Twenty years ago I visited Tajikistan for the first time. Then a young USAID program officer, that journey took me south toward Khatlon Province near the border with Afghanistan.
Tajikistan faced civil conflict, and on that first trip I saw many buildings destroyed by war. I was there to inspect warehouses and observe humanitarian programs helping displaced Tajiks who barely had enough to eat. All the food I saw being distributed came from outside Tajikistan, donated by international donors in an effort to provide immediate relief.
Returning to Central Asia as USAID mission director in late fall 2013, I have since taken several trips to Khatlon Province, all organized around Feed the Future, arguably the single most important U.S. Government initiative in terms of addressing poverty issues in the poorest region of Central Asia. Undernourishment remains a critical challenge today in Tajikistan. Nearly one out of three children under 5 are “stunted” and nearly 7 percent are described as “wasted”—where their muscle and fat literally waste away.
Most households in Khatlon depend on remittances from fathers, sons and brothers working in Russia. Indeed, remittances represent approximately half the GDP, making Tajikistan the most remittance-dependent country in the world. Nearly one out of 10 Tajiks live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25/day. Roughly the same proportion of Tajik women are undernourished.
Yet what I saw on these recent trips is vastly different and more hopeful than what I witnessed two decades ago. USAID programs, working with Tajik colleagues and counterparts, are now able to focus on growing food, not distributing emergency supplies. Feed the Future in particular is at the center of this effort, aiming to expand production, reduce poverty and improve nutrition.
Today USAID programs are able to focus on growing food, not distributing emergency supplies. Feed the Future is also training young mothers in Khatlon Province, Tajikistan, on how to prepare more nutritious meals for their children.
An entire younger generation no longer remembers a country that was once torn apart by war—and Tajikistan can finally experience a 'peace dividend' of sorts.
Today, local farmers make their own cropping decisions, no longer forced into blindly following orders passed down from bureaucrats working far away.
A full spectrum of issues is being addressed, ranging from building water-users associations, to educating farmers about their rights, to strengthening production value chains, to educating families about improved nutrition.
Feed the Future is a key driver of this change. Our programs in Tajikistan focus on the neediest districts of the Khatlon Province, itself one of Tajikistan’s poorest regions. Our efforts target women of reproductive age as well as children during the crucial ’1,000 days’ period from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday. Feed the Future empowers Tajiks to pull themselves out of poverty and insecurity by giving farmers the tools and the skills to succeed. Reducing chronic hunger is essential to building a foundation for development investments in health, education, and economic growth. It is essential to the sustainable development of Tajik individuals and communities.
This is good for the people Tajikistan. But it is also good for the world, and, yes, for Americans back home. Tajikistan shares a long and porous border with Afghanistan. Our efforts to improve living conditions in Tajikistan therefore have a direct impact on regional security. Today, we have a unique opportunity to partner with Tajikistan as it moves away from a Soviet-style planning system toward country-led economic growth that will lay the foundation for long-term stability and prosperity.
One stop in my most recent trip included a meeting with a group of Tajik women. Unprompted, a little girl of about three held by one of them broke loose and walked over to where I was sitting, planting herself firmly in my lap for the rest of the meeting.
While our conversation touched on many topics, what I remember most about that trip is the fact that this little girl is not a number or a statistic or even a “beneficiary” of a particular aid program.
She is a real person, loved by her family and with a future ahead of her—one that Feed the Future is working to ensure is much brighter than would have been the case two decades ago. Projects like this involve real people with real hopes and dreams—and, in this case, a new generation that deserves a much better and more prosperous future.
This post originally appeared on the USAID blog.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) today announced a $5 million partnership with Texas A&M University’s World Coffee Research to eliminate coffee rust, a plant disease that has caused more than $1 billion in economic damage across Latin America and the Caribbean since 2012 and seriously threatens the livelihoods and food security of those who make their living in the coffee industry, especially small farmers.
The partnership will support research on rust-resistant coffee varieties, address the shortage of disease-resistant coffee seedlings, and expand the capability of the region’s coffee institutions to monitor and respond to coffee rust. Central America’s smallholder farmers grow the bulk of the region’s specialty coffee, a lucrative commodity that is in increasingly high demand in the United States and around the world. With USAID’s investment, research will focus on establishing a more resilient and higher quality regional coffee sector.
“Coffee rust threatens more than your morning coffee—it affects jobs, businesses, and the security of millions across the Americas,” said USAID’s Associate Administrator Mark Feierstein. “We must tackle this outbreak to ensure farmers and laborers have stable incomes, don't start growing illicit crops, or be forced to migrate because they can no longer support their families. This partnership will tap innovative solutions to address the immediate and long-term impacts of coffee rust and help this key agriculture sector rebound.”
The current coffee rust outbreak is the worst in Latin America’s history. Reasons for current outbreak are varied, but USAID plant experts say that climate change is exacerbating the crisis. It is estimated that production will fall by as much as 15-40% in the coming years, which could trigger job losses exceeding 500,000. Decreased production may lead to decreases in incomes for smallholder farmers, making it harder to afford the fungicides and plant maintenance necessary to control the disease. The negative impacts of coffee rust go beyond the farmers and businesses that support the industry—seasonal laborers and their families are losing an import source of income.
