Through Feed the Future, the mSTAR Project is capitalizing on the popularity of mobile financial services to strengthen the agricultural sector and improve farmers' economic resilience.
At 24, Mosammat Lima Begum, who lives in a village in Barisal District in Bangladesh, is devoted to her family’s security and well-being. She’s also an accomplished agro-entrepreneur, respected by many for her initiative and business acumen.
A year ago, Begum’s husband found work in Oman and emigrated there to earn more income for the family. His departure made Begum wonder, what could she do to generate more income so that their family didn’t have to rely on remittances? She found her answer while attending a demonstration of an axial flow pump.
Begum had some familiarity with water pumps. Her husband, who farmed, had owned one when they got married. But the axial flow pump was new to her. At the event, run by the Feed the Future Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia-Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI) program, Begum learned that the axial flow pump is an inexpensive surface-water irrigation technology. It can reduce irrigation costs by up to 50 percent at low lifts (situations that don’t require a lot of pump power because the water source is not too much lower than the agricultural fields).
In December 2015, Begum gained access to an axial flow pump and to training on its use through CSISA-MI. Then, during the January-to-April 2016 boro rice season, she started a business providing irrigation services to her neighbors. She now irrigates more than 28 hectares of land with the pump—and since there are 400 hectares of farmland in her village, there’s plenty of opportunity for business to grow. In just 1 year, Begum increased her income by $397. The money went a long way to help her purchase a new tiller, repair her home, and buy ducklings to rear.
“The farmers who take irrigation services from me are quite happy,” she began, “because this year their paddy fields are getting as much water as they need, and the soil isn’t drying up.” Since the soil has enough moisture, the rice seedlings are growing better than before. “The roots have stretched well, and the bunches look pretty thick. It implies that there is a potential for better production this season if the fields are nurtured and fertilized properly.”
Begum’s business success has attracted the attention of other service providers and farmers, who now are also interested in purchasing axial flow pumps. At least 15 farmers in Begum’s village have expressed their intentions to purchase one for the next boro rice season. Following Begum’s lead, four service providers have already purchased the pump from local dealers who manufacture it and have partnered with CSISA-MI to test, target and disseminate efficient irrigation technology.
Begum’s cousin, Mohammad Shah Alam Bepari, helps operate her axial pump. He supports her interest in purchasing a second one next year. “Our fuel costs have significantly reduced,” he explained. Begum expressed her optimism about the future, saying, “As I have a plan to buy another axial flow pump next year, I wrote a letter to my husband to return back home. We will have enough money then to run the family together.”
World shrimp production tops six million metric tons each year, and demand for this shellfish is still growing. In many developing countries, this trend translates into jobs and income from shrimp farming. Bangladesh, a Feed the Future focus country, produces and exports nearly 70,000 tons of shrimp each year, amounting to more than half a billion U.S. dollars and employing more than 1.2 million people.
The news hasn’t all been good, however. Most of Bangladesh’s exported shrimp comes from 300,000 small aquaculture farms that rely on hatchery-produced wild broodstock—a group of mature individuals used in aquaculture for breeding purposes—for their supply of post larvae. Wild broodstock is risky because it is often infected with pathogens such as the highly lethal and contagious white spot syndrome virus, which can wipe out a shrimp population within a few days.
Hawaiian biotechnology company Moana Technologies spent more than a decade developing a solution to this problem by breeding a new line of disease-free black tiger shrimp. This shrimp line has key advantages over shrimp from wild-broodstock post larvae. First, it grows faster, allowing farmers to produce at least two crops per year. Second, it boasts a much higher survival rate of 80 percent, which means farmers can stock less of the new line. Third, the disease-free shrimp falls into a larger size category and, thus, command a higher price.
In 2014, Moana received funding from Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, a USAID program that develops public-private partnerships to commercialize agricultural technologies for smallholder farmers. With the funding, Moana was able to transfer its shrimp breeding technology to Bangladesh through a Bangladeshi shrimp hatchery, MKA Hatchery. Unlike other hatcheries, MKA was owned by Main Uddin Ahmad, a former fighter pilot in the Bangladeshi Air Force, who saw the potential for a new way of doing business. Ahmad brought a passion to help the smallholder farmers of his country and invested personal finances to upgrade his facilities.
