USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Environment

Thinking Across Borders in Southeast Asia

Earlier this month, I traveled to Cambodia to join Secretary Clinton at the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Ministerial meetings where we launched “LMI 2020” – a deepening of the United States’ commitment to  Southeast Asia through a set of new activities aimed at strengthening regional coordination on development challenges facing the Lower Mekong region. 

“LMI 2020” seeks to advance knowledge and understanding of the environmental and health implications of economic and infrastructure development along the Mekong River, one of the most bio-diverse fresh-water ecosystems on the planet, as well as to strengthen the capacity and coordination of government, civil society and academic/research institutions in the region on these issues.  These new assistance programs support the LMI pillars of environment, education, health and connectivity which are co-chaired respectively by Viet Nam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.  But one of the most exciting outcomes was the formal welcome of Burma as a full participant in the Lower Mekong Initiative and the adoption of a fifth pillar on Agriculture and Food Security that Burma will co-chair.

The Lower Mekong Initiative was launched in 2009 as a framework for addressing the transnational challenges posed by infrastructure development along the Mekong River and a way to share information and analysis and to improve coordination amongst the countries in the region as well as donors.  Hence a parallel effort, bringing together the “Friends of the Lower Mekong” (FLM) around the table with the Mekong countries, has also become a critical way of aligning programs and policies.  I was struck by how far our partnerships under the LMI framework have progressed in the three years since it was launched. LMI partners now regularly discuss challenges with each other, at the highest political levels as well as in technical working group meetings, on issues such as the impact of proposed hydropower projects on the main stem of the Mekong River, or the need to coordinate to fight emerging pandemic threats.

After several days of productive meetings in Phnom Penh surrounding the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial meetings, I then traveled to Siem Reap  to participate in  the Lower Mekong Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy Dialogue, which USAID co-hosted along with the State Department and the Royal Government of Cambodia’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs to highlight the role of women in the fostering sustainable development in the Mekong region. Secretary Clinton gave an inspiring speech on women’s rights as workers and the need to ensure opportunities for all girls and women. USAID has committed to support women leaders in the region to build a network to address critical transnational issues, such as environmental resources management.  Listening to the dynamic and vibrant women participants at the conference, it was clear to me that the potential in the region to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth could not be achieved without the full and active participation of women.

For more information, see the fact sheets on LMIthe Asia Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative (APSEI) and more at

Mexican Diaspora Leader Gives Back Green

The Impact Blog interviewed Luis Aguirre-Torres, CEO of GreenMomentum and recipient of the White House’s Champion of Change award. He partners with USAID in his homeland of Mexico to help foster green companies. 

You have been extremely successful in helping companies become green, why is it important for you to give back to your native country of Mexico?

After several years of living abroad, I found myself in a position to give back to the country that gave me an education and inspired me to continue moving forward. I have a personal believe that the future is something we work towards and not something that simply one day magically appears. Before I always imagined a better future than what the present turned out to be; today, I understand that the future will only be different if we take an active role in making it happen. What better place to reinvent the future than my country of origin.

What is the Cleantech Challenge and how did it come about?

The Cleantech Challenge was originally conceived as a green business plan competition. However, today it has become an open forum for investors, entrepreneurs, government and development agencies to share ideas on how to develop clean technology, how to finance it and how to accelerate its implementation. It was first conceptualized after a conversation with the Director of the UNEP a few years ago, when he challenged me and my team to do something different that could impact the Mexican economy. A few weeks later, the Cleantech Challenge was born.

What would a surge in green companies in Latin America mean for the region?

We are currently seeing a surge in green companies in Mexico. This has been echoed by other countries like Colombia, Chile and Argentina, among others. For all these countries, it represents an opportunity to become part of the world’s new green economy. As it has happened in other countries, it could also lead to a surge in investment opportunities and the development of new government policies. This could accelerate economic growth through the creation of new business and job opportunities, having therefore a direct impact on the competitiveness of the region as a whole.

Do you think Latin America faces unique challenges regarding greenhouse gas emissions compared to the rest of the world?

