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Archives for Economic Growth

Delivering More Bang for Development Bucks: Cost-Benefit Analysis and Feed the Future

Ireen Mapfumo, a Zimbabwean farmer, shows off a handful of protein-rich soybeans she harvested as one of eight lead farmers contracted by a USAID project in Zimbabwe. /  Fintrac Inc.

Ireen Mapfumo, a Zimbabwean farmer, shows off a handful of protein-rich soybeans she harvested as one of eight lead farmers contracted by a USAID project in Zimbabwe. / Fintrac Inc.

Now more than ever, development professionals and policymakers ask a fundamental question: Is a project worth the investment? Many are looking to cost-benefit analysis (CBA) for an answer.

Starting in 2009, USAID re-committed to cost-benefit analysis (CBA) as a critical tool for effective decision-making, and dramatically expanded its usage and training. CBA is an economic model that weighs strengths and weaknesses to determine how to implement or modify a project. USAID uses CBA to help determine when and where to invest for maximum results.

Feed the Future, Meet Cost-Benefit Analysis

Coinciding with this renewed interest in CBA was an increase in U.S. investment in global food security. At the 2009 G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, President Obama called on global leaders to reverse a three-decade decline in agriculture investment. The U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, embodied the U.S. contribution to this global commitment to reduce poverty, hunger and undernutrition.

Feed the Future wasn’t just a commitment of funding. It signaled a new way of doing development, founded in support of country-led efforts, deep partnership, and a relentless focus on results. It’s fitting, then, that Feed the Future became a critical player in the renewed push for incorporating CBA into USAID’s efforts.

As the lead agency for the Feed the Future initiative, USAID determined early on that it would roll out CBA analysis to Feed the Future countries through its overseas missions. This included specialized CBA training for agricultural officers and others working on Feed the Future’s early implementation so that CBA methods could be incorporated into agricultural program design.

Cost-Benefit Analysis Explained

CBA blends smart design with evidence to figure out if a project makes sense for the people USAID serves.

Analysts examine the incentives facing multiple stakeholders, including prices, profits, and losses over a long period of time. USAID uses this information to determine who is likely to win or lose as a result of a project, and adjusts design as necessary. Once the incentives are clear, the CBA model calculates the project’s costs and benefits.

Since we live in an inherently uncertain world, CBA analysts don’t stop there. CBA has helped Feed the Future projects account for volatile changes in circumstances, such as food price fluctuations over time.

Twenty-three missions around the world have used CBA to analyze or inform Feed the Future programming. Initial results have found that Feed the Future investments will achieve a 32 percent economic rate of return on average. By comparison, long term U.S. Government bonds only yield about three percent.

Perhaps even more important for the growth of CBA practice are the hundreds of USAID officers — including many agriculture officers — who have received training in how to incorporate CBA methods in program design. These agricultural officers will incorporate what they have learned into future projects, amplifying the effects of CBA.

USAID Cost Benefit analysis for Feed the FutureCreated by Gregory Gangelhoff

Cost-Benefit Analysis in Action

CBA is producing concrete results. In Haiti, USAID analysts conducted CBA of agricultural projects under Feed the Future West, an ongoing USAID program. Feed the Future West aims to modernize and create productive agricultural zones. Analysis determined that farmers would enjoy an internal rate of return (IRR) of 49 percent if all project targets were met. In other words, for every 1 dollar invested the host society receives an average of 49 cents in additional income over the project’s life.This result is significant: development institutions typically accept a minimum IRR of 12 percent for most projects.

Seventeen kilometers of improved roads in the Haitian mountain community of Fond-Baptiste now provide easy access to this local Monday market and larger markets on the coast. / Steve Goertz

Seventeen kilometers of improved roads in the Haitian mountain community of Fond-Baptiste now provide easy access to this local Monday market and larger markets on the coast. / Steve Goertz

USAID’s CBA analysts also examined how to remedy a shortage of rural roads in Haiti so that farmers could bring goods to market.

In Ethiopia, CBA helped guide $54 million in recent program planning. USAID estimates that these CBA-assisted programs have the potential to pull up to 400,000 people out of extreme poverty, explains Daniel Swift, an economist for USAID/Ethiopia.

In particular, USAID calculated the costs and benefits for Ethiopians of meat and dairy value chains as part of the Pastoralist Resiliency Improvement and Market Expansion (PRIME) project. The Mission’s original plan called for animal health and maintenance training, but CBA proved that the benefits of this training could not justify the investment. Instead, CBA led the mission to investments with more bang for the development buck.

This includes helping establish a meat processing plant that is expected to yield an estimated “$68 million in economic benefits for Ethiopia” in the form of a “tangible and sustainable market for poor pastoralists in the region,” according to Swift. Here and elsewhere, CBAs allowed decision makers to identify new opportunities and expand successful initiatives in the right places.

In concert with strategic analysis and a strong record of collaboration with private-sector partners, CBAs have become a part of the Feed the Future success story in this critical country.

Cost Benefit analysis in Feed the Future at USAIDCreated by Gregory Gangelhoff

CBA is more important than ever at USAID, but this work is far from complete. Tom DiVincenzo, USAID/Guatemala Mission Economist, notes that CBA analysts continue to seek new ways of explaining their work to decision-makers, who can struggle to fully understand the value of this type of analysis.

