USAID

March 25, 2014

For seven years, I’ve served as the program manager for the USAID-supported Farmer-to-Farmer Program. Like many agricultural development programs, Farmer-to-Farmer strives to help smallholder farmers improve productivity, access new markets, develop local organizations, and conserve environmental and natural resources.

To reach these results, our program employs a unique approach.

We rely on the expertise of U.S. farmers, agribusinesses, cooperatives and universities to provide voluntary technical assistance to rural farmers, producer groups, businesses and service providers in more than two dozen countries around the world. These volunteers spend an average of two to three weeks working hand in hand with their assigned hosts.

Assignments range from developing a strategic business plan and building the capacity of the host organization’s workforce to providing training in new technologies.

Since the program’s inception in 1985, we have recorded and reported on measurable activities, such as the increase in beneficiary incomes, the number of people trained, or the area of land under improved environmental and natural resource management. This is the data. And we can measure it empirically.

But I want to talk about the immeasurable: the incredible relationships fostered between our volunteers and their hosts.

These relationships are the lifeline of Farmer-to-Farmer. It’s what makes it special and different from other agricultural development programs.

Scott and Ngila’s Story

The story of Scott Stovall and Ngila Kimotho highlights the deep bonds that can develop between a volunteer and beneficiary. Scott, a native of New Mexico, started volunteering with the Farmer-to-Farmer Program 13 years ago. Over those years, he visited countries in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, but it was an assignment in Kenya that turned a business consultation into a friendship.

In 2011, Ngila, the owner of Dryland Seed Limited, requested a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer to help devise a business plan for his small company. At the time, Dryland produced 100 tons of seed and hoped to apply for funding to procure processing equipment. Farmer-to-Farmer sent Scott to help Ngila develop the skills to achieve these goals.

Scott worked with Ngila to write a business plan that enabled Dryland to successfully apply for funding from the African Seed Investment Fund. With the new processing equipment purchased through the investment grant it received, Dryland’s business grew.

A year later, Ngila requested that Scott come back to help his company apply for another grant. Scott returned to Kenya in 2012 and helped Ngila write a second business plan that placed Dryland in the top 30 businesses selected to receive funding from the African Enterprise Challenge Fund.

What I described in the previous paragraph is a factual account of how a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer helped a small agribusiness access financial support. It does not, however, tell the whole story. It doesn’t include all of the email exchanges between Scott and Ngila throughout the year where they shared business tips.

It doesn’t mention that Ngila invited Scott to stay with his family. It doesn’t record Ngila telling us that he and Scott have developed a close relationship and that he’s come to trust Scott with all information, not only about Dryland, but also about his family. It doesn’t and can’t measure the value of the friendship formed.

Participation in Farmer-to-Farmer programs provides some beneficiaries with the most interaction they will ever have with a U.S. citizen. Overall, volunteers have donated millions of dollars’ worth of time to complete nearly 16,000 assignments in more than 110 countries all around the world. These volunteers have helped generate higher incomes, improve crop production and expand economic growth for smallholder farmers.

But to me, the real impact and success of the Farmer-to-Farmer Program is what we can’t measure: the long-lasting friendships developed between hosts and volunteers.

Interested in getting involved with the Farmer-to-Farmer program? Watch the video below to hear from more volunteers and visit the USAID website for more information.

This post originally appeared on the USAID blog. 

March 19, 2014

Standing at the gates to the Nigerian cassava processing plant, Thai Farms, we held our breath while watching a local farmer anxiously weigh a sack of his latest cassava crop. Cassava, a starchy local staple crop, takes 12 to 24 months to grow, but begins to rot after only 48 hours out of the ground. So for this local farmer, transporting and being able to quickly sell his crop is essential to getting a good price.

To determine purchase prices, cassava is weighed and then tested for starch content through a simple, yet ingenious method of submersing the cassava tubers in water to test buoyancy. The higher the starch content, the more cassava flour is produced and the more money the farmer earns per kilo. The farmer breathed a sigh of relief when the starch content turned out to be high enough for the factory to buy his produce, but not high enough to fetch the best price.  The farmer left relieved, but somewhat disappointed and hopefully inspired to plant improved varieties next season.