Feed the Future, the U.S Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, is working closely with Latin American and Caribbean governments, international and regional organizations, civil society, coffee associations and the private sector to mitigate the crisis, accelerate the recovery, and enable future growth. Earlier today, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah announced that Feed the Future initiative has reached 7 million small farmers and saved 12.5 million children from the threats of hunger, poverty and malnutrition. Feed the Future and complementary efforts have created thousands of news jobs, attracted billions of dollars in investments focused in agriculture, disbursed affordable new technologies aimed at managing the risks of a changing climate, and brought nutrient-packed foods to the mouths of millions of mothers and children around the world.
Overall, USAID is investing $14 million in the fight against coffee rust. In addition to the World Coffee Research partnership, the United States is:
Providing a regional emergency coffee coordinator to assist with regional coordination and disseminate best practices to combat rust.
Helping to develop a coffee pest early warning system to help predict and mitigate future outbreaks.
Working with regional and global partners to identify and disseminate the most effective mitigation strategies.
Collaborating with international financial institutions and coffee companies to develop new financing opportunities for replanting coffee trees with improved coffee varieties.
When President Obama took office, the world was mired in the midst of food, fuel, and financial turmoil that pushed millions of people back to the precipice of poverty. In 2007 and 2008, food prices hit all-time highs, sending prices for basic staples like rice and wheat beyond the reach of the world’s most vulnerable people.
In this environment, President Obama was determined to reverse course and give millions of people a pathway out of extreme poverty. In his first inaugural address, the president outlined his vision of a world without hunger. “To the people of poor nations,” he said, “we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean water flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.” His remarks marked the beginning of renewed global attention that brought poverty, hunger and undernutrition back to the top of the international agenda.
As one of his first foreign policy acts, President Obama launched Feed the Future. Its aim: to strengthen food security and nutrition for millions of people by focusing on the smallholder farmers at the foundation of the world’s agriculture system. This week, Feed the Future marks four years of progress and has just released a report on its impact to date.
In the spirit of this progress, here are some of the ways that Feed the Future is helping grow a more prosperous future for the 842 million people who will still go to sleep hungry tonight.
Farmers working small plots of land are the backbone of the world’s agricultural system, but often struggle to feed their own families. In the past year alone, Feed the Future has helped nearly 7 million farmers and food producers use new technologies and management practices on more than 4 million hectares, or over 15,000 square miles, of land to boost their harvests.
Poor nutrition is a stealthy killer and the underlying cause of one out of every three deaths of young children in developing countries. Conversely, good nutrition in the 1,000-day window from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday lays the foundation for health, development, and even prosperity for the next generation. In 2013, Feed the Future, in collaboration with the Global Health Initiative, reached more than 12.5 million children with nutrition interventions that can help ensure a stronger and more successful future. Feed the Future also supported nearly 91,000 women farmers in homestead gardening, improving access to nutritious foods and increasing income for women and children.
The ability to borrow money is what allows farm families to make the investments needed to grow more for their families and communities. Working with Feed the Future, local banks are using innovative finance mechanisms to lend to more smallholders, often considered too “risky” by banks. Last year in Senegal alone, more than 17,000 farmers and small entrepreneurs benefited from nearly $20 million in rural loans and grants which helped them access better seeds and modern equipment, as well as weather-indexed crop insurance, and helped negotiate favorable contracts with commercial mills. The results? Farmers’ profits for rice rose by 56 percent and for maize by 173 percent between 2012 and 2013.
A food-secure world will not become a reality without a combination of public and private sector investment. Last year, Feed the Future assistance created 1,175 public-private partnerships, up from 660 the previous year—8 out of 10 involved local small and medium-sized firms. That same year, U.S. Government investments also leveraged more than $160 million in private sector investment, a 40 percent increase from 2012. These alliances foster growth in emerging markets by commercializing new technologies; helping to create policy environments that enable even greater growth; increasing opportunities for investment, finance and risk mitigation; and improving market access and trade.
It’s not enough to just encourage investments that “do no harm.” The U.S. Government works to ensure that the countries we partner with to improve food security adhere to specific policy measures so that the investments benefit women and smallholder farmers as well as investors.
Feed the Future reflects a new model for development—one that emphasizes partnership, linkages and access to tools, technologies and the global economy. Whereas in the past, success meant helping farmers grow more crops, success today means also helping them learn how to be entrepreneurs.
In addition to Feed the Future, in 2014, President Obama proposed changing our largest international food assistance program to allow more flexible, efficient and effective food aid through the purchase of local commodities and the provision of cash vouchers. The goal was to enable the United States to reach 4 million more people in crisis, with the same resources, and speed response time to emergencies. Combined with other legislation, reforms in the 2014 Farm Bill now mean USAID can reach an additional 800,000 chronically food-insecure people with no extra funds. The 2015 Budget seeks additional reforms for emergency food aid that would allow around 2 million more people in crises to be helped without additional resources.
The United States boasts some of the world’s cutting-edge agricultural research facilities. Feed the Future fosters strong partnerships with both U.S. and international agricultural research institutions, such as the University of California, Davis; Virginia Tech and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to, for example, help develop new strains of cowpea that can fend off common pests and to help India control the papaya mealybug pest that was decimating its horticulture sector. So far, 23 Feed the Future Innovation Labs made up of 70 of the United States’ top academic research institutions have been created.
