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Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

How Better-Trained Farmers are Slowing Brazil’s Deforestation

This originally appeared on the Mercy Corps’ Blog.

In Pará, Brazil, farmers are turning a profit and the government is on track to slow deforestation thanks to local nonprofit Imazon, which got them to work together.

By 2003, Brazil was on the verge of an environmental catastrophe. As its economy expanded, cattle ranchers needed more land to graze their livestock, and few laws prevented them from burning down thousands of square kilometers of untitled land in the Amazon, causing vast environmental damage. In the worst regions, like Pará, widespread poverty meant that stopping deforestation was at the bottom of the government’s list, despite massive efforts by groups like Greenpeace and Imazon.

Imazon has trained Brazilian cattle farmers to use their pastures more efficiently, reducing the need to cut down trees to clear land. Photo credit: Lou Gold/Flickr

A wave of environmental laws passed by the federal government from 2004 to 2008 seemed to complicate things for local governments and economies, even as deforestation rates fell. Many municipal governments couldn’t fully meet government targets under the new regulations but faced economic sanctions if they didn’t. A beef embargo prevented farmers from selling their meat to mainstream supermarket chains like Carrefour and Walmart if their municipality ended up on a blacklist for failing to reduce illegal deforestation to government-mandated levels. The government confiscated herds and sawmills from the law’s offenders. When Paragominas, a municipality in Para where Imazon worked, was placed on the list, 2,300 jobs and all the municipality’s federal agricultural credits disappeared within a year.

Imazon found itself helping save the local economy. It created a training program for the local government to learn how to use satellite technology to track deforestation. Since most of the affected land wasn’t titled, Imazon also helped farmers formalize their land titles and trained them in improved farming techniques, like rotating crops and limiting overgrazing, to make their land more productive and reduce the need to cut down more rainforest.

It worked. Farmers trained in better methods required less land to turn a profit, so they cut down fewer trees.

In just a few years, Imazon’s program in Paragominas helped to reduce illegal deforestation by more than 80 percent. When farmers in Paragominas implemented Imazon’s training techniques, most saw their incomes increase, even as they stopped clearing additional land. Inspired by the success of the program, the state government decided to launch its own Green Municipalities Program in 2011, essentially promoting Imazon’s collaborative approach in Paragominas at a state level. Now, more than 94 of Para State’s 143 municipalities have signed onto the Green Municipalities Program, and both the state government and Imazon are straining to meet the demand.

However, a new breakthrough came when Imazon attracted the attention of the Innovation Investment Alliance (PDF), a new partnership between Mercy Corps, USAID and the Skoll Foundation. This April at the Skoll World Forum, the partners announced their first grant of $3.4 million, complementing an earlier $2.6 million from Skoll. The funding will support Imazon to scale the successes in Paragominas across the state of Para. The project has ambitious goals, as the government has promised to reduce deforestation by 80 percent over the next seven years. By systematizing the training process, the Alliance hopes to leave the state government capable of responding to the growing demand from farmers and municipal governments who have seen Imazon’s programs work in Paragominas.

The question is how Imazon can show their methodologies work. Mercy Corps will help Imazon to test its approach in 10 municipalities serving as guinea pigs, drawing from its own network of experts in impact analysis.

But Imazon’s biggest success may be its ability to get locals on board with its ideas. 94 municipalities have already signed on to reducing deforestation through the Green Municipalities Program, and Cameron Peake, Mercy Corps’s director of social innovations special initiatives, says she’s impressed at how the nonprofit has persuaded the local farmers and government that environmental sustainability, economic growth, land rights and good governance can actually go together.

And that achievement, for one, is too valuable to put a number on.

Photo of the Week: Improving Nutrition in Honduras

Mothers participating in the USAID ACCESO program in Santa Maria, La Paz, Honduras are being taught how to prepare more nutritious food for their undernourished children by incorporating the vegetables they grow in their gardens into their traditional rice and tortilla diet. Here a young child eats a spoonful of visibly nutritious rice, as his older sister looks on. Photo is from Michelle Los Banos-Jardina, USUN Rome.

Follow @USAID@USAIDGH and @FeedtheFuture on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation about global health issues including #nutrition.