In collaboration with USAID’s Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition project, and using the funding from Partnering for Innovation, Moana began working with MKA Hatchery to transfer its shrimp breeding technology to Bangladesh, identifying a successful shipment approach after some trial and error. Partnering for Innovation also contributed additional technical assistance funds so Moana experts could train the MKA staff in proper broodstock feeding and reproduction techniques.
During the 2015 shrimp season, MKA has successfully raised and sold 25 million disease-free shrimp post larvae, increasing the productivity and incomes of several large-scale and more than 500 smallholder shrimp farmers. With Moana’s expertise and funding from USAID’s Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition project, MKA’s goal, in collaboration with three other private shrimp hatcheries, is to produce 500,000 million post larvae this year.
With USAID funding, Moana’s partnership with MKA Hatchery is changing the shrimp industry in Bangladesh and making it possible for the country’s smallholder shrimp farmers to make a better living. The attitude of hatcheries is changing, and the Government of Bangladesh has the grounds to be stricter on supply of infected post larvae because, now, there is an alternative. As Ahmad says, “Innovation has to move fast. When progress was hard and failure was possible, Feed the Future helped us go from zero to hero.”
WASHINGTON, D.C.—President Obama today announced that Feed the Future, his signature global hunger and food security initiative, is delivering on his promise to reduce hunger and malnutrition through agricultural development. New data demonstrate that, thanks in part to Feed the Future and other U.S. Government efforts, stunting rates have declined in Ethiopia, Ghana, and parts of Kenya by between 9 and 33 percent in recent years, while areas in Uganda have seen a 16 percent drop in poverty.
During a tour of Ethiopian food processor Faffa Foods as part of his fourth presidential visit to Africa, President Obama highlighted progress across the continent made through Feed the Future. As part of its comprehensive approach, the multi-agency initiative supports food processors like Faffa Foods with technical assistance through a jointly funded public-private partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Partners in Food Solutions, a non-profit consortium of multinational companies that works to help smallholder farmers.
"The number of hungry people in the world has dropped by 100 million in the last decade, in large part due to coordinated efforts around the world to eradicate hunger and end extreme poverty," said USAID's Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt. "But there is much work left to do. Today, 795 million people still suffer from hunger and malnutrition, conditions that can drive instability and turmoil and continue the vicious cycle of poverty. Through Feed the Future, governments, civil society, development partners, and the private sector will continue to work together to ensure everyone has the nutritious food they need to lead healthy and productive lives"
During a press conference in Kenya on Saturday, President Obama said of the initiative: "[I]f you look at our Feed the Future program...we've got millions of farmers across this continent who, as we speak, have benefitted from increased yields, increased incomes, greater access to small loans that are making them more productive, greater access to market, linking up with technology in ways that assure that they get a fair price -- all of which, since Africa is still disproportionately rural, is increasing incomes and spurring growth and building a middle class in the entire continent...it is a model that's working and then has been supplemented with private sector investments that is further advancing the development of a more productive agricultural sector across the African continent."
In 2014 Feed the Future and other U.S. Government programs reached nearly 9 million children in Africa with nutrition interventions, and helped nearly 2.5 million smallholder farmers gain access to new tools or technologies such as high-yielding seeds, fertilizer application, soil conservation and water management. The 2015 Feed the Future progress report results summary, released today, includes analysis of data trends from recent years and emphasizes how these results are contributing to broader impacts and long-term outcomes -- such as downward trends in both poverty and stunting:
At the tour today, President Obama met Gifty, an Ethiopian smallholder farmer who is now able to support her family with the help of Feed the Future. Gifty is one of millions of smallholders who illustrate the story behind Feed the Future's impact. The 2015 Feed the Future progress report contains the stories of several other farmers and food producers, and also previews additional impact data from across Feed the Future focus countries in Asia and Latin America, demonstrating that in countries supported by Feed the Future and other large-scale U.S. Government efforts, local capacity to support food security, agricultural productivity and good nutrition continue to grow stronger.
These efforts should help ensure that more and more individual smallholder farmers will continue to contribute to - and benefit from - participation in the global economy.
The 2015 Feed the Future progress report results summary and Africa chapter are available now, with full chapters of results from Feed the Future focus countries in Asia and Latin America to be released later this year athttp://feedthefuture.gov/progress2015.
This release originally appeared on the USAID website.
Bangladesh has made great strides in expanding its power distribution network, but only 60 percent of the country has access to electricity and less than one third of households in rural areas are connected to the grid. Many of these areas are thus beyond the reach of traditional media like television or radio, so reaching people living in rural Bangladesh with basic information about health and nutrition is a challenge.