In Nigeria, more than 70 percent of the population earns their livelihood from agriculture and 70 percent of the MARKETS II farmers live on less than $1.25 each day. By giving these farmers the tools to improve their harvest and connecting them with buyers, USAID is helping the farmers earn a higher selling price that is essential to increasing their household income and lifting their families out of extreme poverty.

Thai Farms exemplifies the MARKETS II model of connecting local farmers to new markets and technologies. However, there are several other local agri-business enterprises boosting the economy in Nigeria. Timmod Farms, for example, is a Nigerian success story. The farm was established in November 2004 with just four ponds of fish and is now one of the leading fish processors in Nigeria. Timmod Farms produces a smoked catfish that is well-known in the local Nigerian market and has been recognized by the Federal Department of Fisheries in Nigeria. The extremely entrepreneurial owner, Rotimi Omodehin, keeps adding new parts to the business, but is also concerned about the potential for further growth. Every step on the value chain suffers from some fundamental constraints, especially reliable access to energy and credit. These producers pay three to five times the price of energy from the grid to power their enterprises with expensive diesel generators. This is necessary as the power supply from the utility is unreliable and surges can damage expensive equipment. Credit, meanwhile, is hard to get at all and often costs 20 to 25 percent annual interest making loans hard to get, very expensive and very risky. To really enable small famers and small enterprises to drive inclusive economic growth, these problems will have to be addressed.

USAID has the opportunity to pull farmers out of poverty by sharing best practices in agriculture activities and focusing on value chains as a whole. Let us know what programs have been most successful for you or share your local stories of success.

This post originally appeared on the USAID blog. 

March 17, 2014

Nepal is a place of mesmerizing beauty. Located in the Himalayas with eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains, including the highest peak on Earth, Mt. Everest, it’s no wonder more than 20 percent of the country is protected. The diverse terrain ranges from emerald green tea gardens, terraced paddy fields and historic temples nestled in hillsides to thick jungle, sprawling forest, pristine lakes and the largest concentration of glaciers outside the polar region.

But what lurks behind this idyllic landscape is a growing problem—climate change. Nepal struggles with both water scarcity and increased flooding, impacting everything from health and nutrition to livelihoods and food production. With agriculture employing 80 percent of the population and one in three suffering from food insecurity, these ecological shocks can present serious setbacks for farmers and their families, robbing them of their livelihoods or ability to put food on the table.

At USAID, one of our top priorities is developing innovative solutions that can help vulnerable communities withstand chronic threats, such as pandemics or climate change, and sustain progress when disaster strikes—not get pushed further into poverty. This is important across the globe but particularly in Asia, where half the world’s poor live and more than half of all natural disasters occur. In today’s interconnected world, our success matters to the United States. As the fastest growing region in the world accounting for more than half the world’s GDP and nearly half its trade, Asia has become a key driver of global politics and economics. Progress—or instability—in Asia has ripple effects throughout the world and can impact us here at home. Across the region, we’re hard at work.

In Nepal, we’re helping farmers and families mitigate the adverse impacts of a changing environment on their lives and livelihoods. We’re helping them adapt to new rainfall patterns and adopt new water-saving tools such as multiple-use water systems for sanitation needs, drinking and growing food. We’re also introducing solar-powered pumps, which enable farmers to use drip irrigation for high-value crops, increasing their annual income by over a third. Our work has had a transformational impact on women in particular—who are typically responsible for collecting water—freeing up their time and energy to invest in other aspects of their lives.

We’re forging partnerships that leverage resources and harness the science, technology and innovation that exist throughout the region to maximize impact—and reach. USAID recently announced three new partnerships with Indian organizations to share successful, low-cost agricultural innovations and technologies with African countries. These partnerships are a win-win for all: The organizations gain access to new market space; USAID advances its efforts to increase food security and farmers’ incomes in Africa; and African countries gain access to new tools to help their citizens escape extreme poverty. These include a low-cost tractor, an organic fertilizer made out of seaweed and a solar-powered food dehydrator—all devised to increase yields and incomes by mechanizing operations, fertilizing depleted soils and preventing post-harvest losses.