Photo of the Week: Eating a Healthy Snack

A young child eats a healthy snack. Photo Credit: Courtney Stokes

Nursery school children enjoy a snack of peanut butter on cassava bread in Aranaputa, Guyana. The peanuts they are eating were provided by farmers in the region, supported by the Peanut and Mycotoxins Innovation Lab. Local cottage industries processed the peanuts, turning them into peanut butter for the children to eat at school.

This program was set up in seven villages throughout the region, serving 1,400 school kids one snack per day. Due to the success of the project, this has been expanded to 47 villages and now serves 4,300 children per day.

Learn more about USAID’s work on improving nutrition

Follow @USAID@USAIDGH and @FeedtheFuture on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation about global health issues including #nutrition.

How Rap Music is Saving Lives in the Caribbean

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

The Caribbean is one of the most hurricane-prone regions in the world, killing people every year and making communities more vulnerable with each and every storm that hits. But it wasn’t a hurricane that put Yen Carlos Reyes at risk.

Reyes’s father dealt drugs in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Dominican Republic and rival gang members routinely raided his home. His mother abandoned Reyes, leaving him to bounce around from one relative’s house to another. At age 17, he was a street fighter in the Dominican Republic, headed for jail—or worse.

Members of the St. Patrick’s Rangers, a voluntary youth club in Jamaica, engage in a map reading session through a disaster preparedness program led by USAID’s partner, Catholic Relief Services. Photo credit: Catholic Relief Services

Reyes’ story is one that resonates with many youth across the islands, where a lack of opportunities leads teens to partake in the crime and violence that plagues their communities. But now, in some of the toughest neighborhoods across the Caribbean, the energy and creativity of at-risk youth are being channeled to help them make the leap from neighborhood trouble-maker to community life saver.

The Youth Emergency Action Committees (YEAC) program led by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) with support from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) is one that transforms teens like Reyes into disaster-preparedness leaders. It teaches young people how to plan for and respond to hurricanes, administer first aid, map out evacuation routes and set up emergency shelters. In dedicating himself to the program, Reyes just may have saved his own life.

Started in September 2009 in four of the most hazard-prone and marginalized neighborhoods of inner-city Kingston, Jamaica, CRS began engaging youth through an ‘edutainment’ approach—education plus entertainment. Teens write music, create skits, and perform them to raise community awareness about disaster preparedness while simultaneously learning life-saving skills. Rap music, in particular, has been a big hit, with the group  coming up with lyrics such as, “Send in the broom and the shovel. Don’t bring the violence, please leave the trouble.” Because the program was so successful, CRS expanded it to the Dominican Republic, St. Lucia and Grenada.

Reyes says his priorities shifted and his life changed when he joined YEAC. With his teammates, Reyes helped build new homes and rehabilitate old ones for families whose houses were not able to withstand natural disasters. When Hurricane Sandy hit Puerto Plata, Reyes and the others on his committee—named El Esquadron, or the Squadron—were ready, helping to relocate 80 families to emergency shelter and implementing a disaster response plan for their community. Reyes says he has a whole new set of goals including going back to school, thanks to the confidence YEAC has given him.

“Little by little, I started to see that I had value and that the other kids weren’t judging me. The work we did within the communities made me feel like I had something to offer and I started to see that my neighbors were looking at me different too,” said Reyes.

Watch this video for an in-depth look on how the program made a positive impact in Jamaica.


Qualcomm and USAID Working to Expand Access to Mobile Technology for the Public Good

This post originally appeared on Qualcomm.

Nathan Fletcher is a senior director of Corporate Development for Qualcomm.

This past week I had the pleasure of signing an MOU with USAID on behalf of Qualcomm. I was joined by Don Steinberg Deputy Administrator for USAID, and I am thrilled with the prospect of this collaboration.

Moving forward, Qualcomm and USAID will focus on programs that address:

  • mWomen and closing the mobile phone gender gap
  • Access to broadband
  • mEducation
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Public safety and crime prevention
  • mHealth
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Food security

It is our hope that the work we do together will result in successful and scalable projects that benefit people in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Through Fishing with 3G Nets, wireless connectivity provides access to training, environmental education and sustainable fishing techniques in Brazil. Photo Credit: Qualcomm

USAID works in more than 100 countries to carry out U.S. foreign policy through the promotion of broad-scale initiatives that promote economic prosperity; strengthen democracy and good governance; protect human rights; improve global health, advance food security and agriculture; improve environmental sustainability and further education.

