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Archives for Food Security

Horn of Africa Drought: Immediate Crisis Requires Long-Term Solutions

Paul Weisenfeld, Assistant to the Administrator, Bureau for Food Security

In the eastern Horn of Africa, a massive drought has left over 11 million people vulnerable to severe food insecurity and in need of emergency assistance. USAID is working with the international community to ensure that critical assistance is mobilized to support those in need. But emergency assistance alone cannot solve the underlying causes of food insecurity in the Horn of Africa. Severe food insecurity in this part of the world is driven by cyclical drought, poor land management practices, limited availability of animal health services, food inflation, conflict over land and water, poor hygiene practices, and lack of dietary diversity. This is why my colleagues and I are so passionate about supporting Feed the Future, the U.S. government initiative to address the root causes of hunger and poverty.

In July, I visited the region and areas in Kenya where Feed the Future is focusing investments to sustainably address these challenges in the long term. As I traveled though the North Eastern province of Kenya, I met with local families, farmers, and livestock dealers; it was clear that they are facing serious threats to their livelihoods.  One family from the Mwingi region reported that it has not rained since last year and that there has not been a harvest since 2009.  They fortunately have a water source so they aren’t extremely food insecure—yet.  If the drought continues, this region is in danger of becoming severely food insecure, with dire consequences for its people.

With the frequency of droughts increasing over the last decade, it’s become increasingly difficult for people to recover from one shock before another one strikes.  Such shocks drive conflict over land and water, disrupt economic activity, and leave young men vulnerable to unemployment and recruitment into extremist groups, like al-Shabaab.  In such volatile conditions, food insecurity looms as an ever-present threat.   Yet even under severe circumstances, there are clear signs of the population’s resilience and determination.  I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Asha Adan Khalif, a mango producer and one of several women serving on a leadership committee for a communal farm in the North Eastern province.  The farm consists mostly of former livestock herders (pastoralists) who were forced to “drop out” of pastoralism after their livestock perished in prior droughts.  Since then, they have successfully converted to farming, with many of them exporting produce to the Middle East.  A third of the households on this farm are headed by women (who are the ones most often acutely affected by food insecurity) and the community includes a broad mix of families from different ethnic groups.  It was heartening to see how women’s leadership on this communal farm has contributed to diversity, security, and productivity among those families most vulnerable to the drought.

Our efforts through Feed the Future will be critical in the coming years to achieve sustainable food security for families like those I met in Kenya. In particular, Feed the Future’s work on developing drought-tolerant crops and promoting more efficient water management in Kenya will directly and positively impact incomes in the region and help to build household resiliency.  Other long term efforts to strengthen Kenya’s livestock market, improve livestock management, expand economic access and alternative livelihoods for women, and improve nutrition are just some of the ways in which Feed the Future can contribute to regional stability and support sustainable food security.  Already there are key interventions taking place on the ground, such as the Kenya Drylands Livestock Development Program, which is enhancing productivity and market competitiveness of livestock in Kenya to increase production for local consumption and marketing, and export trade.

As these kinds of programs become increasingly effective over time, USAID and its partners are striving to bring such interventions to scale, to ensure that Feed the Future has the greatest possible impact and increases resilience among vulnerable populations.

New Invasive Species Database: Supports Food Security and Public Health

By James Hester, Director of USAID’s Office of Natural Resources Management

African farmers lose more than $7 billion in maize crops from the invasive witchweed, according to estimates by the United Nations. Overall, agricultural losses to invasive species may amount to more than $12 billion for Africa’s eight principal crops. African farmers are not alone in this challenge – worldwide, invasive species are among the larger causes of reduced food production and post-harvest losses.

In addition, invasive species can be major vectors for human and animal diseases that were previously not found in a region.  Malaria, West Nile virus, Rift Valley fever, and Lyme disease are just a few of the many diseases that are spreading as the insects that carry them find their way into new regions and countries.

Africanized bees, fire ants, snakehead fish, kudzu, carp, water hyacinth, and thousands of other species are spreading to countries where they are not native, and in which few or no natural predators exist – creating serious economic and social issues.