In Timor-Leste, we saw a great opportunity to extend our reach by partnering with ConocoPhillips, which has significant investments in the country and contributes to sustainable community development—particularly in agriculture and education to help Timor-Leste improve agricultural productivity and increase its pool of skilled workers. This is vital in a country where nearly 40 percent of people live in extreme poverty and more than 60 percent of the population work in agriculture. Together, we are helping more farmers than ever before diversify their crops to increase their incomes and improve their families’ health and nutrition. Through this partnership, we have been able to double the number of farm families benefiting from this project. Farmers practicing new horticulture techniques have boosted their incomes by up to 300 percent.

And we’re bringing transformative science and technology to remote corners of the world where they’re needed most. Due to climate change and rapid urbanization, the coastal nation of Bangladesh—which has the highest malnutrition rates in the region—is losing up to 1 percent of its arable land each year. Adding to the challenge, 80 percent of the country rests in a low-lying river delta prone to flooding.

To tackle these challenges, USAID is training farmers in the use of high-yielding varieties of rice seeds that are tolerant to soil salinity and adverse weather, as well as in the use of fertilizer deep placement technology, which allows for fertilizer to be placed under the soil and closer to the root where it is most effective, as opposed to on top of the soil where it is more likely to be washed away. As a result, soil fertility is improved, fertilizer use is reduced and yields are increased. Our efforts helped the coastal district of Barisal end its rice-deficiency and produce enough rice to feed its people.

Asia faces complex and integrated problems on a scale never before seen in history. These issues demand innovative approaches that combine resources and expertise at every opportunity. We are committed to the task, and hope you’ll click here to find out how you can join us.

This post originally appeared on the USAID blog. 

March 6, 2014

It’s very difficult to effectively manage responsibilities if you have neither the authority over nor access to the required skills, networks, resources, or decision-making power needed to complete critical tasks. Yet, that is the situation women in Tanzania’s agricultural sector face.

According to research from the World Bank, women form the majority of Tanzania’s agriculture work force—particularly in rural areas, where 98 percent of economically-active women are involved in agriculture. They prepare, plant, weed, harvest, transport, store, and process their farms’ products. In addition to these time and labor-intensive activities, women also cook meals and perform other household management tasks. These are crucial in a country where 42 percent of children under 5 years old suffer from stunted growth, due to malnutrition, and 16 percent are underweight.

Tanzanian women are keenly aware of their responsibilities and the challenges embedded therein. Limited decision-making power, unfavorable regulations, and biased sociocultural norms reduce their access to finance, land, technical training, labor-saving equipment and other productive resources. As a result, barriers are stifling their potential to be leaders of technological invention, entrepreneurship, and legal and regulatory change throughout the agriculture sector. But these challenges are not insurmountable.

In fact, with a little help from the U.S. Agency for International Development, farmers are developing their own solutions.

The Innovations in Gender Equality (IGE) to Promote Household Food Security program, in close coordination with Feed the Future projects in southern Tanzania, is helping farmers address constraints they face when working in agriculture.

This project is a partnership between Land O’ Lakes International Development , the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Development Lab (MIT D-Lab), and USAID.

It offers community-centered technology design training to smallholder farmer groups in the Southern Agricultural Corridor of Tanzania. Trainees, the majority of whom are women, develop prototypes in group settings and receive in-depth coaching from MIT D-Lab trainers.

What do the results of these technology design trainings look like?

  • Time and labor burdens are reduced. These technologies—developed by farmers, for farmers—save time and reduce drudgery, freeing up women’s availability to engage in alternative income-generating opportunities.
  • What’s impossible alone becomes possible together. When we ask IGE farmer-inventors why they never developed the technology design prototypes before that they are designing now, one answer is constant: they couldn’t do it alone. D-Lab’s community-centered design philosophy fosters teamwork from the start, which farmers credit for bringing to life the culture of innovation and invention in their villages.
  • Men and women are working together. Women’s empowerment is a community-wide endeavor, with men’s active involvement and support being a critical factor. The technologies farmers are developing are transforming women’s-only agricultural tasks into tasks in which husbands and wives work together, producing a greater overall benefit for themselves and their families.

