes of the hungry, spreading the disease of the soul.

Do you have hope that things can change for the better? Why? 

Yes, because I see a burgeoning movement, a gathering momentum, to end hunger through agricultural development. I see it in renewed American leadership, manifest in Feed the Future. I see it at universities, at faith-based gatherings, on the ground in Africa. Earlier this year, at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ symposium on global agriculture, food security and nutrition, President Obama called for an “all hands on deck” effort to end hunger in the 21st century. I see these many hands getting to work.

Follow Feed the Future on Facebook and join the conversation on Twitter @feedthefuture.

A New Milestone in Child Protection

Disasters impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world every year. Half of those affected are children, who often bear the biggest brunt of humanitarian crises. Nowhere have we seen this more clearly than in the wake of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake. As a result of the disaster, hundreds of thousands of children lost a parent, caregiver or other family members. They lost access to essential services and resources including food, water, shelter, education and health care. Children who were separated from their families– orphaned or disabled– and those living and working as domestic servants were particularly vulnerable. Many more were exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.

Children at a school damaged by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2010. USAID, through the International Medical Corps, helped ensure that children were safe and protected when attending classes. Photo credit: Ron Libby, Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

This devastating event hammered home the need to provide children with timely and appropriate protection, care, and support when they need it the most. The need for child protection was clear in Haiti, and yet, despite the best of intentions and a wealth of resources, emergency child protection interventions were slow to start and inadequate for the scale of the problems. In reviewing what happened in Haiti, USAID and our global partners identified a need to advance our efforts for children in emergencies.

USAID is leading the charge in this effort by supporting the launch of the new Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action. These standards were developed by the Child Protection Working Group in response to the hard lessons we learned in Haiti. Specifically, these standards strive to strengthen coordination, increase accountability, improve the quality of protection programs, and enable better communication on issues involving children. These standards provide a common approach to the protection of children for the entire humanitarian community across sectors. Over the next few years, frontline humanitarian personnel will receive training on these new standards, and organizations will develop strategies to translate them into life-saving assistance on the ground.

While the standards are oriented to staff working in the field, I believe they also provide donors and governments with new opportunities to promote stronger child protection interventions especially in times of crisis. These new standards also compliment the commitments made in the soon-to-be released U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity. This plan emphasizes the need for the entire government to work together to ensure quality, coordinated, evidence-based programs to protect children. The U.S. Government is fully committed to seizing the opportunities presented through the release of these standards.

USAID's Neil Boothby (right) and UNICEF's Annette Lyth (left) discuss the new Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action at a press conference in Geneva. The standards were developed as common guidelines for the global humanitarian community. Photo credit: Eric Bridiers, U.S. Mission Geneva

I had the opportunity to attend the launch of the minimum standards earlier this month in Geneva. In the more than 30 years I have spent working in this field, I have witnessed first-hand the struggles children in Rwanda, Mozambique, Indonesia, Darfur, Haiti and elsewhere face in the wake of conflict and disaster. I am heartened to see how far we, the humanitarian community, have come in efforts to assist these children, and the promise and hope these standards give us all to do even more going forward.

Dr. Neil Boothby is the U.S. Government Special Advisor and Senior Coordinator to the USAID Administrator on Children in Adversity

 

VIDEO of the Week: President Obama

Yesterday, President Barack Obama was the first sitting U.S. President to visit Burma. There, he officially opened the USAID mission after a 24-year hiatus. “Today, I was proud to reestablish our USAID mission in this country, which is our lead development agency,” said President Obama. The President affirmed the United States’ partnership  in helping Burma, “reestablish its capacity to feed its people and to care for its sick, and educate its children, and build its democratic institutions as you continue down the path of reform.”

To learn more about our efforts in Burma, visit www.usaid.gov/burma.

Watch the full video of the President’s remark’s at the University of Yangon:

Development Labs Launch at Seven Universities

View photos from the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) Launch at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC on November 9, 2012, and from the HESN meeting with Secretary Clinton.

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

Last week, OSTP Director John P. Holdren joined USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah in launching the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN)  – a groundbreaking partnership between USAID and seven top universities that is designed to harness the ingenuity and passion of university faculty and students  to develop innovative solutions to global development challenges.

USAID’s HESN was first announced at the White House in February 2012 and its formal launch marks the latest milestone in the Administration’s work to leverage US comparative advantages in science, technology, and innovation to accelerate progress toward global development goals. The effort is a direct response to the President’s Policy Directive on Global Development, which calls for investments in game-changing innovations with the potential to solve long-standing development challenges—such as vaccines for neglected diseases; drought-resistant seed varieties; and clean energy technologies.

Fully achieving this vision will require what the President has called an “all-hands-on-deck” approach. That is why we are so enthusiastic about HESN: it embodies a new way of doing business—one that empowers innovators around the world to tackle big development challenges (a model that Administrator Shah has dubbed “Open Source Development“).  We are also pleased that the HESN will leverage the stores of untapped energy and expertise that reside on university campuses. The seven HESN universities were selected from nearly 500 applications from 49 states and 33 countries.  And, the pulse of student interest on campuses across the country is nearly palpable.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah speaks at Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) Launch on November 9, 2012. Photo Credit: Rodney Choice

With financial support from USAID matched by private sector partners, each of the seven universities will establish a Development Lab with a unique focus. For example, the Development Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will publish a Consumer Reports-style series of evaluations that will help donors and policymakers invest in the best existing technological solutions; the University of California Berkeley will establish a new field of Development Engineering and shepherd a portfolio of specific development solutions – such as low-cost, solar-powered vaccine refrigerators – through the pipeline of research, field evaluation, translation, and scale-up; and the College of William and Mary will build a world-class research consortium of geographers, economists, epidemiologists, political scientists, computer scientists, and statisticians to collect, geo-code, and analyze data to enable USAID and developing country governments to make hard-nosed, evidenced-based decisions.  All seven of the Development Labs – including Labs at DukeMichigan StateTexas A&M, and Makerere University in Uganda – will work closely with USAID’s field mission experts and Washington staff at every step along the way.