To get a handle on this problem, USAID, along with a large group of partners, have collaborated to develop an innovative, international invasive species compendium – a scientific database of invasive species, animal diseases, and affected areas around the world.  This new internet-based system is available for public use at no cost.  It presently contains a bibliographic database of about 1,500 invasive species, along with more than 65,000 records and full text documents, both of which are updated weekly.

This is a living compendium, and it will continue to grow over time. It is structured to help scientists with expertise in invasive species communicate with each other, and to support each other – from across the globe if necessary – as they work to address the problems created by invasive species.  It also includes common names in addition to the Latin taxonomic names, as well as other non-technical materials so the general public can take advantage of the depth of knowledge this new website offers.

The website features a library with sections on the characteristics of invasive species, the way they are dispersed, and the impacts they have on economies, habitats, and societies. It also addresses how to detect, manage, and control invasive species. This video introduces the database and explains how to use it.

USAID, along with USDA and other international donors including the U.K. Department for International Development, the Canadian International Development Agency, and Australian Aid, among others, all helped fund this project. USAID’s partner in developing the technical database was CABI – a private, international organization with 46 member countries dedicated to the generation, accessibility, and use of knowledge for sustainable agriculture, environmental management, and human development.

U.S. Response to Drought in Horn of Africa

Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator, USAID

Here at the port of Djibouti, thousands of metric tons of food assistance are ready to be shipped as part of the U.S. response to the massive drought currently ravaging the Horn of Africa. USAID is mobilizing nutritious split peas, along with  vitamin-fortified corn-soya blend and other commodities, from warehouses around the world to assist the more than 10 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia most affected by the drought.

The USAID-funded Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) began warning of the possibility of this crisis as early as summer 2010. Today, it has developed into the region’s worst drought since the 1950s. Consecutive seasons of poor rainfall have resulted in failed crops, dying livestock, and sky-high market prices—the cost of staple cereals are 40 to 240 percent higher in some areas. Malnutrition has reached emergency levels: one out of every two Somali refugees arriving in Ethiopia and one out of every three arriving in Kenya is acutely malnourished.

This week, USAID activated a disaster assistance response team (DART) operating out of Ethiopia and Kenya to work with the World Food Program, UNICEF, and over a dozen other organizations to coordinate emergency efforts to relieve the crisis. So far this year, the United States has provided more than $366 million to respond to the drought in the Horn of Africa, and continues to explore additional ways to assist those in need.

Learn more about USAID’s response to the drought in the Horn of Africa.

Rural and Agricultural Finance in the Spotlight at Cracking the Nut Conference

By Shari Berenbach, Director of USAID’s Microenterprise Development Office

Some 600 million agricultural smallholders presently earn less than $2 per day – and the press is on to develop effective service methods that both lead to increased food production and food security.  Yet, we know a lot more about what doesn’t work to reach these households than what does. Last Tuesday and Wednesday, leaders in the field of rural and agricultural development and finance met in Washington for the Cracking the Nut conference to address this challenge. The conference, partially sponsored by USAID and coordinated by Anita Campion of AZMJ, aimed to accelerate the impact of the world’s leading rural and agricultural development and finance leaders, uniting them in a collaborative pursuit of learning, leverage, and large-scale change.

The name of the conference references the obstacles in this field – rural and agricultural finance has long been a tough nut to crack. However, as speakers at the conference emphasized, it doesn’t have to remain that way. The innovative application of new technology and ideas to finance has already opened up many opportunities for rural populations. One of the conference highlights was the discussion of different options for increasing banking services in rural areas.

In Kenya, mobile financial services are one means of reducing the cost of outreach to rural populations. Dr. William Jack of Georgetown University discussed this through the example of Safaricom’s M-Pesa service – M stands for mobile and Pesa means cash – which principally offers payments and money transfers through SMS technology. This method has the advantage of being able to increase coverage to a geographically widespread area at a more rapid pace than microfinance institutions (MFIs). Mobile financial services rely upon a network of agents with broad geographic dispersion, and can usually reach people more quickly. They can also team up with MFI institutions to bring a more complete range of mobile banking services. M-Pesa also has lower costs than other payment methods, making it an appealing choice for those with limited income.