So what can the development community do to promote CBA and empower decision-makers in using it? Connect CBAs to “concrete examples” that non-economist decision-makers can understand easily, DiVincenzo notes. The results are worthwhile. When quantitative analysts work hand-in-hand with agricultural experts, their collaboration can plant the seeds for future prosperity.


Gregory Gangelhoff is an Economist in USAID’s Office of Economic Policy working on cost-benefit analysis, domestic resource mobilization, and growth diagnostics. Follow him @gwgangelhoff
Sally Rey is a Program Analyst in USAID’s Bureau for Food Security working on Feed the Future. Follow her @SalCary

The Economic Case for LGBT Equality Worldwide

Dr. Claire Lucas, USAID’s senior adviser on partnerships, addresses the audience at the launch of the joint Williams Institute-USAID report on LGBT inclusion and economic development. Seated, left to right: Carla Koppell, chief strategy officer, USAID; M.V. Lee Badgett, report author and research director, Williams Institute; and Brad Sears, executive director, Williams Institute. Photo credit: Matthew Corso/USAID

Claire Lucas, USAID’s senior adviser on partnerships, addresses the audience at the launch of the joint Williams Institute-USAID report on LGBT inclusion and economic development. Seated, left to right: Carla Koppell, chief strategy officer, USAID; M.V. Lee Badgett, report author and research director, Williams Institute; and Brad Sears, executive director, Williams Institute. / Matthew Corso/USAID

What if there was hard-and-fast evidence that discriminatory laws and actions against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals hurt economic prosperity in emerging markets and developing countries?

Last week, I was proud to join in the launch of a groundbreaking report published by the Williams Institute as part of USAID’s LGBT Global Development Partnership that undertakes this empirical analysis. The underlying study found that human rights and economic prosperity are intertwined and that greater inclusion of LGBT people in emerging economies, at both the micro and macro levels, is positively associated with a country’s economic development.

Across 39 emerging economies and other selected countries, the study found substantial evidence that LGBT people are limited in their freedoms in ways that also create economic hardships.

The study uses, for the first time, the Global Index on Legal Recognition of Homosexual Orientation, which establishes categories of legal recognition and protection for lesbians and gay men, as well as a provisional index on transgender rights that was created specifically for the report. The index identifies eight types of laws that indicate a country’s level of legal recognition of LGBT people. It includes legalizing consensual acts between same-sex adults, providing protections against discrimination in employment or the provision of goods and services, and legal recognition of same-sex couples or the legal ability of couples to adopt children. The index allows for a numerical value to be assigned to each country in the study based on the number of laws currently enacted that provide either basic protections or address family recognition and adoption rights.

Based on this index, the study was able to show that one additional legal right in the index is associated with approximately a $320 in per capita GDP, or about 3 percent of the average in the sample countries, and a higher human development index value. For instance, Kenya has a score of zero, as it does not provide any legal protections for LGBT people and has a per capita income of $1,318. In contrast, Argentina has a score of seven and a per capita income of $13,323.

This positive correlation is significant because it allows us to put a price tag on discrimination. Based on the models and anecdotal evidence, we can see that countries that discriminate against LGBT people are pushing entire groups of people out of the formal economy and reducing the economic gains they would otherwise enjoy if they were allowed to be productive members of society.

So what does this mean for development and the LGBT community?

This research has potentially powerful ramifications for the way USAID works, for the donor community, for business leaders, for policymakers in emerging markets, and even for the U.S. taxpayer and legislators.

By linking stigma and discrimination against LGBT individuals to a country’s economic well-being, the issue of bigotry is not just felt and understood by those who are LGBT, but by anyone who cares about that country’s economic growth.

In April, Marco Andrés Jaramillo—an entrepreneur and CEO of EgoCity, an online and print magazine in Medellín, Colombia—joined 60 LGBT Colombians for #ActivatingLGBT, an entrepreneur training hosted by USAID partner, the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce of the United States, and the Colombian LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

The training, held in Barranquilla, coached innovative LGBT entrepreneurs on how to create and sustain economically viable businesses, conduct trade with international partners, and make use of inclusive procurement policies. With new skills and connections, his business is booming.

Today, Jaramillo is turning his business from a small, niche magazine focused on his local community into one serving major multinational clients throughout Latin America and Europe. In the past year alone, business has grown by roughly a quarter.

Entrepreneurs like Jaramillo are engines of growth for their communities, countries and continents. Far too often, LGBT individuals around the world are excluded from contributing to their economy because of who they are. The fact is simple: Economic growth depends on a healthy, inclusive workforce, and people can’t work if they are routinely excluded from schools, jobs and health care or subject to other harms such as violence and police abuse.


Claire Lucas is a Senior Adviser in the U.S. Global Development Lab focused on partnerships.

Engaging China on Global Development

China is currently undergoing an evolution in its approach to development assistance and cooperation. The country continues to expand its contributions of resources, expertise and engagement on international development issues. As a result, the Chinese Government is continually reflecting on emerging challenges; the structure, mechanisms and partnerships needed to advance development priorities abroad; and new means of financing international development efforts.

Alex Thier addresses an audience member question during a CIDRN speaking engagement.