The Peace Corps has a long history of being on the front lines of the U.S. fight to end global poverty. Partnering with USAID as part of the Feed the Future initiative, the Peace Corps has fielded more than 1,200 Peace Corps Volunteers in countries overseas to help people make sustainable changes in how they cultivate their food, address water shortages and feed their families.
Global leaders today praised President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative for reaching nearly 7 million smallholder farmers and helping to save 12.5 million children from the threat of hunger, poverty, and malnutrition in just the last year alone.
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah said today that since it was formed four years ago, Feed the Future and complementary efforts have attracted billions of dollars in investments focused in agriculture, introduced affordable new technologies aimed at increasing agricultural production and managing the risks of a changing climate, and introduced nutrient-packed foods to millions of mothers and children around the world.
Here is what global leaders had to say:
"African countries have the potential to increase agricultural productivity with the right policies and investments. Programs like “Feed the Future” make an important contribution by supporting innovation, providing technical knowledge, and developing markets for smallholder farmers to sell their products."
“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation remains grateful for US leadership in long-term agricultural development, and especially the approach USAID has taken – strong country level partnerships; it’s focus on smallholder farmers; and the understanding that women need to be at the heart of any poverty reduction strategy. This US leadership and investment, accompanied by a sound strategy and a focus on measuring impact, is already showing results through increased crop yields and higher incomes. We look forward to continued collaboration and impact.”
"Feed the Future is the United States’ contribution to the exodus from hunger. The report underscores the great progress and potential of the program. Smart and targeted investments in improving smallholder agriculture, maternal and child nutrition, value chains and rural infrastructure are already transforming the lives of hungry and poor people. This is a down payment to global food and nutrition security."
“The progress USAID has achieved through its Feed the Future program over the past four years is making a positive difference for millions around the world. DuPont is pleased to continue our collaboration with USAID as a part of our global effort to promote food and nutrition security for people everywhere.”
“The faculty and staff of Texas A&M AgriLife are focused as much as anyone on conducting and implementing scientific research aimed at feeding the world. They are leaders in helping our government entities, such as USAID, improve people’s access to safe and nutritious food. Their discoveries and advances are making a difference in our country and around the globe.”
“Feed the Future is a clear demonstration of the Obama Administration’s commitment to tackling hunger and malnutrition around the world. When over 842 million people are hungry and undernourished, we need action from all stakeholders. The U.S. Government’s commitment to engaging across sectors and supporting the efforts of smallholder farmers—particularly those of women farmers—is exemplary. Throughout CARE’s worldwide programs, we are seeing results among vulnerable households who are now better able to reap greater harvests, provide for their families and see their children grow into well-nourished adults.”
“Investing in agricultural development is essential to reducing global hunger and alleviating poverty. Since 2010, Feed the Future has worked to empower smallholder farmers, which make up over half of the world’s chronically hungry. Through giving these farmers tools to increase their yields and connecting them to markets, the incomes of the rural poor are increasing sustainably. This approach is moving the U.S. away from a traditional aid-dependent model to one that fosters economic growth and leverages partnerships. We now need to sustain these investments over the long-term to have lasting impact.”
“To truly meet the food security needs of a growing world population, we will need to forge stronger, more robust partnerships across sectors and nations. Feed the Future is an innovative way to bring all necessary stakeholders together to meet this challenge, and it is the direction we must continue to move.”
“African leaders are making significant efforts to put agriculture at the center of their economic transformation strategies. By focusing on agricultural innovation, Feed the Future’s vision and activities are aligned with African aspirations. This policy congruence offers Africa and the U.S. the opportunity to sow the seeds of new agricultural diplomacy that is guided by mutual interest.”
“Feed the Future has had a transformative impact on the international community’s effort to address the underlying causes of hunger and malnutrition.”
"Feed the Future is a model development partnership with countries driving the food security agenda to make hunger history. By taking a comprehensive approach - linking agriculture to nutrition and health, using multiple tools from resilient crops to no tillage agriculture, and engaging all stakeholders from farmers to businesses - Feed the Future shows that effective partnerships can deliver impressive results: better harvests on 4 million hectares, better livelihoods for 7 million farming families contributing to better nutrition for 12.5 million children."
“The American people should be proud of the work being carried out by Feed the Future. Under Rajiv Shah’s incredible leadership, it’s saving lives, improving children’s health, and strengthening the economic well-being, productivity and food security of millions of families and their communities. Nothing is more important to global security than food security. The findings of this progress report demonstrate why this initiative deserves our support and why we should expand it to reach even more communities around the world.”
“Feed the Future has become a breakthrough development model that has a potential to leave a lasting legacy for generations to come. It has raised the bar on tackling hunger and malnutrition, focusing particularly on the critical 1,000 day period from pregnancy through a child’s second birthday. Through this initiative, nutrition becomes the essential bridge between agriculture and health that enables millions of children to reach their full potential.”
"Feed the Future has provided an excellent example of reducing poverty through integration - such as implementing new technologies, coordinating of health and education investments, along with facilitating access to markets - creating a major economic improvement in the lives of very poor rural families. This model of development will be scaled up and used for our government in different new projects to reach our goals to sustainably reduce rural poverty."
“Ending hunger and poverty is achievable, but no one can do it alone. InterAction and its NGO members are proud to be partnering with Feed the Future, bringing our local connections, expertise, passion and private resources to ensure we reach families and communities most in need. Together we can continue to yield the kind of impressive and lasting results documented in this progress report.”