With a focus on Latin America, Paul Davis of Pragma and Jorge Daly of Deloitte discussed how to increase bank outreach to individuals in rural areas. Davis discussed one method currently being used in Colombia: the expansion of branchless banking services. In 2010, 360 million transactions per month were conducted in Colombia using branchless banking. This underscores a shift in the attitudes of bank executives towards potential rural customers – once ignored, they are now seen as a profitable investment.

There is also the bottom-up approach of “nano-credit unions.” In Mali, isolated and rural populations, often dependent on rainfall agriculture and lands of diminishing productivity, have little or no access to financial services. Savings groups can act as credit unions to reach these people, according to Dr. John Ambler and Dr. Jeffrey Ashe of Oxfam. NGOs are a crucial partner in this process, because they can introduce savings groups without the larger capital requirements or the regulatory challenges of the formal financial sector. An added benefit to this method is that it also fosters social capital, especially for women, as it creates space for financial conversations and increased solidarity.

The ideas, connections, and impetus for improvement spurred by this conference will continue to develop, as donors, development practitioners, and financiers work to bring services to greater numbers of people and tap into potential markets. Cracking the Nut was one important step in that direction.

The Keys to Sustainability: Capacity Building and Country Ownership

Dr. Montague Demment is Associate Vice President for International Development at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and professor of ecology at the University of California, Davis. This item was originally posted on Agrilinks.

The big question for us all: How do we make agricultural development work and work sustainably? Perhaps the most important game-changer in my opinion is capacity building –both human and institutional – in agriculture and related sciences. Many in the development community agree that this investment was perhaps USAID’s most important and sustained contribution in its 50 years of existence, but now it has faded.

While outsiders struggle to understand how to work at the local level, deal with unfamiliar cultural and economic issues, and make appropriate connections, trained nationals can much more easily stimulate economic and social development. Their impact can be decades-long contributions and when combined with institutional capacity, can sustain development indefinitely.

While it’s true that there is brain drain, that is not the whole story. Two points: first, while some go, others stay. Some loss is no reason to abandon capacity building. We know how to minimize brain drain in the design of our training. Second, many trained individuals who leave initially return and apply their skills through joint business and research projects, investments in startups, and volunteering their expertise.

If we hold up country-driven development as a key element in our approach to FTF, then we need to support the capacity of countries to make their own wise decisions.

So if we want to set the stage for addressing poverty and malnutrition over the next 40 years, creating greater equality globally and having enough economic growth to stabilize human populations by 2050, then we need to find a way now to educate a whole new cohort of people from developing countries who will carry much of the intellectual and political responsibility for achieving those goals.

Senior Leadership Highlight the Importance of Research to the Success of Feed the Future

by Meaghan Murphy, Agriculture and Food Security Portfolio Manager at The QED Group.  This item was originally posted at Agrilinks.

Peter McPherson, President of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, opened the Feed the Future Research Forum welcoming the over 300 participants in the room. He highlighted the 10 themes raised through the e-consultation process that will be taken on through the forum, encouraging participants to think with specificity in the work sessions and throughout the three days, about the framework and partnerships needed to address them.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah reinforced this forum as an opportunity for the US government and USAID to continue deep listening, engagement with and learning from the convened community of experts. He challenged participants of the Forum to bring a lens of strategic focus and also discipline to identify the few “big ideas” and breakthroughs needed to guide the FTF research agenda.  He highlighted a new Leadership Initiative, announced earlier in the day which will support higher education initiatives and institutions, leadership development and capacity building. Administrator Shah proposed several hypotheses to be considered over the coming days, including a focus on dramatic change in four systems globally: 1) Rice and wheat system in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, 2) the Maize mixed systems of Central and Southern Africa, 3) Sudan and the Sahel, and 4) the Ethiopian Highlands. Also encouraged was a hard look at what type of research is invested in and an alignment of funding allocated to these priorities. Other hypotheses emphasized crop research (with focus on climate resistance), animal research, and research on human nutrition, as well as the importance of both public and private sector engagement in moving these forward. Finally, Shah highlighted the combined excellence of USAID and USDA  and the importance of strong partnerships moving forward for the common goal and purpose of Feed the Future.

Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director at the National Security Council, highlighted why this initiative is such a priority to President Obama and this administration and where it came from. She reinforced the theme of engagement and the critical role expertise from the broad community represented in the room will continue to play at all stages. Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of USDA closed the session highlighting both the great opportunity and enthusiasm of having such focus and attention on this issue from the very top as well as the very real challenges and the very difficult resource decisions facing us all.  Both underlined the emphasis on focus, partnership, and demonstrable wins to keep the support and continued momentum in place.