Alex Thier addresses an audience member question during a China International Development Research Network (CIDRN) speaking engagement. / Maria Rendon, U.S. Department of State

Recognizing the importance of frank, face-to-face bilateral dialogue to discuss these trends,  USAID held the inaugural U.S.-China Global Development Dialogue in Beijing on April 29.

China’s ongoing economic, social, political and environmental transformation will have a significant bearing on its domestic and global positions on related issues over the next 10 to 15 years. Despite progress, China still accounts for more than 10 percent of the world population living in extreme poverty – yet also sits on the world’s largest foreign cash reserves, some $4 trillion. Indeed, while we were in Beijing, the World Bank revised the purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates, which boosted Chinese GDP by more than 20 percent, putting it even closer to the size of the U.S. economy by that measure.

Alex Thier poses with Prof. Li Xiaoyun of China Agriculture University.  Prof. Li Xiaoyun co-chaired and commented during the CIDRN public event series on China and international development where Thier was a featured speaker.

Alex Thier poses with Prof. Li Xiaoyun of China Agriculture University. Prof. Li Xiaoyun co-chaired and commented during the CIDRN public event series on China and international development where Thier was a featured speaker. / Maria Rendon, U.S. Department of State

China is an important partner with developed and developing economies in negotiations around the post-2015 development agenda, climate change, financing for development and other global issues.

In the official U.S.-China global development dialogue, the Chinese exhibited a strong desire to engage with the U.S. Government on global development issues related both to broad international policy as well as practical elements of implementation.

The country is proud of the role it has played in achieving the current Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of its own people living in extreme poverty—over the last two decades China has helped lift nearly 600 million of its citizens out of extreme poverty—but still sees much need for continued domestic progress. We found strong agreement with the Chinese on the goal of ending extreme poverty  and common ground on increasing development cooperation effectiveness through internationally agreed on principles like the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation.

USAID, like other government and private donors, has started small scale, practical cooperation with China in third countries (“trilateral cooperation”). For example, the United States and China recently launched an agriculture partnership in East Timor that is intended to improve the production of income-generating crops to enhance food security and nutrition. The first harvest was in March, and now more than 52 participating East Timorese farmers are seeing the benefits of modern farming techniques.

Charles Rice for USAID

A U.S.-China partnership is helping enhance food security and nutrition in Timor-Leste / Charles Rice for USAID

Discussions with a variety of Chinese universities, think tanks, foundations, and private sector and civil society organizations also demonstrate a growing interest and participation in development policy and implementation.

Overall, the first U.S.-China Global Development Dialogue was an important opportunity to advance our mutual interest in development policy dialogue, strengthening cooperation and enhancing policy coherence in partner countries. The next set of global development goals—including ending extreme poverty and sharing a sustainable global commons and economy—will require a concerted effort with all partners, China key among them.


Alex Thier is the Assistant to the Administrator in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning. Follow him @Thieristan.

Liberia’s ‘Road’ (miles and miles) to Recovery

Little more than 10 years have passed since Liberia began rising from the ashes of a 14-year civil war that decimated its political, social and economic order.

While nearly 84 percent of Liberia’s population still lives in extreme poverty on less than $1.25 per day, during Nobel Peace Prize Laureate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s presidency, the GDP per capita has grown on average by nearly 8 percent per year. The country is slowly navigating a development path leading to better health, a stable democracy, an improved domestic agriculture market, and increased exports of products such as iron and rubber.

Yet despite some advances, Liberians continue to face a daunting challenge – all too often, when the “rubber meets the road,” there is quite literally no road to travel.

Photo Credit: USAID Food and Enterprise Development

Liberia has 66,000 miles of roads, but less than 7 percent are paved. / USAID

Liberia cannot continue to break the cycle of poverty without an effective road network to connect its people and resources.

The country, approximately the size and shape of Tennessee, boasts a mere 66,000 miles of roads, and of these less than 7 percent are paved. By comparison, the Volunteer State has more than 93,000 miles of paved roads. Quantity is only part of the problem though: potholes the size of small vehicles scar what few paved roads exist, while dirt roads become muddy parking lots during the rainy season of May to October. In Bong County, a heavily populated agricultural region, citizens regularly voice their frustrations at their inability to access markets, hospitals, and government services:

“My village there,” said Sarah, one resident of Bong Mine, pointing across a rice paddy, “has no way to reach [services]. We walk to schools, we walk to clinics, it takes all day.”

The country’s infrastructure network represents the most visible symptom of the former conflict, stifling access to markets outside the capital. These broken roads decrease the food supply and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition in rural Liberia.

Members of a women’s farming group harvest rice in Liberia. / David Benafel, USAID FED

Members of a women’s farming group harvest rice in Liberia. / David Benafel, USAID FED

Before the war Liberia was a net exporter of rice. Today, 97 percent of rice consumption in the capital city of Monrovia is imported. Amazingly, it is cheaper, by volume, to ship rice the 7,500 miles from Thailand to Monrovia than it is from Gbarnga, a leading agricultural community just over 100 miles away.

Yet Liberia has no intention of leaving their economy stuck in neutral. Our partnership with Liberia, the World Bank, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency will provide a total of $240 million in the next five years to improve up to 300 miles  of Liberia’s ailing network of roads.