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah announced today that President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative has reached nearly 7 million smallholder farmers and helped to save 12.5 million children from the threat of hunger, poverty, and malnutrition in just the last year alone. Since it was formed four years ago, Feed the Future and complementary efforts have attracted billions of dollars in investments focused in agriculture, introduced affordable new technologies aimed at increasing agricultural production and managing the risks of a changing climate, and introduced nutrient-packed foods to millions of mothers and children around the world.
“Feed the Future has hit its stride, delivering results that are changing the face of poverty and hunger for some of the world’s poorest families,” said Administrator Shah. “Working alongside thousands of partners from the private sector, civil society, and local leaders, we are pioneering a new model of development—one grounded in country leadership, policy reforms, cutting-edge measurement and evidence, and a relentless focus on delivering real results.”
Currently, Feed the Future works in 19 focus countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. Overall in 2013, the initiative helped nearly 7 million farmers and food producers use new technologies and management practices—such as high-yielding seed varieties—on about 9.9 million acres of land, an area greater than the states of Massachusetts and New Jersey combined. It has reached more than 12.5 million children with nutrition interventions that can help ensure a stronger and more successful future.
Feed the Future and its complementary efforts, such as Grow Africa and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, have helped to leverage billions of dollars in private sector commitments in African agriculture. In African countries alone, Obama Administration anti- hunger and poverty efforts have helped to reach 2.6 million farmers and gathered $7 billion in private sector commitments to African agriculture.
Here are some examples of how Feed the Future is working:
The 2014 Feed the Future Progress Report was released today during the Feed the Future Global Forum, an event bringing together stakeholders and partners from around the world to highlight progress, address challenges and chart a way forward in the fight against hunger and poverty. The report outlines how Feed the Future is working to scale-up proven technologies and activities, expand nutrition interventions and programs, and conduct research to create the next generation of innovations that can change the lives of food producers and their families. The full 2014 Feed the Future Progress Report can be found online at http://www.feedthefuture.gov/progress.
USAID is the lead U.S. Government agency that partners to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing security and prosperity in the United States and around the world.
This release originally appeared on the USAID website.
The U.S. Government, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), assisted Ethiopian enterprise Guts Agro Industry in the launch of a new nutritious chickpea shiro product using chickpea purchased from farmer cooperative union partners, including Becho Weliso, Erer and Lume Adama from the Oromia Region. The collaboration is a result of the public-private partnerships fostered by the U.S. Feed the Future initiative and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.
Chickpea is one of the leading value chains in Ethiopia ranking sixth in the world and first in Africa, with an annual production of over 322,000 metric tons (MT) (FAO’s 2010 report). According to Ethiopia’s Central Statistics Agency there are more than 800,000 smallholder farmers involved in chickpea productions in the country. Developing the chickpea value chain is an important goal of USAID’s Agricultural Growth Program-Agribusiness Market Development project, part of the U.S. Feed the Future initiative. The project is engaged in six value chains seeking to provide increased income to over one million smallholder farmers.
Under a USAID-facilitated memorandum of understanding with chickpea producers, Guts Agro Industry sourced 4,000 MT of chickpea for local processing from 52,000 smallholders in the cooperative unions. USAID also assisted Guts Agro Industry with the expansion of its processing lines to support the company’s vision of becoming a niche player in the specialty nutritional food processing business using chickpea.
Guts Agro Industry has also launched a new ready to cook chickpea shiro powder branded as “Yanetshiro.” This nutritious, savory and popular Ethiopian meal is made of chickpea ground into flour mixed with spices. Another new chickpea product includes dry roasted chickpea snacks, or kolo, which is the first of its kind to be produced in Ethiopia.“Guts Agro Industry committed to expand its operation by collaborating with the Government of Ethiopia and its development partners at a G8 summit for "The New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security” held in Washington D.C. in May 2012,” said Endigu Legesse, Guts Agro Industry CEO. “I am proud that we are able to fulfill that commitment to the benefit of the farmers, my employees and Ethiopian customers.”
Guts Agro Industry is an ISO 22000 certified nutritional food processing company in Ethiopia specializing in supplementary and therapeutic foods. It has two production facilities located in Hawassa and Bishoftu towns.
“Chickpea farmers who participated in multiplying the new Kabuli seed variety have gained up to 100% yield increases and higher market value” said USAID official Gary Robbins at the launch. “We are confident that the new products processed and packaged by Guts Agro Industry will set a trend in value addition, increase exports, and contribute to the improved livelihoods of the farmers.”
This release originally appeared on the USAID website.
In northern Haiti's Acul du Nord, one of the communes receiving assistance under a USAID agriculture program, a path through a lush forest leads to an opening where 25 farmers—women and men—sing energetically as they worked together to create a new cocoa plantation.
While the farmers sing motivating songs, they mark the ground with wooden sticks to identify locations for the trees, preparing the ground for cocoa seedlings. They are going to plant trees of the Criollo variety, which produces cocoa to make some of the most exclusive chocolates in the world.
“A seedling takes about three years to become a mature tree that produces pods ready to be picked,” said Dominique Jean Raoul, a cocoa specialist working on the USAID project. “These trees will produce high-quality cocoa, which can be exported to other countries, bringing back needed income.”