Qualcomm and USAID have a long history of working together through Qualcomm Wireless Reach. We are looking forward to continuing our initiatives to bring access to mobile technology to underserved communities around the world.

Through Wireless Reach, Qualcomm works with local and global partners like USAID. We have partnered with USAID on a number of projects such asFishing with 3G Nets in Brazil. This program works to promote economic development and increase public safety for isolated fishermen who live in Santa Cruz, Bahia. Here, fishing is a primary source of income for many families, and poverty and overfishing lead to a reduction in resources that posed a threat to their way of life.

To address the problem, participating fishermen have been given wireless devices equipped with software that provides safety information, weather, data-tracking and access to an online market.  This program empowers users to take charge of their income and expenses, more easily connect with their key markets, and better understand their own environment so they are able to make the most of available resources.

Other examples of collaboration with USAID and Wireless Reach include our project in El Salvador, Seguridad Inalambrica, which uses 3G technology to enable law enforcement and municipal government personnel to increase public safety through mapping and sharing information about crimes as they occur. This project is currently being used successfully in several municipalities and has the potential to be implemented in other cities in El Salvador and countries in the region.

Additionally, in the Philippines we have established an mHealth project with USAID called Wireless Access for Health, which successfully streamlines the reporting process at clinics and hospitals using 3G technologies by improving access to accurate and timely patient information. This project has expanded in just three years from four clinics to 37 in and outside of the Tarlac Province and will be expanding even further this year.

Photo of the Week: 2013 Hurricane Preparedness Week

As America saw with Hurricane Sandy, it takes just one bad storm to wreak havoc, kill and injure hundreds and inflict billions of dollars of damages. If one hurricane can do so much damage in the U.S., imagine the impact of similar storms on less developed countries.

Forecasters are predicting an active 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. During this week, we will be highlighting USAID’s work—through its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance—to prepare disaster-prone countries and communities in Latin America and the Caribbean for hurricanes.

The photo above is of children playing in the streets of a camp for internally displaced people in Port-au-Prince, Haiti after Hurricane Tomas made landfall in November 2010. Photo is from Kendra Helmer/USAID.

USAID Prepares for Hurricane Season in Latin America and the Caribbean

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

Top forecasters are saying it could be an extremely active 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, with the National Hurricane Center on May 23 predicting that up to 20 named storms will develop this year, with between seven to 11 of the systems expected to become hurricanes.

Plastic sheeting provided by USAID helps give much needed shelter to a family in Nicaragua following Hurricane Felix in 2007. Photo Credit: Alejandro Torres/USAID

No matter how accurate the forecast turns out to be, Hurricane Sandy taught us that it only takes one major storm to kill more than 70 people in this country, injure hundreds of others, and inflict billions of dollars in damages. If one hurricane could do so much damage in the U.S., imagine the impact of similar storms on less developed countries.

USAID is prepared to meet the demands of an active hurricane season. All year, experts with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) have been working closely with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to make sure emergency and evacuation plans are in place. USAID has emergency stockpiles in Miami, including medical supplies, hygiene kits, shelter materials, and water purification equipment. We have the ability to charter planes in eight different countries to deliver these life-saving items quickly to countries hit hard by hurricanes. When we know a storm is coming, we can pre-position staff and relief supplies to provide immediate assistance.

But arguably, the most vital resource USAID has is its people. In addition to the 25 disaster experts USAID/OFDA has in the region, there are also about 350 consultants in 28 countries who can immediately jump into the action when a hurricane makes landfall. These consultants live in the region, so they know the country, culture and local officials and can quickly report the conditions on the ground and help USAID prioritize humanitarian needs.

USAID airlifted emergency relief supplies to the Bahamas when Hurricane Irene made landfall in 2011. Photo credit: USAID

“They are our eyes and ears, and they allow USAID to be fast, aggressive and robust in a disaster response,” said Tim Callaghan, USAID/OFDA’s Principal Regional Advisor in Latin America and the Caribbean.  “They work to save lives and alleviate suffering.”