USAID helped by first conducting a cost-benefit analysis of which improvements would yield the most positive and sustainable possible outcome for the people of Liberia.

Photo Credit: USAID Food and Enterprise Development

Because of the poor state of Liberia’s roads, it is cheaper, by volume, to ship rice the 7,500 miles from Thailand to Monrovia than it is from Gbarnga, a leading agricultural community just over 100 miles away. / USAID

Here’s one example of the types of information this analysis considered: When the cost of transportation decreases and the risks associated with traveling these roads dwindle, traders begin to reach these farmers with new information. Fertilizer and improved seeds can arrive at the farms before the planting season, agricultural yields increase, and farmers find it cheaper to deliver produce to the market.

Moreover, children will be more likely to make the trip along the road to school, sick individuals can plan a visit to the clinic, and government officials can better reach constituents with much-needed services. In short, the roads provide a number of ancillary benefits, and all must be factored in when selecting the most cost-effective use of development dollars. It is no simple calculation.

In the course of one month, the USAID team measured the myriad economic benefits from increased activity along the roads against the costs of road construction and long-term maintenance.

Armed with this analysis, USAID began rehabilitation in February 2014, galvanizing access to a better life to approximately 140,000 people who live within a mile and a half of these rural roads, and potentially many thousands more in the broader region through improvements in food security, health, and education.

There is strong reason to believe, in other words, that the figurative roadblocks to peace and prosperity for Liberia may be overcome as soon as the actual ones are.



Michael Nicholson is an Economist for the USAID Liberia mission @dr_nicholson
Colin Buckley is a Program Analyst at USAID in the Office of Economic Policy @colinhpbuckley
Kristen Schubert is an Economist at USAID in the Office of Economic Policy @KristenSchub

Transforming Cities Today for Equitable Societies Tomorrow

The Medellin metrocable, Colombia

The Medellin metrocable, Colombia / Patrick Benning, Deutsche Welle

I recently spent 50 agonizing minutes gently swaying several hundred feet over a forested mountain in the northeast of Medellín, Colombia. I was sharing a six-person gondola on the city’s famed Telemetro, a lift system constructed to enable poor slum dwellers on the outskirts of the city to more easily access the city center. In Spanish it’s called a teleférico; for me, it was terrifying. The nonchalance with which the other passengers in the car continued their conversation about sustainable approaches to public landscape architecture only made things worse.

We were all in town for the World Urban Forum (WUF), and had signed up for a tour of the city’s Metro system, rightly touted as a model of urban transit which, along with participatory budgeting and social programs that have brought parks, schools and libraries into the poorest neighborhoods, has helped to decrease violence and increase social equity in Medellín.

Despite my rare (as our guide was at pains to make clear) and unnerving experience, WUF’s host city serves as an example of an unlikely urban transformation—proof that committed reform, community participation, and wise investments in urban infrastructure and service delivery can mean drastically better city life for the 3.5 billion people living in cities today.

With an additional 2 billion more people projected to be developing world urbanites by 2050, this is of no small importance.

Kenya's notoriously dangerous city buses, or matatus.

Kenya’s notoriously dangerous city buses, or matatus / Elinrei

This was the seventh session of WUF, an event hosted by U.N. Habitat every two years to discuss the impact of rapid urbanization on communities, economies, climate change, and governments.

For USAID, WUF was an opportunity to showcase our new policy on Sustainable Urban Service Delivery, [pdf] to advance our thinking on how to put the policy into practice, and to hear from experts and officials around the world about their approaches to urban development challenges.

At the heart of USAID’s new policy lies this fundamental principle: Growing cities can help to drive inclusive development; but local governments, organizations and communities must work together to ensure that urban growth does not overwhelm local capacity to deliver basic services, and that the benefits of urbanization are felt by society’s most vulnerable.

The policy ensures that we are able to support cities to deliver transparent, accountable and inclusive services to the urban poor in ways that are politically and financially sustainable, promote resilience and support multi-stakeholder partnerships.

For example, our Climate Resilient Infrastructure Services [pdf] program is working to build the sustainability of five coastal and low-lying cities—Nacala, Mozambique; Piura and Trujillo, Peru; Hue, Vietnam; and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic—by helping them understand their climate vulnerabilities; develop and test techniques that can rapidly increase the climate resilience of water, transportation and other services; and better protect residents while preventing future development in high-risk areas. Together, the urban areas targeted by the program are home to more than 2.6 million people.

Paving an erosion-prone road in Nacala.

Paving an erosion-prone road in Nacala / Nora Ferm, USAID

In Nacala, Mozambique, which is prone to heavy rains and landslides, we are helping the city create a database that maps vulnerable areas and provide technicians with a better understanding of how weather and climate impact infrastructure services. This work will help to ensure that Nacala and other cities in Mozambique — projected to be the fourth most urbanized country in southern Africa by 2025 — can continue to serve as the country’s economic hubs and drivers of development.

Southern downtown section of Hue. Photo: Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting

Southern downtown section of Hue / Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting

In Hue, Vietnam we are helping urban planners customize and apply a tailored software tool that anticipates the effects of climate change on newly urbanizing areas and critical infrastructure. This work will help lessen the impact of events like the 2006 flood that submerged the city of 340,000 under 6 feet of flood water, paralyzing it for days. Planners have already used the tool to adjust master plans for three zones outside of the city of Hue that are expected to urbanize quickly in the coming years.