What technologies are farmers developing?

A woman uses a palm oil extractor machine.

Mwanahamisi Goha’s palm oil technology design group, called Jitegeme group, consists of two women and three men. They collectively developed the palm oil extracting machine prototype pictured above, which can extract 20 liters of palm oil in 30 minutes. This is a major improvement, because standard models typically take four hours to extract the same amount of palm oil (a popular product on local markets) and require two people to operate instead of one. This new prototype also allows operators to sit instead of stand. (Photo by Giselle Aris)

Two women use a machine to shell peanuts.

Arafa Mwingiliera and Habiba Njaa’s peanut sheller group, Ukombozi, in Morogoro, grinds nuts using a prototype they developed with three other group members. This technology can shell up to 20 kilograms of peanuts in just five minutes—an amount of work that used to take an entire day when shelled peanuts using their bare hands. Women in southern Tanzania often sell peanuts as snacks along the roadside to passers-by and use them in place of cooking oil to season vegetables. Peanuts are high in protein and calories, making them a good source of nutrition and energy, especially for young children. (Photo by Giselle Aris)

A woman pedals a bicycle connected to a rice threshing machine.

Amina Hussein, Veronica Hogo and other members of the rice thresher technology design group, Lupiro, test their prototype, which they designed using locally available and affordable materials. This technology can thresh 15 to 20 100 kilogram bags of rice per day without crop loss due to spillage (which occurs when farmers thresh rice by hand). The productivity levels achieved by this prototype are a massive improvement compared to traditional hand threshing, from which farmers yield only two to three 100 kilogram bags of rice per day with up to 5 percent of crops lost to spillage. Rice is one of the main staple crops of Tanzania, and, along with maize and horticulture, is one of the Feed the Future target value chains. These value chains are essential to Tanzania’s food security, which has motivated many farmer technology design groups to develop prototypes that bolster their productivity. (Photo by Giselle Aris)

A woman laughs as she sits in front of a machine with a fan in it.

Stella Malangu, a member of the rice winnower technology design group, Jitambue, in Morogoro, smiles after using the prototype she helped design and build. It generates wind to separate rice from chaff and other unwanted particles and pests before storage. When farmers in this group winnowed rice using traditional methods, which required them to stand and be in constant motion, they were able to clean one 100 kilogram bag of rice per day. With their new prototype, these farmers can now winnow six 100 kilogram bags of rice in just three hours. This technology has dramatically reduced time and labor burdens! And it has even led male community members to become involved in what was previously only women’s work. (Photo by Giselle Aris)

What’s next?

Every technology needs investors. Even in cases where inventors have designed functional prototypes, they still require:

  • Resources and skills to transform prototypes into successful commercial products
  • Media attention to accelerate the time it takes for locally popular products to become nationally and regionally renowned and adopted
  • Policy change to address major constraints for women working in Tanzania’s agriculture sector

IGE is working in each of these areas to ensure technology continues to help transform the lives of smallholder farmers in Tanzania. For more information on how you can get involved, visit our website.

This post originally appeared on the USAID blog. 

February 24, 2014

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the University of California Davis (UC Davis) launched the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Chickpeas housed at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR). The 5-year, $4 million genetic research program will create more and stronger varieties of chickpea to increase smallholder farmer productivity.

Chickpeas are the third most widely grown legume crop (after soybean and bean) and of particular significance in developing countries, where it provides a crucial source of income, food security, and nutrition to poor farmers. The crop’s ability to “fix” atmospheric nitrogen also contributes to soil fertility.

According to Dr. Asnake Fikre, crop research director at EIAR and project lead in Ethiopia, “Enhancing the value chain of chickpea production and, thereby, improving the livelihoods of small holder farmers in Ethiopia are among the expected outcomes of this project."