All this week, we will be highlighting what USAID and its partners are doing in preparation for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, from protecting people from deadly flash floods to teaching children in Jamaica to become the next generation of disaster experts.

Youth Win in Central America

“Miss Stefanie.” I turned around to see who had just called my name.  “Can I practice my English with you?” asked Eddie, one of the two Honduran youth moderators who would be leading the following day’s event to officially launch the USAID “A Ganar” (To Win) program in Central America.

Since 2005, the A Ganar program has reached over 11,000 youth between the ages of 16-24, 7,000 of which have graduated from the program. Photo Credit: USAID

Since 2005, the A Ganar program has reached over 11,000 youth between the ages of 16-24, 7,000 of which have graduated from the program. Photo Credit: USAID

Eddie explained that he had been practicing his English skills while participating in the A Ganar program, a youth workforce development program which teaches life and employability skills to at-risk youth through sports.  He was proud of his progress and motivated by the chance to speak in front of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and United States Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske (not to mention a few hundred of his fellow A Ganar participants).

I listened to him intently, impressed by his thoughtful and well-written remarks in English.  The next day, I watched him stand on stage, exuding confidence, as he addressed his country’s President and the U.S. Ambassador.

Eddie is from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the most dangerous city in the most dangerous country in the world.  Those odds put him at-risk of falling victim to a life of crime, drugs, or gang violence.  The program provided Eddie with an alternate path; one that has helped lead him toward a positive and productive future.

A growing number of young people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean continue to leave school without basic literacy and life skills, contributing to alarming youth unemployment rates and rising gang violence. Oftentimes a lack of basic skills, combined with challenging and dangerous circumstances, makes it difficult for young people to break from this cycle of violence in their communities.

Through the A Ganar program, USAID targets at-risk youth like Eddie in fifteen countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, using soccer as a powerful motivator and tool to teach young people important values like respect and responsibility, as well as other vital skills that will help them achieve success as they enter the workforce, pursue their education further, or start their own business.

Sports-based activities, such as playing soccer while holding hands with a teammate, are used to facilitate lessons about teamwork and communication.  The field-based A Ganar curriculum is reinforced in the classroom where youth strengthen their basic reading, writing, math and technical skills, and gain the self-confidence and motivation they need to help them succeed.

Since 2005, the A Ganar program has reached over 11,000 youth between the ages of 16-24, 7,000 of which have graduated from the program.  Over 70% of graduates have gone on to find formal employment, start their own business, or return to school.



LGBT Families at USAID: Integration and Solidarity in Nicaragua

In 2009, Secretary Clinton announced that the U.S. State Department would extend benefits to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers. Although I didn’t officially begin working for USAID until September 2012, I had applied to the agency’s Development Leadership Initiative program that summer and had little idea just how much this and other policy advancements towards LGBT equality would impact me, my family and my work just a few years later.

USAID Democracy, Human Rights and Governance officer Jessica Morrison with her wife and newborn daughter. Photo credit: Jessica Morrison/USAID

My wife and I departed for Nicaragua for my first assignment as a Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Officer in August 2012, having just learned that I was pregnant with our daughter. I had the good fortune of being assigned to a Mission with a long legacy of work with the LGBT community through its HIV/AIDS programming, and an incredibly supportive Ambassador, supervisor and Mission Director (who caught me more than once sleeping under my desk at lunch during those exhausting days of the first trimester). My wife, now considered an “eligible family member” under the new policy, was able to apply for and obtain employment at the Embassy, providing a source of income during my maternity leave.

In December 2012, the Mission leadership passed a Mission Order to provide guidance on further integrating LGBT persons and priorities into its programs, which has served as a model in the region. In February 2013, the interagency LGBT Working Group collaborated to host a half-day workshop at the U.S. Embassy for leaders from the LGBT community in order to better understand their needs and priorities and to inform them of policy changes and upcoming opportunities for U.S. Government support of their work.