And in Afghanistan, through the Regional Afghan Municipalities Program for Urban Populations (RAMP-UP), we are working to strengthen municipalities that have long suffered from underinvestment, limited support, low revenues, and weak institutional capacity. Some of the many successes of the four regionally based projects include implementation of solid waste collection and management programs; the establishment of public-private partnerships to generate revenue and to promote economic growth; support for female entrepreneurs through business training and local craft exhibitions; and increased revenue in some municipalities by as much as 26 percent.

The many debates and conversations at WUF made clear that the work we are doing in cities like Nacala, Hue, and throughout Afghanistan and elsewhere contributes to a mounting global urban agenda that promotes equity, inclusiveness, and the participation of communities, local and national governments, and the private sector.

Cities are growing by 70 million people each year, adding urgency to our efforts. Because cities are engines of growth, if we are successful in helping to build stronger and more resilient cities, we will also be helping to bring about a world without extreme poverty.


Jeff Szuchman is a USAID AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow working on USAID’s policy on Sustainable Urban Service Delivery and the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Development Financing “Sea Change” Drives Real Change

farm in East Africa

This farm in East Africa received local financing thanks to a USAID guarantee with a local bank. / Morgana Wingard, USAID.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg News published an article explaining how USAID is undergoing a transformation – attracting private capital, rather than U.S. tax dollars, to finance development:

It’s a sea change for an agency that for years simply gave out money. The program, called the Development Credit Authority, was begun in 1999 […] with authority from Congress to provide loan guarantees, but in the 10 years before 2011 it backed $2.2 billion in credit. Since 2011, the authority has issued $1 billion in guarantees.

As one of the newest employees of USAID’s Development Credit Authority, I recently had the opportunity to see the impact of this major shift.

I traveled just outside of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on my first overseas trip with USAID to visit one of the 140,000 entrepreneurs USAID has helped access local capital from a private entity. As a new portfolio manager for DCA’s guarantees, I wanted verification that a difference was being made here, on this farm, in this entrepreneur’s life.

The farm belongs to Alex, a local farmer that started his business 13 years ago with three pigs and a $30 microloan. His ultimate goal: to rebuild his father’s house and improve the lives of his family members. After his father’s death, his role as the eldest son changed. His drive to succeed is fueled by responsibility toward his family and his will to secure them a better future. He is proud and he is kind. He smiles through the entire visit and is generous and joking, eager to tell his story.

It is a story heavy with reference to microfinance, small loans he was able to secure, and how those first loans gave him the leg up he needed.

Here’s how it works:

  • Access to financing enabled him to grow the farm from three pigs to 30.  The loan also helped him acquire more than 1,000 chickens, two cows, and a side business renting rooms.
  • Today, he owns land, his children are in school, and his dream of rebuilding his father’s house has been realized. But it almost never happened. “It was difficult,” he says, “I did not have any collateral.”
  • Things fell into place for Alex in part thanks to a 2010 partnership between USAID and the local microfinance institution PRIDE Tanzania. With a DCA loan guarantee, PRIDE was able to offer the first ever bond of its type in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Farms like this one, in East Africa, depend on financing to grow. USAID helped this farm access local credit by sharing risk with a local bank. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

Farms like this one, in East Africa, depend on financing to grow. USAID helped this farm access local credit by sharing risk with a local bank. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Through the bond, PRIDE raised $10 million from private investors, allowing the MFI to open 18 new branch offices offering loans to micro and small entrepreneurs. This opened the door to credit financing not only for Alex, but for 60,000 other entrepreneurs, many of them poor farmers who previously lacked the collateral to qualify for loans.

Through DCA, USAID partners with financial institutions like PRIDE to guarantee loans or bond issuances targeting underserved sectors. The guarantees help to change the perception of creditworthiness of those potential entrepreneurs generally ignored by banks. With the help of a USAID/Tanzania guarantee, Alex was given a chance. Now his financing is growing: in 2013 he secured a loan with PRIDE worth $3,200.

Small businesses are economic drivers. And all small businesses are run by entrepreneurs with big ideas. But ideas cost money, and money is hard to find.

In places like rural Tanzania, the demands of daily necessity can stifle a dream before it begins. Even a $30 loan can be life-changing. And that’s why I work in development: to be a part of some seemingly small but life-changing moment in someone’s life.

10 Ways the U.S. Government is Fighting Global Climate Change (that you’ve never heard about)

Photo Credit: Daniel Byers, SkyShip Films 2011

Nepals Imja Lake / Daniel Byers, SkyShip Films 2011

1. In Nepal, rapidly expanding glacial lakes are often unstable and prone to burst their banks, washing out communities below. USAID is working with high-mountain communities to help measure the impact of melting glaciers on Imja Lake, not far from Mount Everest base camp.

Read about how we’re helping bring Andean expertise to Nepal’s glacial lake region.

Wheat farmers in Kazakhstan are learning about the expected climate change impacts on their crop.