The potential gains are particularly large in Ethiopia. As the largest chickpea producer in Africa, more than one million of the country’s rural households cultivate chickpea. In recognition of the crop’s potential benefits, the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) prioritizes chickpea in its current five-year strategy. The strategy aims to double the country’s 2010 yield by 2015 with the help of Ethiopian scientists and farmers, global researchers, brought together through the Chickpea Innovation Lab.

Dennis Weller, director of USAID’s mission in Ethiopia, emphasized the program’s significance. “In funding the new Chickpea Innovation Lab,” he said, “We expect that new genetic resources and improved varieties developed by this program will improve Ethiopia’s agricultural productivity and help improve livelihoods and wellbeing in Ethiopia’s rural highlands where chickpea is cultivated.”

Under the project, researchers plan to improve the yield, climate resilience, nutritional value, and nitrogen-fixing properties of chickpea varieties selected in consultation with local farmers. According to Doug Cook, professor at UC Davis and director of the USAID research project, “Developing chickpea for increased resilience to climate stress and other high value traits will be greatly accelerated if we can expand the range of genetic adaptations available to breeders,” and the project’s strategy to incorporate new variation from wild species aims to do precisely that.

The new Chickpea Innovation Lab is the latest of 23 USAID-funded Innovation Labs awarded under Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. Led by UC Davis, the new research consortium includes, in addition to the EIAR, the University of Southern California, Florida International University, and Turkey’s Harran University.


About Feed the Future. Feed the Future is the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth and trade that increase incomes and reduce hunger, poverty and undernutrition. More information: www.feedthefuture.gov

This press release originally appeared on the USAID website. For a copy of the press release in Amharic and for full remarks from the mission director, please view the original release.

January 27, 2014

Today, top USAID officials visited the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK) Training Center demonstration farms to observe how the Brand Kenya campaign is supporting Kenya’s produce exporters to access international markets.

USAID Associate Administrator Mark Feierstein and Assistant Administrator for Africa Earl Gast met with produce farmers and exporters who are working with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) to transform the FPEAK’s Practical Training Center into a central one-stop-shop for horticulture information.

Through the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative, USAID has invested $950,000 in the training center to expose farmers to practical ways of successfully growing all types of horticultural produce, with a special emphasis on compliance with export requirements. More than 200,000 Kenyan small holder horticulture producers will benefit from the program, which will lift 550,000 rural farming families out of poverty by 2015.

“This Practical Training Center illustrates USAID’s new development approach that leverages public-private partnerships to deliver measurable results. Supporting FPEAK and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute to train small holder farmers to produce export quality crops is a superb example of how this new model is working to transform the face of poverty in Kenya,” said Feierstein.

Feierstein and Gast are in Kenya this week to evaluate the progress of President Obama’s initiatives toward fostering public-private partnerships to address the U.S. and Kenya’s shared development objectives.     

This article originally appeared on the USAID website. 

February 7, 2014
Leo Andres Pablo Julson lost his mother at the age of 10, an event that marked him deeply. He was forced to quit school shortly after her death to help his father in the fields and remembers working long hours by his side. Their hard work did not pay off as they would have liked in rural Haiti—life as a farmer was difficult and their agricultural production remained low. 
 
Today, as a rice farmer, Julson has seen a dramatic improvement in his family’s way of life. Thanks to a USAID-funded project, Feed the Future West, Julson is now a self-confident farmer filled with hope for the future. Feed the Future West is a five-year project in Haiti that started under the U.S. Government’s flagship global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future.  
 
Before the arrival of the Feed the Future West project, Julson was one of many farmers whose rice yields barely reached 2 tons per hectare. But after using the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a method of rice cultivation that has been adopted in 40 countries, Julson's yields more than doubled. The method allows farmers to double their yields while using fewer seeds and significantly less water and fertilizers. The principles of SRI include good soil preparation, adequate space between plants, using one seed per pocket, intermittent irrigation, weeding between rows, and organic fertilizer. This results in strong roots and vigorous plants that engender high yields.
 
