USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Economic Growth

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.

Bringing Hope to Women in Sri Lanka’s Former Conflict Zones

Like most places that have experienced conflict throughout the world, women were deeply affected by Sri Lanka’s 26-year conflict.  For most women who lived in the Indian Ocean island’s conflict zones, displacement, destruction, violence, harassment and loss were part of their everyday life.  The conflict ended in 2009, leaving many women traumatized and in need of psychosocial care, without belongings or livelihoods, and after the loss of their spouses, as heads of households.  Several USAID initiatives continue to support these women by integrating them into society and bringing normalcy back into their lives.

Thaminy Vedaasingham* is one of the BIZ+ program’s beneficiariesOne such initiative is USAID’s BIZ+ program which helps to increase and enhance equitable economic growth in the former northern and eastern conflict zones.  BIZ+ is partnering with small and medium-sized local businesses to create 5,000 new livelihoods and increase household incomes. The program primarily targets women; including war widows, disabled women and female-headed households.

Thaminy Vedaasingham* is one of the program’s beneficiaries. She is 25 years old and lives in one of the worst conflict-affected northern districts of Sri Lanka.  Having lost a limb during the conflict, Thaminy faced many hardships.  This is when Thaminy heard about the vocational training and production center in her district that provides livelihood assistance to war widows, women abandoned or women separated from their spouses or families. USAID is supporting the center to expand production and marketing of rice flour and spices and provide vulnerable women like Thaminy with new skills and sustainable livelihoods.

“The profit of the business belongs to the vulnerable women who work so diligently in the center. USAID’s assistance and support – in the way of building new hostel and storage facilities, and providing new equipment and transportation – have helped us to overcome any challenges and be successful businesswomen.” says Thaminy.

Thaminy is now economically independent and has the confidence to socialize with others.  “Thaminy is now enjoying life without worrying about the leg she lost. She is happy to work and earn for her family and for herself. As a mother, I am very proud of it”, quips Thaminy’s mother.

The Managing Director of the Vocational Training and Production Centre is happy to see the socio-economic business enterprise model with a vision of improving livelihood of vulnerable women come this far.  But above all, he is happy to see how the project has increased hope in the minds of women who seek empowerment through employment opportunities.

* Name has been changed to protect identity 

A “Whole” Lot of Success for Ghanaian Pineapples

If you live in the Southeast region of the United States, next time you walk into a Whole Foods Market and pick out the perfect pineapple, your purchase could support a Ghanaian-based small business.

Ghanaian pineapples on display at a Whole Foods Market. Credit: Michael Griffin, Sardis Enterprises

Ghanaian pineapples on display at a Whole Foods Market. Credit: Michael Griffin, Sardis Enterprises

Beginning in January, a number of Whole Foods Markets in the United States began stocking Ashanti pineapple grown on the central coast of Ghana. A unique partnership between Sardis Enterprises L.T.D, a Ghana-based small business; the African Diaspora Marketplace, a program of the United States Agency for International Development; and Western Union made the export of this delicious tropical fruit to Whole Foods Market possible.

Recognizing the opportunity, Sardis Enterprises is now pursuing a certification process to acquire a national account with Whole Foods Market and expand its distribution chain to the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Southeast and eventually all regions of the United States. The farmers and cooperatives that sell to Sardis differentiate themselves by using natural fertilizing methods and not using chemicals before, during, or after harvest. The company is currently certifying its suppliers’ farms and cooperatives as organic. “African Diaspora Marketplace gave us the support we needed to lay the groundwork for our company’s current growth trajectory and we are very excited for the opportunity to link Ghanaian farmers with Whole Foods’ network in the U.S.” said Michael Griffin, CEO of Sardis Enterprises.

But the success doesn’t end with Sardis. This partnership is just 1 of 17 awardees of the Second African Diaspora Marketplace, an initiative that encourages sustainable economic growth and employment by supporting U.S.-based African Diaspora and other entrepreneurs through grant funding and technical assistance. These entrepreneurs are individuals with demonstrable connections to or experience in Africa, and who have innovative and high-impact start-ups or established businesses on the continent. The African Diaspora Marketplace selects the most promising small and medium sized businesses across Africa and provides them with capital and managerial support to help grow.

The success of Sardis and other awardees demonstrates the value in supporting promising start-ups in Africa. The company has big plans for the future. They are building the Ashanti Pineapples brand and pursuing partnerships to develop their distribution channels in large export markets such as the US. “Our aim is to build a strong brand for the Ashanti line of produce and thereby help farmers in our cooperatives access valuable export opportunities that can help increase their income and have an overall positive impact on their livelihoods”, said Griffin.

Crafting Economic Empowerment for Women in North Lebanon

On a sunny October morning, I was blinking back tears of pride as 39 women, hailing from poor families, some with Down syndrome, gathered on a terrace to receive certificates celebrating their completion of a handicraft and soap making training workshop supported by USAID. Atayeb el Rif (Rural Delights), a cooperative that specializes in local gourmet foods and delicacies, organized the training as part of a grant it received under the USAID Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development (LIVCD) project to enhance the economic status of women in North Lebanon.

The USAID LIVCD project is a five-year project that provides income-generating opportunities for small businesses while creating jobs for rural populations, in particular women and youth.

The USAID LIVCD project is a five-year project that provides income-generating opportunities for small businesses while creating jobs for rural populations, in particular women and youth. Photo Credit: DAI

North Lebanon, an area that has seen a large influx of Syrian refugees, had already been facing many economic challenges, most notably loss of income due to scarce employment opportunities. USAID has intensified efforts in this region to help Lebanese communities hosting Syrian refugees through targeted assistance. The grant, launched in May 2012, helps provide economic opportunities for women and youth in rural areas, and thereby decrease migration to already over populated urban areas and improve Lebanon’s economic stability. As part of the grant, a six-day training workshop, related to accessories, needle work, soap making, and soap decoration skills, was provided to 120 women in three areas in North Lebanon, Batroun, Koura, and Donnieh. In addition to the training, each woman also received a tool kit containing $150 worth of supplies, tools, beads, molds, and threads to enable them to start their own small production home-based enterprises.

I was impressed by the array of handicrafts on display, ranging from beautifully decorated soaps to beaded fabrics, done with meticulous attention to detail and most of all passion. In fact, it was easy to sense that passion as the women enthusiastically shared their stories with us. “This training opened new opportunities. I will start producing accessories soon, and I hope to be able to open my own little shop to sell them. I also plan to benefit from the project’s assistance in marketing and to attend exhibitions and fairs to display my handicrafts,” commented one of the participants. But it was a 23-year old participant with Down syndrome, whose testimonial touched all attendees as she spoke with courage and pride about the prospects of this opportunity in ensuring a better income for her family.

The USAID Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development continued support to the women after their training graduation by providing ongoing coaching. USAID also facilitated the women’s access to markets by helping them to rent space at holiday events and fairs to sell their products to generate additional income. The USAID LIVCD project is a five-year project that provides income-generating opportunities for small businesses while creating jobs for rural populations, in particular women and youth.

I walked away with a basket of beautiful soap accessories that I can hang around the house for a profusion of scents. But most of all, I walked away inspired by the determination of these women to go beyond their potential in order to be the catalysts for change and growth in their community and country.

Participants receiving their certificate of attendance. Photo Credit: DAI

Participants receiving their certificate of attendance. Photo Credit: DAI

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