Innovating Our Way to a Second Green Revolution

Robert D. Hormats serves as Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs. Originally posted on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State official blog.

Nearly one billion people — one seventh of the world’s population — suffer from chronic hunger. Because of extreme hunger and poverty, children, adults, and indeed entire societies are prevented from achieving their full potential. But, through the work of many, progress is being made.

Today, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Ambassador Kenneth Quinn of the World Food Prize Foundation, and I honored the former President of Ghana, H.E. John Agyekum Kufuor, and the former President of Brazil, H.E. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, as recipients of the 2011 World Food Prize. Their commitment and visionary leadership have propelled Ghana and Brazil toward meeting Goal 1 of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals — to reduce the prevalence of poverty and hunger by half by the year 2015.

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the World Food Prize. It recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. In preparations for the awards ceremony, I was reminded of the visionary work of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the founder of the World Food Prize, and the crucial impact of innovation in addressing global hunger. Dr. Borlaug’s life story and dramatic successes merit our ongoing respect and appreciation, and should inspire use to better address the food security challenges that we face today.

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Feed the Future: Innovative Mobile Banking Unit to Give Access to More Than 300,000 Farmers

By Renuka Naj, Supervisory Development Outreach and Communications Specialist

As part of Feed the Future, USAID in partnership with Centenary Bank launched a state-of-the-art mobile banking unit.  This unit will bring financial services to more than 300,000 farmers and agri-business enterprises in Amolatar and Amuru districts of northern Uganda.

Under a 50-50 cost-sharing partnership, USAID and Centenary Bank each invested $210,000 for the purchase of the armored truck that will provide a vital service for clients who had little or no access to financial services in their communities.

The mobile unit will be fully staffed by Centenary Bank personnel, including tellers for opening and operating savings accounts, and loan officers.  The mobile bank will travel weekly to 25 locations, including rural trading centers and markets, providing a range of financial services.  About 4,000 people are expected to open accounts in the first year, with the numbers increasing to more than 10,000 in the next three years.

USAID has been working with farmers and producer organizations across Uganda for more than 15 years.  Through Livelihoods and Enterprises for Agricultural Development (LEAD) project, USAID is transforming Uganda’s agricultural sector from subsistence to commercial farming in line with the priorities of the Government of Uganda.

The mobile banking unit will broaden the impact of USAID Uganda’s Development Credit Authority Loan Guarantee Program, a credit facility offered through Centenary Bank, whereby USAID encourages rural lending by sharing some of the risks on agriculture-related credits to Ugandans.

The Power of Wheat: Honoring Borlaug’s Legacy

By Dr. Rob Bertram, Director of the USAID Bureau for Food Security’s Office of Agricultural Research and Transformation

We don’t often stop to think about how much the global  food supply depends on dedicated researchers who work to ensure bountiful harvests for farmers—and indeed for everyone who eats.  Thanks to the vision and work of Dr. Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Prize-winning agricultural scientist, and that of other dedicated researchers, wheat fields in the U.S. and all across the globe have a fighting chance against some of the most dangerous crop disease threats to emerge in decades.

This critical connection was very clear in St. Paul, Minnesota, earlier this week during the annual meeting of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI). I was honored to deliver a keynote address on Monday at the BGRI meeting, which brings together experts from international research centers, universities, national research programs, and governments to collaborate about approaches against the threat of wheat stem rust, which can quickly spread and destroy crops. Dr. Borlaug worked tirelessly to curtail this threat, and bred rust-resistant wheat varieties to help protect people all over the world from devastating disruptions to the global food supply.

His research inspired me, and I am proud of the men and women who continue to make his vision of ending hunger a reality. At USAID, we are leading the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. Our research strategy emphasizes the need for smart investments and global vigilance against wheat stem rust – including monitoring for new strains of it. One of the things we are particularly excited about is the launch of a new state-of-the art greenhouse in Minnesota that USAID and USDA are funding through Feed the Future. It will enable USDA’s researchers to help overseas partners identify disease threats in samples from sent from wheat-producing countries across the world, and will strengthen international research efforts funded by the U.S. and other donors. Because these threats know no borders, this doesn’t just protect the global food supply – it is critical to the health of domestic crops, too.