Latin America faces a series of challenges regarding climate change. It has to develop new and more reliable mechanisms for financing the implementation of adaptation and mitigation programs. Specifically, it has to find a way of fighting climate change without negatively impacting economic growth and increasing the region’s competitiveness.

The White House just honored you with a Champion of Change award, what does this mean for you?

This has been a great experience. I feel humbled and forever grateful to those who from the beginning believed in this project. The recognition from the White House means the world to us, not only because it validates our efforts during the past four years, but also because it has allowed us to share it with the American people and the rest of the world. It has inspired me to continue working and to work towards newer and bigger things.

To read more, visit the White House’s Champions of Change webpage.

Picture of the Week

Closeup photo of a cow's nose.  Photo credit: Jyldyz Niyazalieva, Kyrgyz Agro-Input Enterprise Development Project

Through the USAID-funded Kyrgyz Agro-Input Enterprise Development Project, production of biofertilizer out of organic waste was organized on a dairy farm in northern Kyrgyzstan. Natural biofertilizer, rich in biologically active substances and microelements, is derived in the process of anaerobic fermentation. This initiative helps to implement environmentally-friendly techniques and promotes organic farming in Kyrgyzstan.

From June 19-June 22, 2012, USAID joins delegations from around the world at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro, to mark the 20th anniversary of the historic Earth Summit.

Photo credit: Jyldyz Niyazalieva, Kyrgyz Agro-Input Enterprise Development Project

Video of the Week

You’re invited to join Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development, which is a multi-year initiative focused on promoting affordable, clean energy solutions for farmers and agribusinesses throughout the developing world. Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development supports market-driven approaches that link modern energy service providers with farmers, processors, input suppliers, and traders. These approaches aim to further integrate clean energy technologies in the agricultural sector to increase production, employ new value-added processing techniques, and reduce post-harvest loss. This Energy Grand Challenge for Development was launched last week at the Frontiers in Development conference and includes an online ideation community that you’re encouraged to join through— find it by clicking on “Join the Community.”

Powering Agriculture: A Grand Challenge for Development is implemented under the Grand Challenge for Development program that invites innovators everywhere to apply science, technology, and creative business models to address obstacles in the path of human development. USAID and its partners – the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Duke Energy, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) – seek to catalyze a movement of solvers to identify clean energy solutions to intensify the agriculture sector, enhance food security, and decouple food production from the use of fossil fuels. For more information on how to join the community now, share ideas, review the pre-solicitation notice, and apply for a grant starting July 12th, please visit:

Pressures on the Plundered Planet

Director, Centre for the Study of African Economies, Oxford University

Director, Centre for the Study of African Economies, Oxford University

Paul Collier, Professor of Economics at Oxford University, spoke earlier today at USAID’s Frontiers in Development Forum, and will speak again tomorrow morning. Below is an excerpt from his contribution to the Frontiers in Development essays.

As the world economy grows, it increasingly faces natural constraints. These provide both new opportunities and new risks for the poorest countries; managing them well will be central to their exit from poverty. These were the themes of The Plundered Planet. Here I bring out some of the key current issues. Industry needs natural resources, for energy and material inputs, but many of the natural resources we use for these purposes have a fixed endowment, which we are depleting. A growing global population needs food, and food needs land, but land suitable for agriculture is finite.

Both industry and agriculture emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but the stock that can be safely absorbed by the atmosphere is finite, and as it builds up it gradually changes the climate. How concerned should we be about these constraints, and what do they imply for development?

I think that the concerns about industrialization grinding to a halt because of shortages of vital natural-resource inputs are misplaced. As any particular resource becomes depleted, its price rises. In turn, this induces fresh investment in prospecting and so furthers discoveries, and ultimately research into innovation. This has happened so many times across such a wide range of activities that we can be fully confident of it. The past decade of rising prices for natural resources has already triggered these waves of investment. Currently, by far the highest-valued natural resource is carbon-based energy, from oil, coal, and gas. The high prices of the past decade have triggered an astonishing wave of new technologies that enable us to tap into endowments that were previously inaccessible: The United States has already discovered enough additional resources through these new technologies to be self-sufficient for several decades. Beyond technology-based discoveries are technology-based
substitutes: For example, in the 19th century, nitrates were considered vital and finite; then we discovered modern fertilizers.