In order to reach these communities with key information about improving family nutrition, four Feed the Future implementing partners are working together to carry out a mobile media campaign to improve nutrition in remote villages across southern Bangladesh. Using portable large screen video messages along with interactive demonstrations and quiz games, these Feed the Future projects are educating rural families on proper nutrition and hygiene, as well as teaching them how to grow homestead gardens and improve the yield of fish, such as tilapia, that are raised in household ponds.
Members of the media outreach team travel to secluded areas by automobile and boats to share information through interactive sessions in villages. They teach families a variety of new practices, from using low-cost, hands-free “tippy tap” devices to wash their hands, to using higher quality fingerlings (young fish) to cultivate tilapia. The outreach teams also educate villagers about the importance of proper nutrition for pregnant women, exclusive breastfeeding for infants under six months of age and complementary feeding techniques to help small children grow up to be healthy adults.
So far, the “media dark” campaign – so named because it promotes media in the “dark” parts of the country without electricity – has reached more than half a million individuals in 1,500 villages. Bangladesh print and electronic media have also taken interest in this innovative approach, attending several village outreach events and providing extensive coverage of the program.
Over a three-year period, this rural social and behavior change communications campaign will conduct 8,600 shows in villages that are either fully or partially unconnected to electricity.
By working together and combining resources, Feed the Future partners are harnessing their expertise to achieve a common goal and provide critical information to help some of the most vulnerable people in Bangladesh have a chance to lead healthy and productive lives.
With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development under the Feed the Future initiative, this media campaign is implemented by SHIKHA through the combined efforts of the Aquaculture for Income & Nutrition, Strengthening Partnerships, Results and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING), and CIP-Horticulture projects in Bangladesh.
Since 1985, the United States has provided voluntary technical assistance to farmers, farm groups and agribusinesses in developing countries as part of the Farmer-to-Farmer program, which promotes sustainable improvements in food security and agricultural processing, production and marketing. More than 16,000 volunteer assignments – completed by U.S. farmers and other technical experts from all 50 states – have benefited approximately one million farming families in over 110 countries, representing over $31 million worth of volunteer time contributions to development in the last five-year program alone.
Today, as part of the Feed the Future initiative, the Farmer-to-Farmer program is continuing to leverage the expertise of volunteers from U.S. farms, land grant universities, cooperatives, private agribusiness firms and nonprofit farm organizations to respond to the local needs of host country farmers and organizations. Part of this effort includes supporting youth and university students, building their capacity to advance agriculture and food security in their home countries.
In Bangladesh, experienced U.S. volunteers have worked with a Bangladeshi NGO, the Center for Mass Education in Science (CMES), to build the skills of 137 youth trainers and students, introducing technical information and improved management practices to enhance poultry and dairy production, small ruminant animal husbandry, mushroom production and integrated pest management for horticulture production. By implementing Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer recommendations, CMES has been able to expand its operations and training capacity, increasing the number of demonstration farms it uses to teach young people about poultry production and attracting greater numbers of students. CMES has also adapted its integrated pest management curriculum to include environmentally friendly practices such as compost and eco-friendly pesticides.
“Farmer-to-Farmer’s volunteer technical assistance created wider opportunities and livelihood options for our students and farmers,” says Dr. Muhammad Ibrahim, CMES executive director.
Volunteers also have the flexibility to link up with existing agriculture and food security programs, which is why Farmer-to-Farmer in Guinea is working with another U.S. Agency for International Development program on agricultural education and market improvement.
At Guinea’s only dedicated agriculture university, Institut Supérieur Agronomique Valéry Giscard d’Estaing de Faranah (ISAVF), the two programs are supporting students through a range of curriculum improvements, experiential learning opportunities and public-private partnerships. Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers have used their expertise to train ISAVF faculty and to support university students in leveraging their education to pursue technology development and further agricultural learning and certification opportunities. In addition, an institutional assessment supported by volunteers resulted in the improvement of an experimental plot at the university, which has since supported 33 agronomic field trials on crops including corn, rice, cowpea and soybeans.
Maggie Morse is a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer who traveled to Boyacá, Colombia during the summer of 2014 to support a young entrepreneur program run by the Government of Colombia’s National Learning Service. The program partners with local universities to increase food security and mitigate migration from rural communities to urban centers by stimulating job growth through grants for small agricultural enterprises. Young entrepreneurs are matched with advisors who assist them in creating a business plan, implementing basic accounting and record-keeping, and developing other critical business skills.
