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USAID Highlights Feed the Future in 2013 Annual Letter

By USAID Administrator

The following is an excerpt from USAID’s 2013 annual letter. The section highlighted here, on Feed the Future in Tanzania, appears on pages 16-19 of the letter. Read the full letter on the USAID website.

Transforming Agriculture in Tanzania

It’s hard to believe, but a decade ago we essentially had no agricultural program in Tanzania, a nation where agriculture employs three-fourths of the labor force and nearly half of all children suffer from undernutrition. Tanzania wasn’t alone. For more than 20 years, agriculture funding in development had been on the decline, leaving the world ill-prepared to cope with the growing challenge of food insecurity.

This changed in 2009, when President Obama launched a global food security initiative called Feed the Future and designated our Agency to lead it. At the time, no one was quite sure how many agriculture experts we had on staff, but it wasn’t many. At my confirmation hearing, senator after senator expressed concerns about what a decade of attrition had done to our technical expertise. I didn’t necessarily disagree, until I met our team—a small group determined to build a cutting-edge program in food security that was grounded in a new set of development principles.

Instead of designing policy in Washington and dictating it abroad, we would work together with committed country partners to ensure our plans supported their priorities. Instead of trying to work everywhere at once, we would narrow our focus to deliver results where it matters most. And instead of assuming good development work would be enough, we would also demand more from our partners in fighting corruption, implementing reforms, and contributing their own resources. Since then, we have stood up a new Bureau for Food Security, prioritized investments in potentially transformational technologies like climate-resilient rice, wheat and maize, and built a world-class measurement system that’s collecting baseline data and results.

As we reviewed our progress, we realized that more was still necessary to lift millions from poverty. We needed not only the transformative power of education and technology, but also the dynamic energy of the private sector. But despite the growth of private sector investment in developing countries, almost none of it went to poverty reducing agricultural development in Africa. When we reached out to global and local firms, we frequently heard them cite the same barriers to investment—corruption, ineffective policies, and a lack of access to donor projects.

After these discussions, we knew we needed a new approach, even if it meant challenging old assumptions. Although private sector-led growth is considered the foundation of developed economies, it has seldom if ever been included in our efforts to fight poverty or alleviate hunger. There is a deep wariness that private companies only profit at the expense of others. At the same time, governments anddevelopment organizations aren’tdesigned to be efficient partners with investors and entrepreneurs. Everyone has to adapt.

To tackle these barriers head on, we brought donors, private sector companies, and developing countries together in a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition that matches market-oriented reforms from African governments with commitments from the private sector in agriculture. Announced by President Obama at the G8 Summit last May, the New Alliance will lift 50 million people out of poverty in Africa within 10 years.

I recently returned from Tanzania, where I saw the results of these efforts firsthand.

Through Feed the Future programs, rice yields have increased by over 50 percent and horticulture yields by 44 percent—early progress that has been reflected globally. This past year, we helped more than 7 million farmers around the world apply new technologies and practices, four times the number we reached the previous year.

The Government of Tanzania has removed its export ban on staple commodities and liberalized seed laws. At the same time, Yara International has started construction on a fertilizer terminal at the nation’s largest port, and a local company called Tanseed is developing a seed package designed specifically for smallholder farmers. So far, more than 70 companies—half of them local African firms—have committed $3.75 billion towards African agriculture through the New Alliance. 

These efforts are complemented by a set of public-private partnership tools—including our expanded Development Credit Authority—that allow us to put local wealth to work. We have deployed our first-ever cadre of field investment officers—Foreign Service Officers with experience in finance and banking—to reach out to the private sector at all levels, from local women’s cooperatives to Fortune 500 companies.

We’re encouraged by early results, but we know we face real challenges ahead, including helping our partner governments follow through on reforms and deepening our engagement with civil society. But in a world where investment flows vastly outpace official assistance, nations will only achieve development in partnership with a vibrant and transparent private sector. Through the New Alliance, we can empower government and business leaders to chart this new path in development.

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