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Archives for Food Security

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.

Nutrition and Food Security: What Matters Most

Every day, two billion people in the world do not consume enough nutrients to live healthy, productive lives. As the head of the Bureau for Food Security at USAID, the magnitude of this number – two billion – is why I am so serious about my work. As a father, another number resonates with me: 200 million. That is the number of kids who suffer from chronic undernutrition worldwide. This is a serious issue that contributes to chronic hunger, poverty, and susceptibility to disease.

That’s where my work – and that of my colleagues from across the U.S. government, private sector, civil society, and host-country governments — comes in. Building on decades of support for development programs, the U.S. is strengthening partnerships and integrating its global nutrition and agriculture investments like never before. Nutrition is the defining link between the U.S. Feed the Future and Global Health initiatives, which aim to reduce undernutrition through integrated investments in health, agriculture, and social protection.

There are countless reasons why this is important: Good nutrition can be a critical driver for economic growth and poverty reduction. Nutrition programs can empower women and girls by increasing their access to assets and education. By linking our agriculture and nutrition programs, we contribute to healthier, more productive and resilient communities by ensuring better access to better quality food, which increases the quality and diversity of diets. Our efforts also improve accessibility to water and sanitation and health systems, and support better nutritional practices in the household.

I was honored to participate today in a panel focused on the critical 1,000 day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday at a panel discussion during Bread for the World’s 2011 National Gathering conference. Children suffering from undernutrition in this period face physical stunting and mental impairment that cannot be reversed, so later in life they suffer poorer performance in school and lower incomes. That’s not something I take lightly; nor does the U.S. government. We are strategically focusing our nutrition efforts on this 1,000 day window to help ensure that pregnant mothers and their children are afforded a better, healthier, more prosperous and happy future.

I want that for my own daughter, and for those 200 million kids, too.

We need to work together, pushing for innovative and creative solutions to undernutrition and food insecurity. I look forward to meeting next week with some of the brightest minds in agriculture and food security at the Feed the Future Research Forum in Washington, D.C., as we collaborate to do just that. In the weeks and months ahead, together, we can make an impact in the fight against hunger and poverty – and in the lives of millions of people across the globe.

Investing in Women to Defeat Hunger in Malawi

Submitted by guest blogger Anita McCabe, Country Director, Concern Worldwide, Malawi

As the hot, dry breeze wafts through the lakeside district of Nkhotakota, Malawi, a group of women sing as they take turns to water their near-ripe crop of maize. Further downstream, another group is busy making seed beds in preparation for another crop.

Like many women in developing countries, these women face a particular set of responsibilities and vulnerabilities when it comes to providing food for their families. Not only are they the primary caregivers, they are also the producers of food and the income earners. Women farmers in rural areas of Malawi grow, buy, sell, and cook food in order to feed their children. In fact, in all the countries in which I’ve worked during my time with Concern Worldwide, I’ve seen how very hard women must work to ensure the survival of their families, and the burdens they bear.

Women produce between 60 and 80 percent of food in developing countries, and they hold the key to tackling hunger and malnutrition. A woman’s nutritional status is critical not only to her own health but also to her ability to work, and her ability to ensure that her children are properly nourished and healthy.

Nkhotakota has suffered from recurring drought and flooding, and the people here know the consequences. “As a woman, it hurts to see my children cry with hunger” says Grace Kalowa from Thondo village. “It’s more painful as a mother to tell them that I don’t have any food to give them. In their eyes I am supposed to provide for them but knowing that I can’t do anything is heartbreaking. That feeling of desperation is what brought us together as women to drive hunger away from our families.”

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Making the Grade: U.S. Government Progress in Global Agricultural Development

Originally posted on DipNote, the official blog of the U.S. Department of State.
Ambassador Ertharin Cousin serves as U.S. Representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.

I am inspired by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ gathering of America’s most committed leaders from several professions to focus on global agriculture and food security. This Administration’s progress stems from bi-partisan support for results-driven, country-led, multi-stakeholder collaboration. When leaders such as Congresswoman Kay Granger, Bill Gates, Catherine Bertini, and Dan Glickman put their minds together, there’s no limit to the ingenuity applied to the substantial challenges we face in global agriculture and food security today.

There is no doubt that food security is vital to national security. In 2009, President Obama announced food security as a priority for the United States, and we are on track to meet our commitment of $3.5 billion over three years through the flagship U.S. global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. To do so, we take a multi-sectoral approach and build on areas where Americans have a comparative advantage. For example, we have tripled investment in agricultural research since 2008. At the Chicago Council event, Administrator Shah cited a two-thirds increase in funding for Title XII academic institutions to leverage expertise in capacity building, agricultural research and extension services, along with an intent to work through multidonor platforms seeking to strengthen lasting agricultural institutions. We invest in high impact solutions such as proven nutrition interventions that focus on women and children from pregnancy until the child’s second year — a critical 1,000 day window for cognitive and physical development.

We leverage our investments through multilateralism. Through my travel to Bangkok, I witnessed firsthand the impact of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization regional meetings on food price volatility to shift focus to knowledge-based solutions that discourage protectionist responses, such as hoarding and imposing export restrictions. We are working through the International Fund for Agricultural Development to boost investment for small holder farmer (including women) in developing countries. We are changing the way we address humanitarian assistance as well. By striving to best address of the needs of the most vulnerable and those in crisis, we have become the world’s fastest responder to food emergency through partnership with the World Food Program and civil society organizations. The World Food Program’s Purchase for Progress project demonstrates how markets can be created and augmented by sharing upfront knowledge and training and then stepping aside for private sector engagement. We continue to hear of new success stories around the world — from Ethiopia to Bangladesh.

While we strive for improved policy, strengthened institutions, and stronger partnerships, this Administration has succeeded in changing the playing field in agricultural development and food security. From farmers to policymakers, there is greater global coordination and collaboration to support country-led agricultural development plans. U.S. agricultural development investment now flows through a rigorous planning and evaluation process that will provide greater transparency and accountability to American taxpayers. We are also pioneering a women’s agricultural empowerment index to better track the impact of our work on women and girls. Never before have members from civil society, the private sector and government officials worked so intently to address global food security and deservedly so — the stakes are high and will continue to rise.

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