Congratulations to USAID and to the university leaders, faculty, students, and staff that will be key to the success of the Higher Education Solutions Network.  By ensuring that faculty tenure- and promotion-policies encourage and reward social impact, interdisciplinary work, and international engagement; by pursuing Grand Challenges for global development; and by adopting humanitarian licensing strategies that increase global access to university-developed technologies– we hope all universities will embrace the critical role they can play in global development.

To learn more about the HESN, please visit: http://www.usaid.gov/hesn

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP

Robynn Sturm Steffen is Senior Advisor to the Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP

America Extends a Hand to Burma

Chris Milligan serves as mission director to USAID Burma Photo Credit: USAID

Yesterday, the streets of Rangoon were lined with huge crowds of enthusiastic well-wishers, holding signs welcoming President Obama as his motorcade sped to the last stop – Rangoon University – for a major speech.  The excitement, building here since the trip was announced, was now electric.

Even just a few months ago, this visit was likely unimaginable to the people of Burma.  In the President’s speech to a spellbound audience at the University’s historic Convocation Hall, he said, “When I took office as President, I sent a message to those governments who ruled by fear:  We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist… so today, I have come to keep my promise, and extend the hand of friendship.”

It was also unimaginable to me that I’d be standing by a U.S. President as he dedicated a USAID mission, a first time in the Agency’s history.  It’s been over 50 years since the inaugural U.S.-Burma Economic Cooperation Agreement was signed.  In the decades that followed, our two countries have shared a long and, at times, tumultuous history.  Yet, President Obama began a new chapter when he became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Burma, highlighting the country’s historic shift to democracy and the partnership of the United States in this effort.

Burma is in the process of a remarkable transition, moving from military, authoritarian rule to parliamentary democracy; negotiating ceasefires after decades-long conflicts; and shifting to a market-oriented economy.  And, as President Obama said, this remarkable journey has only just begun.

Yet, what an incredible start.  As a Foreign Service Officer for 23 years, I can tell you that helping countries chart a more prosperous future is not always easy. We know there is hard work ahead, but yesterday we got a huge lift. That momentum will only strengthen the optimism and resilience of the Burmese people.  I’ve never been prouder than when the President said to those listening all across Burma, “America is with you every step of the way.”

From the Field: Gender Equity through Education in South Sudan

Regina Anek, a deputy director for gender at South Sudan’s Ministry of Education in Eastern Equatoria, just saved a 14-year old girl from an early, forced marriage. She says she was empowered to intervene as the result of her participation in a USAID-supported mentor-training program for teachers and education officials aimed at encouraging girls not just to enroll, but also to complete, secondary school.

Mentoring is just one of the ways USAID is addressing financial, social and institutional barriers to gender parity in education through the Gender Equity through Education (GEE) Program.

School completion rates for girls in South Sudan are extremely low. Survey data indicates that the rate of completing the eight-year primary cycle is currently 30 percent for boys, while the girls’ completion rate lags far behind at 17 percent. Secondary school completion rates are even worse.  This cannot only be attributed to the long conflict in this country, which prevented many girls from attending school, but also to other unique cultural and financial barriers.

One rampant cultural barrier is early marriage. Persistent poverty has been cited as a major reason for parents marrying off their daughters in exchange for money. Moreover, cultural norms in some places dictate marriage readiness for girls as young as 13. Communities often stigmatize older girls in schools, causing them to give up their education.

With USAID’s mentoring support and some tuition stipend, many girls now stay in school, and some who were married at an early age are now able to return and complete their secondary schooling.

These rural schoolchildren participate in the USAID-funded Southern Sudan Interactive Radio Instruction project, which uses radio to broadcast interactive student lessons. / Karl Grobl, Education Development Center Inc.

These rural schoolchildren participate in the USAID-funded Southern Sudan Interactive Radio Instruction project, which uses radio to broadcast interactive student lessons. / Karl Grobl, Education Development Center Inc.

The GEE program’s three components include:

  • a scholarship program;
  • an advocacy, community mobilization, and mentoring program;
  • and an institutional support program.

Regina Anek was trained as a mentor, enhancing her skills to intervene in communities where girls face social pressure to leave school to get married.

“I was informed that a student from one of the schools in my state was about to be married off, and I hurried to convene a meeting with the family and community. Meanwhile, I asked the parents to allow me [to] accommodate the girl at my house so that she could continue attending school as we resolved her marriage case,” Anek said.

After weeks of negotiating and educating the community leaders and the girl’s parents on the importance of an educated girl to the family and society, the girl was allowed to return home and continue with school.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about our programs in South Sudan.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Namadi is an Education Management Specialist at USAID