submitted by Jessica Scott

In an interview with The Washington Post, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah discussed the Feed the Future Initiative, an Obama Administration program that USAID is leading to ensure food security and end hunger worldwide. Just after taking part in a food security conference in Dhaka that will play a key role in implementing the program in Bangladesh, Dr. Shah noted that US officials have been working at a high level with the Bangladeshi government, civil society and private sector. Feed the Future will focus on improving the agricultural systems of at least 20 countries and is expected to benefit 40 million people over a decade.

This week Dr. Shah officially announced the formation of USAID’s policy planning staff. Lawrence (Larry) Garber has been chosen to head up the effort as the acting assistant to the administrator for the brand-new Bureau of Policy Planning and Learning. Garber will be one of two deputy assistant administrators in the bureau.

During a visit at the White House with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, President Barack Obama announced that $400 million of aid will be sent to Gaza and the West Bank. The majority of the funds will be distributed through USAID for housing, education and infrastructure.

USAID has partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to give Haitians ready access to their savings via cell phones. This new project has precedents in other countries where USAID has helped form “mobile money” programs to shore up banking systems. The Gates Foundation has offered $10 million in prizes to the first companies to help the Haitian people send and receive money with their cell phones. In addition, USAID is providing $5 million to the project for technical assistance.

In another collaboration with the Gates Foundation, along with the Monsanto Fund, USAID is working to donate about $50 million to help combat a brown streak disease that threatens the cassava crops in East Africa. Cassava is a major food source for Africa, Asia and South America. The disease was discovered in Uganda and has quickly spread in areas extending from Lake Victoria.

USAID is giving $1.53 million to programs in Juarez, Mexico to help further economic development, education, and other social programs. The funding is part of Beyond Merida, an addition to the 2007 Merida Initiative which was implemented to aid with security in Mexico and Central American countries.

During a recent visit to Sudan, Dr. Shah took part in the launch of the Food, Agribusiness and Rural Markets (FARM) program. This project, with a budget of $55 million, will help smallholder farmers increase their production of staple crops and boost trade, improving livelihoods and save lives.