“I would have never imagined that it was possible for me to harvest 5 to 6 tons of rice on one single hectare of land—it’s such an extraordinary feat for me,” said Julson.
 
Since 2011, this increase in yields has generated revenues of more than $1,000 each planting season—double what Julson made in previous seasons.
 
“My family’s living condition has greatly improved, and now I can hope for a better future for my son, including allowing him to have a good quality education. I have also been able to acquire a motorcycle, which has made life easier for my family and allows me to transport produce more easily,” said Julson, who sells the rice locally. 
 
As a certified master farmer and member of the Federation for the Development of the Thomazeau Plain, a farmers’ association, Julson is working hard to promote the SRI technique among farmers in his community.
 
“This experience has proven to me that we farmers can once again believe in agriculture and that we are also capable of helping improve the environment in the country,” he said. 
 
The SRI method was first introduced by the Feed the Future West project in 2010 in selected areas, including the Cul-de-Sac plain where Julson lives. The project prepared demonstration plots to illustrate to farmers the superior results of SRI. With a traditional rice plot planted next to one using the new SRI technique, farmers were able to witness firsthand the difference in yields produced. The Feed the Future West project worked with about 1,500 farmers using SRI. For rice farmers alone, the gross margin per hectare increased from $350 to $1,691.
 
For the rice farmers in Feed the Future West’s intervention areas, this difference represents the potential for a better future and improved way of life. With the work of successful farmers like Julson who are helping to promote the techniques within their communities, farmers will continue to see improved futures and living conditions, even after the Feed the Future West project ends in May 2014.
 
Farmers benefiting from the Feed the Future West project have seen yields increase in other areas as well. From 2009 until 2013, corn yields increased 448 percent, bean yields increased 94 percent, and plantain yields by 56 percent.
 
This article originally appeared on the USAID website. 
January 23, 2014

Efforts will include increasing access to technology, crop biofortification and capacity building

On the margins of the World Economic Forum at Davos, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and DuPont formally announced a joint agreement to deepen efforts to reduce global hunger and poverty by enabling smallholder farmers access to proven, safe, and transformative agricultural innovations.

Signed by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and DuPont Executive Vice President James C. Borel at the World Economic Forum, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) delivers on commitments made through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and builds on a strong history of partnership between DuPont, USAID, university partners, the private sector, and NGOs.

“We know that by improving smallholder farmers’ access to key tools and technologies, we can help ensure they have the opportunities to participate in increasingly global markets,” said Dr. Shah. “Better productivity, easier market access, and higher incomes lead to less poverty and improved nutrition. This is the vision that drives USAID’s leadership of Feed the Future and our ongoing contributions to the New Alliance.”

The USAID and DuPont MOU builds upon a partnership where in places like Ethiopia and Ghana we are working together to improve the maize value chain to improve the productivity and income of at least 35,000 smallholder farmers in each country through the adoption of new technologies. Additionally, Asia and Latin America are also earmarked for initiatives. In the coming months, DuPont and USAID leadership teams will convene to discuss project planning. Under the new MOU, DuPont and USAID have outlined a number of efforts to help sustainably increase smallholder farmers’ yields and income potential while also improving nutrition outcomes over the next five years by:

  • Strengthening access to proven and safe seed technologies, credit, markets, and better storage facilities to limit post-harvest loss;
  • Supporting value chain development and formal linkages with commercial farms;
  • Building capacity for more youth and women scientists in agriculture, including through engagement of the Young African Leaders Initiative;
  • Improving nutrition through biofortification of orphan crops, particularly sorghum, and use of enzyme technology for milk shelf-life extension;
  • Providing training and support for plant protection and soil testing for improved crop quality and yields;
  • Advancing efforts to introduce climate-resilient crops and innovations like nitrogen-fixing trees to help smallholders sustainably address climate change; 
  • Enabling Southern Hemisphere country knowledge exchanges on agricultural development approaches.