This is good news for farmers in Haiti, where half the population lives on less than $1.25 per day. And while approximately 60 percent of Haitians work in agriculture, up to half of Haiti’s food is imported. Although quality cocoa can sell for a high price, previously, Haitian cocoa rarely met international standards and failed to attract the high-end export market.
“In the past, we planted cocoa but did not use good farming methods,” said one of the women farmers in Acul du Nord. “This program is teaching us important techniques, such as how to prepare the land and take care of the trees, and how to treat the beans to get the best flavor. Now we can get higher yield and produce better quality.”
Feed the Future North, this five-year, $88 million USAID project, works together with Haiti's Ministry of Agriculture of Haiti with the aim to double agricultural incomes for at least 40,000 rural households in northern Haiti. The project will develop partnerships with private sector entities that support farmers’ groups.
Cocoa is one of the project's target crops in addition to corn, beans, rice and plantains. For cocoa alone, the program aims to double the exports of 10,000 farmers. Through the project, farmers in the north, where most of Haiti’s cocoa is produced, receive training in agricultural methods and soil conservation, acquire high-quality seeds and seedlings, and receive assistance in trading and marketing their product.
USAID supports the project under Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s flagship global hunger and food security initiative.
“For the best flavor, the cocoa beans should be fermented,” said Mesidor F. Herolde, a farmers’ community representative in Acul du Nord, while opening a cocoa pod to show the beans that nestle in a white, jellylike matter. He enthusiastically explained the different cocoa varieties (Criollo is considered to be the most delicious), how the cocoa plant needs shade to thrive, and how seedlings (rather than seeds) are the fastest method to grow the cocoa tree. He is one of the USAID-trained farmers who is gaining expertise in cocoa farming.
While Herolde and other farmers under this project can expect to improve their livelihoods, they are also acquiring knowledge and skills they will benefit from long after the project has come to an end.
The Feed the Future North program, which runs from April 2013 to March 2018, will fund an additional $40 million in local subcontracts and grants to Haitian organizations to ensure that the project is led by Haitians and will provide long-term improvements to Haiti’s agriculture.
This story originally appeared on the USAID website.
Mohammad Mofizul Islam Gazi is a farmer and father of two living on the front lines of climate change in southern Bangladesh—one of the most vulnerable areas in all of Asia to cyclones and sea level rise.
In his village of Sutarkhali, he harvested rice—the most popular crop in his home country—on a small plot of land from which he was able to feed his family. But May 25, 2009, changed his life forever. Cyclone Aila unleashed her fury across the southern coast of Bangladesh and into West Bengal in neighboring India, and claimed everything Gazi and his family owned.
“We were devastated,” said Gazi. “Cyclone Sidr [in 2007] couldn’t destroy us, but Cyclone Aila nailed the last pin in the coffin. There was nothing left.”
The cyclone began as a moderate disturbance as it crept toward the coastline of Bangladesh. However, the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal fueled the tropical storm, transforming Aila into a full-borne cyclone as it made landfall. A tidal wave ripped through the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, displacing thousands of villagers. This surge of saltwater swept through the region devouring trees, vegetation and precious farmland that provides people like Gazi their chief source of food and income.
Cyclone Aila hit one of the most underdeveloped areas in Bangladesh, leaving more than 200,000 homeless in a region where survival includes tackling extreme poverty and a regular onslaught of floods.
After spending several days at a cyclone shelter, Gazi and his wife and children returned to where their home once stood. “All we had left after Aila was a single pillar of the house,” said Gazi.
He and other villagers also discovered that saltwater had infiltrated the paddies where they used to grow rice and vegetables. As time went on, they also noticed the crops they used to cultivate were not producing the same amount of harvests. Before the storm, the typical bigha—a rice field measuring approximately one-third of an acre—could produce up to 200 kilograms of rice. After Aila, farmers were only able to produce 70 kilograms on the same plot of land.
“The water didn’t move for months,” recalls Gazi, “and when we tried to grow crops, we couldn’t. We were spending money and energy in vain. There was literally nothing that was growing well in the fields and our village was suffering from malnutrition, with no job opportunities and with no food.”
In 2012, a USAID agriculture program introduced Gazi and several other farmers in the area to new varieties of rice seeds. “They told us these were saline- and submergence-tolerant seeds,” he said. “Seeing no other alternative, I and my other fellow farmers got some seeds from them and sowed them into our piece of lands.”
In partnership with international research institutes and with support from USAID, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute developed flood- and saline-tolerant varieties of rice that produce higher yields. Rice plants grown using these improved seeds can survive between 12 and 14 days when completely submerged underwater, compared with traditional rice varieties that can only endure three or four days of submersion. For the most vulnerable country in the world to cyclones and sixth-most prone to flooding, these appear to be the perfect seeds to plant.
Developing rice seeds that can withstand soil salinity and prolonged submersion in water was a difficult process that required more than 10 years of testing and research, recalls Jiban Krishna Biswas, director general of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute. “The first challenge was creating a laboratory suitably equipped for testing these improved seeds. My team of scientists and I feel encouraged and proud to take part in this process, which can help farmers in Bangladesh and other developing countries become more resilient to natural disasters.”