Wheat farmers in Kazakhstan are learning about the expected climate change impacts on their crop. / USAID

2. In Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s breadbasket, USAID is working with the government to ensure wheat farmers get better weather and climate forecasts to make better planting and harvest decisions. A severe drought in 2012 slashed Kazakhstan wheat harvests by half, contributing to a worldwide food shortage that led the World Bank to issue a global hunger warning.

Read more about how we’re helping to preserve “Asia’s breadbasket.”

Ethiopian Sheep

Ethiopian Sheep / Nena Terrell, USAID

3. Cows, camels, goats and sheep are the lifeblood of pastoralist farmers in Kenya and Ethiopia. But these poor farmers live with the constant threat that a severe drought, like the one in 2009, could decimate herds and flocks. USAID is working with locals to develop livestock insurance, new water conservation practices and other measures so pastoralists can survive and bounce back from severe droughts.

Read more about how East Africa’s dryland herders are taking out a policy on survival.

Forest measurement demonstration near Lae by staff of Forest Research Institute, Papua New Guinea.

Forest measurement demonstration near Lae by staff of Forest Research Institute, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Low Emission Asia Forests project / USAID, RDMA

4. Worldwide, forest destruction generates more greenhouse gas emissions each year than do all the trains, planes and cars on the planet. Worldwide, 50 soccer fields of forest are lost every minute of every day, and forests in Southeast Asia are being cleared faster than almost anywhere on earth. In Papua New Guinea, USAID is working to teach forest carbon measurement techniques so that local people and communities can show the progress they are making conserving tropical forest.

multispectral imagery of the Nzoia River basin

The Nzoia River basin lies entirely within the Lake Victoria basin in Kenya. The SERVIR-Africa team captured multispectral imagery of the Nzoia River basin from the NASA’s EO-1 satellite on August 23, 2008 to provide baseline imagery of this frequently flooded area for future analysis. / NASA, EO-1

5. Fighting climate change requires good data. USAID and NASA partner to provide satellite-based Earth observation data and science applications to help developing nations improve their environmental decision-making as well as monitor other issues like famines, floods and disease outbreaks. We are currently working with Tanzania’s weather agency to use satellite data to map climate and weather risks and to create early warning systems, including for malaria outbreaks.

Read more about how USAID uses data to better manage land resources.

The Russian boreal forest

The Russian boreal forest / Vladimir Savchenko

6. What happens when anyone can become a forest ranger? USAID is supporting World Resources Institute with the Global Forest Watch interactive global forest mapping tool. The online tool allows people to access – or upload – near real-time information about what is happening on the ground in forests around the world.

Southern downtown section of Hue. Photo: Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting

Southern downtown section of Hue. / Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting

7. In 2006, the Vietnamese city of Hue was paralyzed for days, submerged under more than six feet of floodwater after a large rain. USAID today helps Hue and other at-risk coastal cities anticipate and address the repeated flooding and other climate impacts on roads and energy systems by helping them plan smarter cities that can weather climate events. In Hue, we are helping urban planners customize and apply a tailored software tool that anticipates the effects of climate change on critical infrastructure.

Read more about how USAID is helping build a climate-smart Vietnam.

Asma Molla with her husband Jalal, their five sons, and their two solar lamps.

Asma Molla with her husband Jalal, their five sons, and their two solar lamps. / Souradeep Ghosh, Arc Finance

8. Worldwide, more than 1.4 billion people lack access to electricity, and 2.8 billion lack access to modern cooking fuels and devices. In Uganda, India and Haiti, USAID is helping low-income people buy devices that improve their incomes and quality of life, and reduce carbon emissions at the same time by expanding the availability of consumer financing for clean energy products. We are also helping 13 companies develop and test business models that will make it easier for tens of thousands of poor people to purchase clean energy products such as solar lanterns and clean cookstoves.

Check out how USAID’s Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program is improving the quality of life of low-income populations while at the same time helping USAID partners to reduce carbon emissions.

Read more about how the Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program is bringing clean energy to people who live most of their lives in the dark.

Fish market in Gizo, Solomon Islands

Fish market in Gizo, Solomon Islands / USAID CTSP, Tory Read

9. Ever hear of the Coral Triangle? This  massive swath of ocean in between Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste is not only likely where your seafood dinner came from – it’s reefs also buffer shorelines against waves, storms and floods, helping to prevent loss of life, property damage and land erosion. But today, as much as 90 percent of Coral Triangle reefs (and the 360 million people that depend on them) are threatened by overfishing, population growth, development, pollution and the impacts of climate change. USAID helps protect this “amazon of the seas” by helping the six Coral Triangle nations better manage the most biodiverse and productive ocean region in the world.

Read more about how the Coral Triangle Initiative is helping protect this unique marine wonder and check out this photostory.

A Cofan shaman.

Strengthening their organizations has enabled the indigenous Cofan people to preserve their cultural identity and ancient knowledge / Thomas J. Müller

10. Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change. Several studies show that deforestation and illegal trafficking of species are significantly lower in indigenous territories, even when compared with natural protected areas, such as national parks and reserves. USAID is equipping indigenous populations to become active guardians of the Amazon biome in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, and is investing in youth who will continue the fight to preserve the native culture and territory as future scientists, lawyers, doctors and political leaders.