Similarly, the global population will not face hunger because of land shortages. There are still huge areas of grossly underutilized fertile land; beyond that are drip-feed and greenhouse technologies that open up lands that are currently too dry or cold. Nor will we face a stark choice between energy shortage and overheating. Although global supplies of carbon-based energy are finite, there are many non-carbon sources of energy waiting to be developed. Indeed, modern physics tells us that the endowment of other forms of energy is infinite: The challenge of permanently sustained energy supply is entirely technological, and we can be confident that innovations will be forthcoming. But although we are not facing a natureimposed Armageddon, natural resources, climate, and food are interconnected in ways that pose new opportunities and new risks for the poorest developing countries.

Read the full article in USAID’s Frontiers in Development publication.

Ask the Expert: Eric Postel, on Economic Growth, Education, and Environment

For Earth Day, the Impact Blog interviewed Eric Postel, Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment (E3).

You are head of the E3 bureau, which works in the environment, energy, water and climate change sectors, among others.  In the context of Earth Day, why is this work so important?

When I was a freshman in High School, I was one of the organizers of the first Earth Day.  I’ve been committed to environmental issues ever since.

These issues – such as forests, water, and climate change – touch upon all areas of sustainable development, including agricultural productivity, economic growth, gender issues, and health. The economies of many developing countries are heavily dependent on industries that could be severely impacted by climate change such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and tourism.  Poor communities are more limited in their ability to adapt to climate change.  As a result, climate change can compound pre-existing social stresses including poverty, hunger, conflict, migration, and the spread of disease.

Eric Postel, Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment (E3) Photo Credit: USAID

2012 is the U.N. Year of Sustainable Energy for All. What is USAID doing to promote clean energy?

Globally, 1.6 billion people lack access to modern energy services, such as electricity, and more than two  billion rely on traditional fuels, such as wood and dung, for cooking, often paying significant portions of their income for low quality fuels. USAID is working around the world to address energy poverty by helping to provide clean, renewable energy for their citizens to power their homes, schools, health clinics, and businesses.  This work literally helps power development across all sectors.  It is also a critical component of dealing with the world’s expanding population and the pressures that this growth will place on the environment. Over the next 20 years, worldwide energy demand is projected to increase by 40 percent. Continued dependence on fossil fuels to meet this increasing demand contributes to increasing greenhouse gas emissions and economic disruption from increasing world competition for fossil fuels. Emissions of carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas, are projected to grow by approximately 40 percent between 2007 and 2030, exacerbating global climate change. This challenge cannot be ignored.

Tell us about USAID’s Climate Change and Development Strategy.

USAID’s Climate Change and Development Strategy, which we released this January, describes our Agency’s vision and strategy to address the challenges that climate change poses to development and livelihoods around the world.  It outlines the Agency’s goals, strategic objectives, and guiding principles for climate change programming, and lays out a roadmap for implementation.

This strategy specifies three strategic objectives that will guide our future work. USAID will: 1. accelerate the transition to low emission development through investments in clean energy and sustainable landscapes for climate change mitigation; 2. increase the resilience of people, places, and livelihoods through investments in climate change adaptation; and 3. strengthen development outcomes by integrating climate change in USAID programming, learning, policy dialogues, and operations.

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Tell USAID’s Story with Photos – Last Call

To celebrate Earth Day this year, USAID is hosting a photo contest to showcase the ways we are working to conserve the environment and mitigate climate change.

The contest is open to all, including USAID employees and interns; employees of NGOs and contractors; and representatives from universities, foundations and other organizations that partner with the Agency.

The deadline for photos is midnight, April 16, 2012.