The farmers in Sutarkhali learned to plant their fields using the newly developed rice varieties. They also learned how to store and save these improved seeds to use in the following season’s rice crop. Now, they are harvesting between 250 and 300 kilograms of rice per bigha—up to 50 percent more than they produced before Cyclone Aila hit.
Gazi’s paddy also requires less fertilizer and pesticide, helping him save money he previously poured into his field to help feed his family. In addition, he and his wife preserved rice seeds for future use and sold the leftover seeds to several neighboring farmers.
“Before, I used to grow about 150 kilograms of rice in one bigha. Now, with less fertilizer, seed and pesticide, I can grow more than double what I used to grow in the same piece of land before Aila hit,” Gazi said.
Rice production in Bangladesh has tripled over the last 30 years, while the poverty rate has declined by 15 percent over the past decade. Despite these gains, 40 percent of the population currently lives below the poverty line.
Forty-eight percent of Bangladeshis are employed in the agriculture sector in a country that is one of the world’s largest producers of rice, tea, jute, potatoes, mangoes and onions. However, population growth, urbanization, and soil and natural resource depletion have resulted in the degradation of land and bodies of water. This poses a significant threat to the agriculture sector in Bangladesh. Rising sea levels, frequent flooding and extreme weather patterns compound the threats to food security.
“Investing in agricultural growth and innovation is an important way to fight both hunger and poverty, especially in rural areas where people rely on their land to survive,” says Ramona El Hamzaoui, chief of USAID’s agriculture and food security programs in Bangladesh. “This is why our Feed the Future activities concentrate on some of the most vulnerable areas in southern Bangladesh. We strive to help poor farmers increase their resilience to flooding and severe weather, and stabilize their income through improved technologies and diversified crops.”
In 2013, USAID helped approximately 350,000 farmers adopt high-yielding, stress-tolerant rice varieties in southern Bangladesh. In Sutarkhali, USAID initially reached out to about 50 families, including Gazi, to demonstrate the benefits of planting flood- and salt-tolerant rice. The seeds produced from these homestead farms were used by neighboring farmers for the next season of rice cultivation, and use continues to expand throughout the area.
“By addressing some of the most important needs—access and availability of important food resources—Sutarkhali has emerged from the wrath of Cyclone Aila and farmers are growing more rice than before,” says El Hamzaoui. “Farmers are able to farm again, families are able to eat, and the village is more resilient as a result.”
This story originally appeared in USAID Frontlines.
It's a little past 8 on an April morning in Nepal’s Bardiya district in the midwestern plains. The sun is making its way upward in the clear, open sky and the day is warming. In the middle of a neat farm plot dotted with green plants less than 10 minutes off the main highway, Ram Prasad Chaudhary, 45, moves with a sense of oneness with his hand-woven basket filled with fresh green chilis, the crop that has transformed his life.
Chaudhary has been known as a model farmer in the Maina Pokhari village for the past five years. Before that, however, he suffered a past all too common among Nepal’s smallholder subsistence farmers. As a member of the Tharu ethnic group, a traditionally marginalized community that is predominantly based in Nepal’s fertile flatlands close to the Indian border, Chaudhary faced deep-rooted societal barriers to pulling himself out of poverty. Despite owning 3.2 acres of land, his life had been filled with uncertainty about something as basic as feeding his family.
In Nepal, over three quarters of the population depends on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods. Around a quarter live in extreme poverty and two out of three people are considered food insecure.
“I used to work as a daily-wage mason because the farm just never produced enough. But even a whole day’s labor paid very little, and often irregularly,” Chaudhary explained. “It was a life of hard choices, of having to frequently choose between health care for my family or my son’s education fees.”
That was until Chaudhary was approached by USAID five years ago. With support, he was able to add one more acre to his farm, which allowed him to produce two harvests a year of high-value, off-season vegetables—earning $2,350 annually, more than tripling his income. “I like to grow potatoes, chilies and cauliflower because that’s what the market likes,” he said with a smile.
Chaudhary’s story of hardship is all too common in Nepal, especially for youth, women, lower castes, and religious and ethnic minorities traditionally marginalized from civic and economic participation in Nepalese society. According to Nepal’s 2011 census, over half of the country’s 29 million citizens belong to a traditionally marginalized community. Every year, more than 550,000 people, mostly youth, join the ranks of job seekers, many of whom go abroad as unskilled labor or languish as part of the country’s unproductive workforce.
But thanks to two consecutive USAID projects in Nepal over the past seven years—Education for Income Generation (EIG) and the Nepal Economic Agriculture and Trade (NEAT) project—more people are breaking out of the cycle of poverty to create better futures for their families.
From 2008 to 2012, USAID’s Education for Income Generation (EIG) project worked with 54,000 farmers—82 percent of them women—in all 15 districts of Nepal’s midwest region, more than doubling their incomes on average. The project provided education, training and employment to historically marginalized and disadvantaged individuals, especially youth and women, and created a more productive workforce.
With the majority of people in Nepal employed in agriculture, the program looked heavily to agriculture development and built skills to fit market opportunities, particularly in the off-season. The project established 81 market collection centers in carefully selected pocket areas in all 15 districts of the midwest region. Without such centers, many farmers would not be able to sell their increased production.
With more high-quality produce from their fields and newfound access to both local and regional markets, farmers are able to secure higher prices and more reliable markets. “Apart from being market driven with a value-chain approach, a key reason why our efforts have worked so successfully is because the project provided hands-on, comprehensive training on agriculture best practices over several crop cycles, linked farmers to markets, and embedded extension services through local private-sector input service providers,” said Shiva Narayan Shah, a local agriculture expert employed by USAID for many years.