On the Road to Innovation in the West Bank

Recently I spent two action-packed days visiting the West Bank where I saw the tremendous impact that the USAID West Bank and Gaza Mission’s work has in many sectors and witnessed several innovative projects.

Students at the Al Haffasi Coeducational Elementary School in Kafr Al Labad. USAID recently renovated the school adding three floors and six new classrooms.

Students at the Al Haffasi Coeducational Elementary School in Kafr Al Labad.
USAID recently renovated the school adding three floors and six new classrooms.

The work we are doing in the education sector and with youth is among the most exciting. USAID is currently partnering with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education on a national reading campaign to raise the public’s awareness of the importance of reading and to encourage everyone to read. I told students at the Al Haffasi coeducational elementary school in Kafr Al Labad, in the Tulkarem Governorate what a gift reading is. The slogan for our campaign “Today’s Readers Tomorrow’s Leaders,” rings true and I encouraged all of the students to grab a book and spend time reading, dreaming and learning. At the school we distributed dozens of books to the students, including popular works of American fiction and non-fiction like “Colors in the Desert” and “Mystery at the Museum” translated into Arabic that I am certain the students will enjoy.

A Palestinian entrepreneur taking part in a mini-MBA program offered by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Tel Aviv University’s Recanati School of Management with support from USAID.

A Palestinian entrepreneur taking part in a mini-MBA program offered by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Tel Aviv University’s Recanati School of Management with support from USAID.

The ingenuity and creativity of young Palestinian entrepreneurs I met was very impressive. While these youth face many challenges, ranging from finding jobs to starting businesses, I am certain that they will find and seize opportunities for success. I told them about a USAID initiative that will provide support to early stage businesses to create and sustain jobs, encourage increased equity investment in early stage businesses, and advance and develop the investment environment. The young entrepreneurs I met specialize in fields ranging from software to agribusiness to energy, and so many things in between. They were passionate about their ideas and I am certain that they will help lead the Palestinian economy forward.

During my two-day stay, the USAID West Bank and Gaza Mission reached 100,000 likes on Facebook, an impressive milestone and a testament to the open channel of communication that the Mission has cultivated with its fans, most of whom are based in the West Bank and Gaza.  Check out the site – USAID West Bank/Gaza.  The Mission posts fantastic photos of its highly important activities and loves to hear from its fans.

While in the West Bank I also visited an innovative pilot project where wastewater is treated and then reused to irrigate crops. This initiative is extremely resourceful and I look forward to seeing the data on crop yields and freshwater resources saved. I hope that the success of this pilot program can be emulated at other locations in the West Bank. I also got a glimpse of the challenges that the mission faces, particularly with environmental issues. Visiting a polluted stream, a tannery, and a landfill, I saw the complexities of the proper disposal of waste and sewage.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Romanowski briefed at Beit Fajjar in the West Bank on environmental issues and proper disposal of waste and sewage.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Romanowski briefed at Beit Fajjar in the West Bank
on environmental issues and proper disposal of waste and sewage.

I was pleased to see that the mission’s implementation of the High Impact Micro Infrastructure Initiative, a $100 million initiative announced by Secretary of State John Kerry in November 2013, is advancing according to schedule, with more than 40 infrastructure activities underway, and more scheduled to begin in the near future. These infrastructure projects are coordinated with the Palestinian Authority and municipal authorities to support Palestinian national priorities and include construction or renovation of health clinics, road repairs, construction of community centers and school, and other similar projects.  This initiative aims to provide Palestinians with quick, tangible infrastructure improvements in dozens of communities throughout the West Bank.

The range of people and projects that I saw over the course of two days was impressive.  While the challenges that numerous people and communities face are serious, their innovation and ingenuity are incredible and inspiring.

Improving Agriculture to Help Lift Nigerian Families Out of Poverty

Alex Thier (far left) looks on as a Nigerian farmer checks the starch level of his cassava crop. (Photo Credit: USAID)

Alex Thier (far left) looks on as a Nigerian farmer checks the starch level of his cassava crop. (Photo Credit: USAID)

Standing at the gates to the Nigerian cassava processing plant, Thai Farms, we held our breath while watching a local farmer anxiously weigh a sack of his latest cassava crop. Cassava, a starchy local staple crop, takes 12 to 24 months to grow, but begins to rot after only 48 hours out of the ground.  So for this local farmer, transporting and being able to quickly sell his crop is essential to getting a good price.

To determine purchase prices, cassava is weighed and then tested for starch content through a simple, yet ingenious method of submersing the cassava tubers in water to test buoyancy. The higher the starch content, the more cassava flour is produced and the more money the farmer earns per kilo. The farmer breathed a sigh of relief when the starch content turned out to be high enough for the factory to buy his produce, but not high enough to fetch the best price.  The farmer left relieved, but somewhat disappointed and hopefully inspired to plant improved varieties next season.