This new collaboration with USAID marks a significant milestone in DuPont’s commitment to food security—which includes product innovation, engaging and educating youth, and improving livelihoods of farmers and their rural communities.

“For DuPont, this global MOU with USAID helps us to jointly capitalize on synergies between the DuPont science, technological and market capabilities with USAID’s development achievements, credibility and monitoring and evaluation expertise,” said Borel.

DuPont has been bringing world-class science and engineering to the global marketplace in the form of innovative products, materials, and services since 1802. The company believes that by collaborating with customers, governments, NGOs, and thought leaders we can help find solutions to such global challenges as providing enough healthy food for people everywhere, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels, and protecting life and the environment. For additional information about DuPont and its commitment to inclusive innovation, please visit http://www.dupont.com.

Announced by President Obama at the 2012 G-8 Summit, the New Alliance is a shared commitment between African governments, G-8 members and the private sector to work together to accelerate investments in agriculture to improve productivity, livelihoods and food security for smallholder farmers. Led by USAID, Feed the Future is the United States’ contribution to this global effort. Feed the Future supports countries in developing their own agriculture sectors to generate opportunities for economic growth and trade, particularly for smallholder farmers, many of whom are women. 

To learn more about Feed the Future, visit www.feedthefuture.gov. For more on USAID: www.usaid.gov. Follow the latest @FeedtheFuture @USAID @rajshah #WEF14

December 12, 2013

In the midst of a test plot marked with yellow flags, two young scientists work together amid multiple rows of small millet plants, manipulating an electronic device used to measure the strength of the plants. Neither seems to mind the light rain as they note the data registering from the machine.  

One of the scientists is Muhammad Sarr, a 27-year-old forestry engineer and recent graduate of Senegal’s Higher Institute for Agricultural and Rural Education, known as ENSA. The other is Patrick Trail, 23, an American graduate student from the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Science at Virginia Tech University, which implements a key USAID program under Feed the Future, the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.  

USAID's Education and Research in Agriculture project (ERA) is designed to increase yields of millet despite unpredictable rainfall by planting the crop with legumes to conserve water and add nutrients to the soil. Strengthening the millet value chain, from planting and cultivating through processing and sale, is a main focus of Feed the Future in Senegal. Other key value chains include rice, corn and fisheries.

“With these experiments on this technique of conservation agriculture, we hope to improve millet production among small farmers and beyond to combat food insecurity,” Trail explained in summer 2013 as he checked his equipment readings. “Since millet is a staple crop in Senegal, I am collaborating with local institutions as part of my studies.”

Virginia Tech, among a small group of American universities devoted to the instruction of technical arts and applied sciences, is the main implementer of the five-year ERA projectwhich collaborates with a dozen additional institutes of higher education and research in the United States and Senegal.

Sarr explained the research involves a plot of 800 square meters, divided into eight sections, where millet is combined with three different varieties of legumes selected during a pre-trial. The researchers are comparing the potential benefits of the mixture—providing ground cover, blocking weeds and impact on soil—through analysis of its moisture level and nutritional quality. 

“We’re trying to find the best mix,” Sarr said. “We also expect to increase yields through intercropping, because legumes have the ability to absorb atmospheric nitrogen which is essential for plant growth. Legumes grow leaves that cover the ground, which reduces evaporation. The bonus is that people can eat them as well.”

Trail adds that the scope of the research goes beyond collection of scientific results, and importantly aims to improve skills of research students in agronomy. “This can be as important as the results that we get,” he said. “It’s crucial to involve institutions in the global scientific method, which will ultimately serve all students in the future.”

One of the major goals of the exchange program is to prepare institutions to enable students to drive their own agricultural research. ERA is involving additional students at Senegal’s two main agricultural research institutes to take daily measurements and maintain the plots, for which they can get credit towards graduation.

“We’re working with Senegalese students who previously didn’t have the capacity for research at this level," said Patrick Guilbaud, director of ERA. “The exchange helps them master the techniques so they can in turn work with local farmers and apply the same approaches.” Likewise, Guilbaud said, American research students would never have such an opportunity to make a demonstrable impact on food security in the developing world.