These local input service providers were often small shopkeepers or agriculture input suppliers selling seeds and agricultural machinery in the area. The project built their expertise, enabling them to serve as private sector intermediaries who connected farmers with potential markets, offered technical advice, and sold all the appropriate inputs such as drip irritation technology, seeds and fertilizers.
From 2011 to 2013, USAID’s NEAT project built on the successes of EIG and worked with food-insecure households to facilitate access to finance, support increased investments in agriculture, and further strengthen market linkages. The project was also crucial in connecting farmers to microfinance institutions for access to credit, supporting the purchase of irrigation equipment, and reinforcing agricultural best practices. Over a period of almost three years, NEAT worked with about 67,000 farmers and 20 private firms, increasing agriculture sales by $26.5 million.
Now, subsistence farmers in Nepal are enjoying newfound success and helping others in their communities to do the same.
Ram Kumari Tharu is a 33-year-old single mother who lives in the same village as Chaudhary. Before USAID assistance, she earned less than 25 cents per day. With her current income of approximately $90 per month, Tharu is ensuring that her two sons stay in school. In many villages, children are often pulled out of school after grade eight or 10 to help with household chores or because the family is unable to afford tuition fees.
Tharu has broken stereotypes to become a leader in her community. She was instrumental in mobilizing a group of farmers in her village to advocate for resources from the government’s District Agriculture Service Center, seeking an investment of almost $3,000 in high-value vegetables for the coming year.
Tharu has used her increased income to upgrade her home, formerly a thatched hut made of mud and straw, to one of brick walls and a concrete roof. She has also invested in a bicycle that she uses to transport her vegetables to market.
“Now, I take my vegetables to the collection center on the Bardiya main road twice a week, about 30 minutes away on bicycle,” explains Tharu. “At the center, traders from the city come to buy produce from farmers like me.”
Chaudhary is also able to provide a better future for his family—and for future generations.
“The support provided by USAID for five years has completely transformed our family,” said Pradip Singh, Chaudhary’s older son.
Chaudhary’s success has enabled his older son to earn a graduate degree while his younger son continues as an undergraduate student. Inspired by his father’s change of fortune, Singh went on to train in integrated pest management (IPM), a short-term course offered by the district’s agriculture office. That knowledge, supplemented by the hands-on training he received from his father, won him a position as an IPM trainer in another USAID project.
“I had the opportunity to train and support my fellow villagers, helping them to adopt more organic and sustainable farming methods,” Singh said. “What could be more rewarding? The only thing more satisfying has been to see my father transition our family to a self-reliant life. Today, my family sleeps with a full stomach every night, my brother is continuing his education, and my mother can visit the hospital if she needs to. We no longer have to choose between the three.”
With both EIG and NEAT complete, USAID, through the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future Initiative, is now working through other projects in Nepal to sustainably improve agricultural productivity and nutrition for 1 million Nepalis by helping farmer households obtain high-quality seeds, improve access to credit, learn improved farming techniques, and connect to markets.
The new efforts continue to build on the successes and lessons learned from previous projects, and strive to create thousands more model farmers like Ram Prasad Chaudhary, said USAID/Nepal Mission Director Beth Dunford.
“For us, the big question is always how to move farmers from subsistence to commercial agriculture and out of the cycle of poverty,” she said. “Working with the Government of Nepal and other development partners, including the private sector, we have focused a good deal of attention on raising farmer incomes through a broad range of innovative approaches.
“If we work collectively towards unlocking the obstacles, Nepal’s agricultural potential can be unleashed with accelerated growth, increased farm incomes and conserved natural resources.”
Back in Maina Pokhari, Chaudhary is frequently solicited by his neighbors, from near and far, with questions about pest management, choice of seed or how to access government resources.
“Today, I actually have followers. Can you believe it?” Chaudhary said. “The projects might have ended, but they’ve left me with the knowledge, skills and the infrastructure necessary to access market opportunities and will remain with me for life.”
This story originally appeared in USAID Frontlines.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Bass, and Members of the Subcommittee, for having me here today. I am delighted to be here to talk about the nutrition efforts of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
First, I want to recognize Congress for the strong leadership it has demonstrated in addressing the challenge of global child and maternal nutrition. As you may know, at least 165 million children worldwide are stunted, or have short stature resulting from chronic under-nutrition. New evidence shows that the effects of stunting are even more far reaching than we realized, with implications on many aspects of the lives of individual survivors and the countries they live in. Stunting leads to irreversible cognitive impairment and poor health over the lifespan. Each year, under-nutrition in all forms is the underlying cause of 3.1 million child deaths or 45% of all child deaths worldwide. It leads to higher health care costs, increased mortality and lower productivity. On a national scale, widespread under-nutrition undermines economic development, costing low and middle income countries up to 8% of economic growth potential. Our goals of reducing extreme poverty and hunger as well as ending preventable child and maternal deaths cannot be met without addressing nutrition, especially during the critical 1,000 day window, from a mother’s pregnancy to her child's second birthday. We also strive to reach women with nutrition interventions even before they become pregnant.