Unfortunately, despite advances throughout Latin America towards LGBT equality, the LGBT community in Nicaragua still suffers widespread societal discrimination and gender-based violence, issues that USAID will continue to address through its health and democracy, human rights and governance programming. However, our experience here in the capital of Managua – first as a same-sex couple and now as two proud new mothers – has been nothing but positive, giving me hope that the tides are turning in Nicaragua. While we were likely the first same-sex couple to give birth at the main hospital here in Managua, which caused some confusion at City Hall when picking up our daughter’s birth certificate, our Nicaraguan caregivers, colleagues and friends have greatly enriched our experience, and we are delighted with our decision to remain here for her delivery.

As I write this from Managua with my wife, mother, parents-in-law, and newborn baby girl by my side, the theme of this year’s International Day of Families, “Advancing Social Integration and Intergeneration Solidarity,” feels especially appropriate. Not only am I privileged to work for an agency that recognizes the value and importance of advancing the integration of LGBT families both within the agency and in its programming, but I am blessed that our little one has three grandparents and two great-grandparents who embrace and celebrate the diversity of our family almost as much as they celebrate her arrival.

From Haiti to Kenya – Honoring the Wisdom & Contributions of Moms

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 11-17, we will be featuring the important role of mothers and partnerships in Global Health.

While visiting Haiti last month, I met with a group of farmers to discuss how they were using micro-loans from a local cooperative association. During the conversation, a woman mango grower spoke about using credit to pay her kids’ school fees prior to harvest and then using profits from the sale of her fruit to pay off the loan. It reminded me of a conversation with Maasai women during a trip to Kenya where they recounted the use of proceeds from their cattle fattening business to pay school fees for kids in their community. Both exchanges brought to life the critical role that mothers—and women generally—play in promoting development around the world.

A woman and her baby. Photo Credit: Adriane Ohanesian

Mother’s Day provides a special opportunity for us to reflect on the role moms play in our lives and in the lives of people around the world. In the home, mothers are often the primary caregivers. They are important in ensuring that children receive the food, health care and education needed to grow into healthy, productive adults. They are educators, teaching children skills that will last a lifetime. The American Sociology Association estimates that moms spend 10 more hours a week multitasking than fathers, mainly doing housework and taking care of kids. At the same time, they are often also generating income for the family. That income is critical to kids’ well-being because girls and women have been found to spend 90 percent of their earned income on their families, while men only spend between 30-40 percent that way. Given their multiple, critical roles, we need to think about how we can support moms and leverage their contributions. Invest in mothers and we can grow economies, alleviate poverty and create the foundation for sustainable growth and development.

In the past twenty years, mothers have been instrumental in helping reduce the mortality rate for children under five years old by almost fifty percent. Unfortunately, today, every two minutes, a mother dies during childbirth. A staggering 80 percent of those deaths could be prevented by providing access to basic health services. Similarly, almost 19,000 children under five still die daily from preventable causes. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia bear 75 percent of the global disease burden, and mothers and children continue to suffer disproportionately from these illnesses borne of poverty. USAID is working hard, in partnership with country governments and non-governmental organizations globally, to reduce these preventable deaths.

Through continuous improvements to monitoring and evaluation, we are  directing resources toward increasing services for underserved populations; concentrating on the primary causes of child deaths in the hardest hit countries.  We are being strategic with taxpayer dollars by investing in programs that yield the greatest results. Our development efforts are increasingly focused on educating girls, empowering women, and promoting inclusive economic growth. That’s because we know that educated mothers are less likely to die in childbirth, more likely to send their kids to school, and provide better nutrition and health care at home. In fact, data suggests that each additional year of schooling reduces the likelihood that a mother’s child will die as an infant by 10 percent.

At USAID, we are supporting mothers worldwide. Since June 2012, the agency has been helping lead the U.S. Government’s push to renew the global effort to end preventable child death. We are committed to utilizing resources, technology, and expertise to achieve the A Promise Renewed for Child Survival goal of reducing the under five-mortality rate to below 20 deaths per 1000 live births by the year 2035. Reaching this target is a team effort by governments, civil society, the private sector, innovators, and the global health and faith-based community. Workings together, the international community can help ensure a promising future for all women and their children.

We know the statistics and we know what we need to do. We know that investing in mothers pays dividends for children, families, communities and nations. The data is clear but it’s the stories from the women in Haiti, Kenya, and around the world that bring those numbers to life. This Mother’s Day, let’s honor their wisdom and their contributions.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.


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