“The more students that have access to projects like this will ensure that work continues long after I return to Virginia Tech,” says Trail. “It’s a win-win partnership for all.”

The ERA project aims to improve agricultural education at the college level, increase exports, and fight against hunger and food insecurity in Senegal. Since the project began in 2010, Virginia Tech has partnered with four American universities—Connecticut, Michigan State, Purdue and Tuskegee—as well as with Senegalese agriculture experts to strengthen the country's agricultural education sector.

This article originally appeared on the USAID website. 

January 10, 2014

Michel Dorlean, a Haitian flower producer, grew up learning the family business by planting flowers on traditional hillside plots in the mountainous village of Furcy, near Port-au-Prince. But the hillside locations leave flowers vulnerable to excessive heat, wind, humidity and rain. Dorlean used to lose more than 8 percent of his yields to weather.

In 2011, however, his battered flower pots flourished into a profitable business thanks to an initiative by Feed the Future West (FTF West), a USAID project that started in 2009 under the U.S. Government’s flagship food security initiative, Feed the Future. Dorlean’s success was made possible by switching the planting location to greenhouses. The project, which introduced the new growing method to farmers in Furcy, also provides entrepreneurship training, which has allowed farmers to create trade connections and market their products more efficiently. 

Since June 2012, the FTF West project has also allowed beneficiaries and public-private partners to share their experiences with the general public on the radio-TV network Métropole. The program, “Agriculture, Business of the Future,” showcases agricultural techniques advocated by the project in collaboration with government entities and private sector partners. The station broadcasts from Port-au-Prince, the country's capital.

After appearing on the show, Dorlean received 75 phone calls and visits from people of various backgrounds, including businessmen and women, managers and owners of flower shops, farmers and farmer associations. He was also able to sell his entire greenhouse flower stock from the previous season.

“I remember that, after the program on technical innovations in June 2012, I was so surprised by the effect it had on people. We had so many visits, not to mention a rapid increase in sales,” he said.    

Emmanuel Pierre, director of the Champion Cooperative of Kenscoff/Petionville, a farmers’ cooperative that includes all area farmer associations, has also seen the benefits of appearing in an episode on marketing. 

“The opportunities we have today stem mainly from my participation on the project’s radio/television program. Now we are developing solid partnerships with entrepreneurs who contacted us after seeing the show.”

Pierre’s sales of agricultural products immediately increased by 15 percent for the farmers in the cooperative. And the cooperative recently signed a contract with Snack Fresh, a company that produces potato chips, for two tons of potatoes per week for $1,271 (55,000 gourdes) per ton.

“This program has had a huge impact on farmers," said Ronald Champagne, president of the Association of Progressive Citizens for the Development of Duvivier, an association of farmers producing mainly corn and beans. "Since our involvement on Radio Télé Métropole, many have expressed interest in joining our association. Many entrepreneurs have also called us to discuss potential collaboration opportunities."

As of January 2014, the “Agriculture, Business of the Future” show has aired 24 episodes on television and eight on the radio, with more than 60,000 viewers and 225,000 listeners.

USAID’s agriculture assistance through Feed the Future in Haiti has improved farmers’ crop yields significantly, increasing their incomes and improving their quality of life. From 2009 until 2013, corn yields increased 448 percent, rice yields increased 139 percent, bean yields increased 94 percent, and plantain yields by 56 percent.

Haiti has faced significant food security and nutrition challenges for several decades. Chronically high levels of poverty coupled with soil erosion, declining agricultural productivity, and high population growth combine to make obtaining adequate food a daily struggle for many Haitians. It is estimated that in some departments of the country, up to 30 percent of children suffer from chronic malnutrition. 

FTF West, which ends in May 2014, promotes agricultural production, natural resource management, and a modern post-harvest and marketing system. In June 2013, USAID launched the Feed the Future North project, a five-year project designed to spur economic growth in promising agricultural areas in northern Haiti while developing local firms to be direct USAID partners.

This article originally appeared on the USAID website.

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