This is a unique time for nutrition, and in the last few years, global nutrition has received unprecedented attention as new research and evidence have contributed to a better understanding by the international development community of the importance of good nutrition in early life for forming the basis for healthy individuals and productive societies. A few major recent developments in particular are fueling momentum for nutrition:
USAID is taking a strong leadership role in these international efforts, both within the U.S. Government and at the global level.
USAID promotes nutrition through the Feed the Future and Global Health interagency initiatives, the Food for Peace Development and Emergency programs, and through our humanitarian assistance efforts. Our goals are to reduce stunting by 20% in Feed the Future zones of influence and Food for Peace Development programs and, where possible, to maintain global acute malnutrition rates below 15% in times of crisis through humanitarian programs.
To reinforce these efforts, USAID is in the final stages of developing a multi-sector nutrition strategy which will improve the integration and effectiveness of nutrition programming across all our bureaus and missions. Under our strategy, USAID will address nutrition with more discipline than ever before, developing country nutrition frameworks (based on national plans), setting country-specific targets, and tracking and reporting on nutrition progress. Nutrition programs will be integrated across humanitarian and development contexts and coordinated with those of other U.S. government agencies active overseas. The USAID nutrition strategy addresses the underlying causes of poor nutrition during the first 1,000 days by promoting the scale-up of proven, cost-effective nutrition interventions. These include both nutrition-specific (those that directly address under-nutrition) and nutrition-sensitive (such as hygiene, that indirectly affect nutrition outcomes) activities. USAID nutrition investments link programs in agriculture and food security, health, and water, sanitation and hygiene in a more integrated manner. Nutrition is also an integral part of USAID’s resilience strategy.
The USAID strategy is informing a broader U.S. Government-wide nutrition coordination plan, which is currently being developed. For the first time, the U.S. Nutrition Coordination Plan will bring together all the U.S. government agencies working in global nutrition with the purpose of maximizing impact through better coordination of U.S. Government global nutrition investments.
USAID leads Feed the Future, the President’s global hunger and food security initiative. This is the first Presidential Initiative to address nutrition at the goal level. Feed the Future reduces under-nutrition during the first 1,000 days window and hunger by improving access to nutrition services, clean water and support for agriculture value chain activities that include nutrient-dense crops.
USAID’s integrated, multi-sectoral approach has led to tangible results:
To address water and hygiene-related factors associated with stunting, USAID has helped install more than 155,000 “tippy taps” (water-saving, hand washing device that makes clean water available at the household level) throughout Bangladesh. They help reduce diarrhea and other waterborne illnesses among young children, which in turn help promote healthy nutrition. At the same time, USAID has also supported nearly 91,000 women farmers in homestead gardening, which means improved access to nutrient-dense foods and increased income for Bangladeshi women and their children.
In Tanzania, we take a three-pronged approach to help resolve common micronutrient deficiencies that contribute to stunting. USAID trained flour millers to fortify their products with vitamins and minerals, and strengthened the capacity of 405 small and medium-scale maize millers and processing plants to safely fortify maize flour. To complement these efforts, USAID provided 1.6 million micronutrient powder sachets to help prevent stunting and micronutrient deficiencies among children 6-24 months old. USAID also promotes bio-fortified crops like the orange-fleshed sweet potato, green leafy vegetables and small livestock. Moreover, to further strengthen results like these, through Feed the Future’s nutrition innovation labs, USAID supports research on nutrition-sensitive agriculture and their work is informing a growing number of Feed the Future programs. Feed the Future also works with the private sector to increase the level of responsible nutrition investments. In 2013 alone, the US government, through Feed the Future in collaboration with the Global Health Initiative reached 12.5 million children with nutrition interventions.
USAID supports the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition in its Marketplace for Nutritious Foods program, which increases private sector investment and marketing of nutrient-dense foods. In Mozambique, for example, the Marketplace has been working with producers and food processors on a locally made peanut butter to support market development as well as food safety and quality control.
Beyond Feed the Future, to help maintain global acute malnutrition rates below 15% in times of crisis and to support nutrition in humanitarian settings and among the most vulnerable populations, especially during the 1,000 days window, USAID is seeking to reform the way it delivers food aid. In certain emergencies and under certain circumstances, USAID now provides cash to purchase local and regional food near food crises, which is on average much timelier and cheaper than in-kind food aid and also stimulate economic growth in developing countries. By enacting the food aid reform that we have requested in the 2015 Budget to allow 25 percent of Title II food aid funding to be used for flexible emergency responses, USAID programs will be able to help about 2 million more men, women and children in emergency crises without additional resources. These reforms will allow USAID to expand the use of local and regional purchase as well as innovative approaches, such as food vouchers, that are often cheaper than in-kind food aid and also allow beneficiaries to select their own food in local markets. In addition USAID continues to support research on various types of specialized foods as well as work on updating and improving existing products based on evolving nutritional evidence.
Through USAID’s continued efforts to coordinate and integrate multi-sectoral programs across USAID offices and bureaus and strengthen program quality using new findings, we are better addressing the complex underlying causes of stunting. We are also making meaningful contributions toward achieving the World Health Assembly 2025 nutrition targets and reducing under-nutrition during the first 1,000 days worldwide.
I would like to thank Congress again for the leadership you are showing on this issue. We look forward to working with you to make progress on ending child and maternal malnutrition.
These remarks originally appeared on the USAID website.