In Nigeria, more than 70 percent of the population earns their livelihood from agriculture and 70 percent of the MARKETS II farmers live on less than $1.25 each day. By giving these farmers the tools to improve their harvest and connecting them with buyers, USAID is helping the farmers earn a higher selling price that is essential to increasing their household income and lifting their families out of extreme poverty.

a fish pond

Fish swim in one of many fish ponds at the USAID supported Timmod Farms in Nigeria. (Photo Credit: USAID)

Thai Farms exemplifies the MARKETS II model of connecting local farmers to new markets and technologies. However, there are several other local agri-business enterprises boosting the economy in Nigeria. Timmod Farms, for example, is a Nigerian success story. The farm was established in November 2004 with just four ponds of fish and is now one of the leading fish processors in Nigeria. Timmod Farms produces a smoked catfish that is well-known in the local Nigerian market and has been recognized by the Federal Department of Fisheries in Nigeria. The extremely entrepreneurial owner, Rotimi Omodehin, keeps adding new parts to the business, but is also concerned about the potential for further growth. Every step on the value chain suffers from some fundamental constraints, especially reliable access to energy and credit. These producers pay three to five times the price of energy from the grid to power their enterprises with expensive diesel generators. This is necessary as the power supply from the utility is unreliable and surges can damage expensive equipment. Credit, meanwhile, is hard to get at all and often costs 20 to 25 percent annual interest making loans hard to get, very expensive and very risky. To really enable small famers and small enterprises to drive inclusive economic growth, these problems will have to be addressed.

USAID has the opportunity to pull farmers out of poverty by sharing best practices in agriculture activities and focusing on value chains as a whole. Let us know what programs have been most successful for you or share your local stories of success.

Cooking With Green Charcoal Helps to Reduce Deforestation in Haiti

An organization in northern Haiti is promoting a cooking fuel made from agricultural waste that can save trees, help farmers increase their yields and generate additional income.

“Our aim is to try to stop deforestation in Haiti by teaching people to switch from cooking with charcoal to using cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste,” said Anderson Pierre, the Supply Chain Manager for Carbon Roots International (CRI), a USAID-supported non-profit organization operating in Quartier Morin.

Carbon Roots International on Dec 12, 2013. Copyright Kendra Helmer/USAID

Workers create cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste, in northern Haiti. Copyright Kendra Helmer/USAID

Despite the fact that only about 2 percent of Haiti’s forests remain, it is difficult to shift habits of cooking with wood charcoal to methods that are environmentally friendly.  According to Pierre, other alternative fuels are still not well-known – or accepted.

“We work little by little, changing perceptions and providing information on the benefits of using briquettes,” Pierre said.

CRI employs smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs to produce carbon-rich char from agricultural waste such as sugarcane bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice. CRI uses this waste to create two innovative products: renewable charcoal cooking briquettes called “green charcoal,” and “biochar,” a potent natural soil additive that increases soil fertility and removes carbon from the atmosphere. CRI sells the briquettes as an alternative to traditional wood charcoal through a network of women retailers, and disburses biochar back to farmers to increase crop yields and further raise incomes.

As a result, the project contributes to the sustainability of Haitian agriculture and provides income opportunities for women entrepreneurs. It offers a comparably priced, locally appropriate green cooking fuel to the Haitian marketplace, as well as encourages the adoption of biochar as a viable tool for increasing agricultural productivity and soil resiliency.

CRI’s efforts to promote green charcoal are gradually gaining ground in northern Haiti. While they’ve been focusing on market research and production, they plan to expand to bulk sales and more roadside kiosks this spring. In December, CRI ran a public awareness campaign in Quartier Morin under the slogan “Green Charcoal is Your Charcoal”, using demonstration stands and offering free samples of briquettes.

“The Haitian consumer likes the fact that this comes from a source other than wood. People have heard about a Haiti that used to be green. They understand that deforestation is not good. If they have an alternative, they will go for it,” said Ryan Delaney, co-founder of CRI. The briquettes are 5 to 10 percent cheaper to buy than wood-based charcoal and they can be burned in a traditional cook stove, making it an attractive fuel alternative.

USAID is supporting CRI through a $100,000 Development Innovation Ventures award. The USAID award has helped CRI prove itself — it developed a network of producers, started production and created viable markets for biomass products.

“We want this to be a self-sufficient project,” Delaney said. “We have just purchased a machine that can increase the briquette production from 3,000 briquettes a day to 3 tons an hour. There is a lot of sugarcane production in Haiti providing the needed sugarcane waste…. Right now we sell small-scale, but we have ambitious expansion goals.”

Delaney estimates the charcoal market in Haiti to be valued at about $700 million a year (approximately $90 million in northern Haiti).  “The potential to scale in Haiti and beyond is enormous, as there is little centralized production of charcoal,” he said.

This month, the U.S.-based CRI expects formal operations to begin for their for-profit entity in Haiti, called Carbon Roots Haiti, S.A.  Eventually CRI wants to hand over green charcoal production to Haitians, Delaney said. “Ultimately, we envision this as a Haitian company run by Haitians.”

Launched in October 2010, USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) holds a quarterly grant competition for innovative ideas, pilots and tests them using cutting-edge analytical methods, and scales those that demonstrate cost-effectiveness and widespread development impact. DIV uses a staged-funding model inspired by venture capital to invest comparatively small amounts in relatively unproven ideas, and continues to support only those that prove effective.

For more information on DIV and how to apply, go to For more information on CRI visit and see photos of CRI in Haiti on Flickr.

Read another story about how USAID is fighting deforestation through an improved cooking technology program.

Anna-Maija Mattila Litvak is the Senior Development Outreach and Communications Officer for USAID/Haiti.

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