During the BGRI meeting, attendees visited the University of Minnesota’s research laboratories. As an alum, I can appreciate how much the university has grown since I was a student. Yet there is still a really strong ethic of science in the service of humankind – Dr. Borlaug, who was also educated here, was a shining example of that, and it is amazing how many Minnesota scientists have helped combat crop diseases.

The attendees at the BGRI meeting are from all across the U.S. and indeed many countries around the world – many of which benefit from USAID programs. Going forward, these are some of the emerging leaders with whom we can consult with as we implement food security programs.

We are excited about hosting the Feed the Future Research Forum next week in Washington, D.C., where we will unveil the results of a series of consultations with such leaders and incorporate their input into our broader efforts.

Next week also marks the announcement of the World Food Prize winner, who will join the ranks of leaders recognized for their extraordinary efforts to advance human development by improving global food security.

This week’s BGRI meeting and next week’s events serve as a reminder about why Feed the Future investments in research are so important. They range from supporting the success of individual scientists to building the capacity of research institutions to enable the next generation of researchers to become leaders in their field.

Our goal is for these investments to build on the legacy of Dr. Borlaug’s work and enable us to effect change as we implement our vision – much inspired by his – for global food security.

Planting the Seeds To Feed the Future

Cindy Huang serves as Senior Advisor to the Office of Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative in the U.S. Department of State. This post originally appeared on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State official blog. 

Sunday was a big day for the Administration’s flagship global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. Secretary Clinton was here in Tanzania and broke new ground…literally! In a visit to Mlandizi Town, Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Pinda launched Feed the Future in Tanzania and commemorated the event by planting sweet pepper seedlings in the fields of the Upendo Women’s Group. USAID supports group members to raise incomes and improve nutrition by providing training and technologies, such as high quality seeds and simple irrigation systems, resulting in the increased sale and consumption of vegetables. Upendo’s chairwoman told me that the biggest benefit of the group’s shared greenhouse and land is that the women now exchange ideas and solve problems together that lead to greater productivity on their own plots. USAID also helps the women access financial services and markets so they can continue to grow their businesses.

We’ve all heard that we should eat our vegetables to stay healthy, but adequate nutrition is especially important for pregnant women and children under two — a 1,000 day window of opportunity when nutrition has irreversible impact on lifelong cognitive and physical development. Along with the resources to grow more nutritious local vegetables like leafy greens and sweet potatoes, our program partners provide nutrition education to Upendo’s women, helping to build a long-term foundation for the community’s health and prosperity. Secretary Clinton highlighted the connections between agriculture and nutrition: “I was pleased to hear that already the diversity of crops here is making a difference in the nutritional status of your children. And we think that is a very good result. We hope that you will become not only a model for the country, but you will become a model for all of Africa.”

Under the old shady tree where the women of Upendo hold meetings, learn about agriculture and nutrition and sell their produce, Prime Minister Pinda — a strong supporter of agriculture whose nickname is — “son of the farmer” — spoke about the importance of Tanzania’s partnership with the United States in food security. Both Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Pinda discussed the importance of elevating nutrition as a critical component of food security and referred to a productive meeting earlier in the day with the Irish Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore. At that meeting, Secretary Clinton expressed her gratitude that the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement and 1,000 Days partnership is creating momentum in Tanzania and around the world. Because improving nutrition “requires coordinated activities by many different public, nonprofit, and private entities,” Secretary Clinton highlighted her strong support for Prime Minister Pinda’s announcement of a high-level nutrition steering committee that will include development partners and civil society.

The Secretary’s message of country leadership and broad-based partnership was echoed in a video address presented yesterday at a 1,000 Days civil society meeting in Washington, D.C., organized by Concern Worldwide and Bread for the World — yet another example of cooperation between Ireland and the United States. In the video, Secretary Clinton referred to the special meeting on nutrition in Tanzania and also unveiled the redesigned, which will serve as a platform for the global nutrition community to share ideas, lessons learned and notes from the field. All in all, it was a packed two days that highlighted the nutrition community’s progress on the ground and around the world.

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