But advisors in the young entrepreneur program often lack technical knowledge to help improve the quantity and quality of agricultural production. That’s why Maggie’s expertise in value addition, improved nutrition, livestock management and agritourism were such an asset to the program.
Maggie’s main assignment was to assist señora Baez in Piapa, Colombia in the production of the southern highbush Biloxi blueberry, a high-quality variety perfect for Colombia’s tropical climate, but which had never been locally produced. Señora Baez’s experimental blueberry farm is currently in its second year of production. Maggie conducted trainings on partial shade requirements for growing Biloxi blueberries, as well as proper fertilization, pruning, pest management and disease control techniques to improve production. Over 30 local instructors, advisors and farmers interested in learning more about the crop and disseminating the information to young entrepreneurs in the community attended her training sessions.
“The classes were filled with instructors with marvelous ideas about agri-tourism and value-added products for potential enterprises. Their questions aimed to turn information into material relevant to their students,” Maggie says. “As a result of this assignment, a new generation of farmers will hopefully be able to develop businesses within their rural communities instead of fleeing to the big cities in pursuit of better jobs and income.”
Learn more about how to volunteer with the Farmer-to-Farmer program.
In Bangladesh, smallholder farmers are facing more extreme weather shocks and depleted soil, which can lead to devastating crop losses and reduced agricultural productivity. But with newly developed stress-tolerant rice varieties, rural poor farm households have been able to adapt to these new realities and overcome some of the challenges to rice production.
Stress-tolerant rice varieties are part of Feed the Future’s broader work in Bangladesh to introduce game-changing agricultural technologies to increasing numbers of smallholder farmers and help them diversify into higher-value, nutrient-dense commodities such as horticulture and fish. But rice remains the country’s most important staple crop, and targeted investments in that sector are helping Bangladesh approach self-sufficiency in rice, a remarkable achievement for one of the world’s poorest and most densely populated countries.
In 2013, more than 300,000 farmers grew high-yielding rice varieties that were specially bred to help overcome climate-related challenges such as flooding, drought and increasing soil salinity. Compared to traditional rice farming, using stress-tolerant rice varieties is helping smallholders reap higher yields and incomes, and the new varieties are gaining momentum as more and more farmers adopt them.
One of these farmers is Rupai Begum, a widow and agricultural day laborer who cultivates rice on a small homestead farm. In the last few years, Begum’s rice harvest was suffering due to severe drought. The decreased rainfall also meant higher production costs, as Begum had to irrigate her land to reduce water stress, which made her crops more vulnerable to pests.
A local NGO supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development under Feed the Future helped Begum learn about and access two new rice varieties – one of them drought-tolerant and the other short duration (i.e. fast-growing) – and she immediately saw an opportunity to reverse her declining yields. She was surprised at how much more quickly the short duration rice grew on her land, requiring only 115 days to mature compared to the minimum 150 days for traditional varieties, leaving less opportunity for pests to cause crop losses. Begum harvested this new rice crop while most other rice fields in her village had just started flowering, leaving her extra time to cultivate a winter crop for additional income.
Aminur Rahman is another farmer who has benefitted from improved rice varieties. In his low-lying village, flash floods damage rice crops almost every year, leaving people at great risk of food insecurity. Before a Feed the Future program helped him access improved rice seeds, Rahman couldn’t grow enough on his less than half a hectare of land to feed his five family members, and he struggled to pay school fees for his children.
With new short duration rice seeds, however, Rahman was able to grow rice in a shorter amount of time, leaving him less vulnerable to frequent overflows from the local river. He tripled the amount of rice he could harvest in a calendar year by using varieties that mature in about 90 days. Now, Rahman has increased both his income and his family’s food security, and other farmers in his village are receiving training on how to use these new seed varieties.
Innovations like these are one of the reasons Bangladesh is seeing such transformative results in agriculture and food security. Despite increasingly variable climatic conditions, Bangladeshi farmers supported under Feed the Future are seeing greater rice production through the use of new seed and fertilizer technologies, leading to up to 20 percent increases in rice yields and raising farmer incomes from an average of $426 per hectare in 2012 to $587 per hectare in 2013. As these technologies are scaled up, they are helping increasing numbers of vulnerable families become climate-resilient.