Winning photos must:

  • Illustrate why and how USAID is engaged in the specific environmental project. Photos of people, animals, plants and landscapes that are relevant to programs are all eligible.
  • Include the date and location for the photograph as well as a brief description of what is happening in the image.
  • Be at least 300 dpi or larger (low resolution photos will not be considered).
  • Be in color (black and white photos will not be considered).
  • Submitted digitally, with jpg files preferred.

Each photographer can submit up to five images. Contest photos should not have been previously submitted to USAID for another purpose. Also, note that submitting a photo through this contest grants USAID full reproduction rights to the images, including use in official USAID print and online publications and inclusion in the USAID photo gallery.

Photos will be selected and announced in time for Earth Day.  See last year’s winning photos here.

Pounds of Prevention: Focus on Locusts

Locusts like the ones pictured above can destroy crops and pasture land once they form a swarm. Photo Credit: Sonya Green/ USAID.

Imagine discovering that within a few hours your entire crop for the season had been consumed by unwelcome visitors. In this edition of “Pounds of Prevention,” USAID examines the desert locust, a pest that affects the lives of millions of people in more than 65 countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia, an area that represents about 20 percent of the earth’s surface. The idea for this post came from CNN’s recent coverage of the Desert Locust Control Center in Mauritania that USAID supports through its agreement with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Mauritania is just one of several countries in West Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Middle East to benefit from the FAO’s locust prevention system known as the EMPRES Program, to which USAID and other donors contribute.


Women Combating Climate Change

Last week I was in Durban, South Africa where I attended the Seventeenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-17). Climate-resilient, low carbon development is sustainable development, so it’s no surprise that many of the issues addressed at COP-17 are crucially important to USAID’s development efforts and to our developing country partners such as adaptation, clean energy technologies, and REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).  USAID is emerging as a leader in gender and REDD+ and recently released a report which analyzes the barriers and opportunities for women’s participation in the REDD+ sector in Asia.

One of the issues I came to Durban to discuss is a key topic throughout climate change-related work – the critical role women play in combating climate change and the need to support gender equality across climate issues.

Last Monday, I hosted an event that covered the efforts of USAID’s Central African Regional Program for the Environment to engage civil society in forest conservation and REDD+ programs in the Congo River Basin.  USAID forestry specialists, partners, and local experts described how technology and community-based work are keys to sustainably conserving the second largest tropical rain forest in the world, and a significant carbon sink.  As efforts like Wangari Mathaai’s Greenbelt movement have demonstrated, women play a critical role in forest conservation and reforestation.  Involving local communities in the conservation efforts of course includes incorporating women into all aspects of the program – from design to implementation.

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Remembering A Green Revolutionary: Wangari Maathai

KENYA, Nairobi : Then-Senator Barack Obama plants a tree with Wangari Maathai during a ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 28, 2006. AFP Photo: Simon Maina

Wangari Maathai was a pioneer. The first female African to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, her Green Belt Movement, launched in 1977, was ahead of its time in integrating sustainable development with women’s rights. The organization now has branches in 30 countries, promoting action on climate change, community regeneration, and equal opportunity. To date, the Green Belt Movement has planted over 45 million trees across Kenya to combat deforestation, stop soil erosion, and generate income for women and their families.

Wangari Maathai was a humanitarian. She fought the vicious cycle of environmental degradation and poverty. Poor families struggling to meet their own needs often have to strip their own environment for resources, but when those resources disappear, families have an even harder time making a living—and even fewer chances to create a better future. Maathai understood this and worked to ensure that her efforts to conserve the land also led to employment and empowerment among the most vulnerable people.

Wangari Maathai was a peacemaker. The Nobel Committee awarded her its 2004 Peace Prize in recognition of the fact that proper management of natural resources reduces conflict and is critical to peace and stability. Her Nobel citation does not even mention the word “environment,” instead crediting “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.”

While today we mourn Wangari Maathai’s passing, we also celebrate her life and her indelible impact on the world. We too can make a difference if we follow in her footsteps to never give up on protecting our future.

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