April 28, 2016
Zilani KhonjeMs. Annie works in her seedling nursery in the Upper Rivrivi sub-catchment area of the Shire River in Malawi. The nursery replaced her charcoal business, which was causing soil erosion and harming agricultural production.

Annie Kaunda* lives in Malawi’s Shire River watershed, where limited economic opportunities and arable land force families to consider unsustainable farming practices. Her story is like that of many other women who live in the area.

For 10 years, Kaunda ran a charcoal business, hiring young men to cut down trees and prepare them for charcoal production. Though charcoal production was her livelihood, it leads to deforestation, which can cause soil erosion and land degradation—and Kaunda knew it.

“When I moved into this area in 1999, I swore I would never cut down any tree for survival,” she recalled. “But in 2005, I found myself being pressured to do so. I looked at the trees in my field and the natural forest around me and I got so tempted.”

Before long, Kaunda was producing more than 15 bags of charcoal each month, without ever replanting a tree. But when practices such as this become common, the environmental costs are high. In Malawi, these costs include heavy sedimentation loads in the Shire River.

The 250-mile-long Shire River is critical in this southern African nation. The vast majority of Malawi’s electricity is generated from three hydroelectric plants at the river’s upper and middle sections. The river’s vibrant watershed is a source of drinking water, crop irrigation, transport and recreation for the communities that thrive in the area, and most rely on farming and the surrounding natural resources for their livelihoods.

But high rates of deforestation and river bank cultivation, largely from charcoal production and agriculture in Malawi, have resulted in serious river bank erosion, which contributes to heavy sedimentation that flows into the river. As it does, the sediment clogs turbines at the hydroelectric plants, frequently knocking them offline. The impact of increasing soil and land degradation has also begun to threaten agricultural production and availability of clean water.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a Feed the Future partner agency, is helping to limit erosion and increase yields in Malawi by funding technical support and training on sustainable land management and conservation agricultural practices. In this way, MCC also helps to advance the goals of Feed the Future, which include women’s empowerment.

In Malawi, most agricultural production, disposition of earnings and land management decisions are made by men, who are considered the heads of household. To support women’s empowerment, the MCC Malawi Compact emphasizes full participation of women in training opportunities and technical assistance programs.

MCC also supports educational sessions that include dialogue between men and women. Participants discuss one another’s roles, women’s rights, domestic violence, family planning, HIV/AIDS, responsible fatherhood and the importance of allowing girls to go to school before marriage. The dialogues promote a better understanding of roles and responsibilities and of equitable decision-making on land use and natural resource management.

Women farmers who have participated in MCC-supported activities have adopted conservation agricultural practices and are now producing enough maize to meet their families’ needs without exacerbating soil erosion. They are also able to sell surplus maize at local markets. Some women, like Kaunda, have abandoned their charcoal production businesses and switched to growing and selling tree seedlings.

Kaunda said she doesn’t earn as much from selling trees as she did from selling charcoal, but she sees the switch as an investment in both her and her family’s future.

“So far, I have planted 155 trees, and I will continue to do so as a way of paying back what I have destroyed,” she said.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

April 28, 2016
Opportunity InternationalHanna farming soy using good agricultural rractices she learned from Training through Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation and Opportunity International.

Hanna Ayesu’s* soybean yields were low. Despite her seven years of experience growing soy, she was rarely able to grow enough to sell and wasn’t able to access inputs that would improve her crop’s yield.

The Ayesu family’s story is not unique. Of the five million people in Malawi’s Feed the Future target regions, more than two-thirds are poor. Many households, including those headed by women, till small plots for subsistence. For these farmers, hunger and undernutrition are no strangers.

The life-threatening combination of poverty and food insecurity is partly due to farmers’ limited access to financial products and services. Without these resources, they are unable to invest in high-quality agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilizers, which can increase their productivity and earnings.

To address this challenge, Opportunity Bank of Malawi (OBM) has partnered with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation since 2015 to provide smallholder farmers with OBM financial and banking products and services as well as training on good agricultural practices. The trainings are held at local organizations such as clubs, and at least one-third of the 10,000 training participants are women. By 2017, 9,000 of the trained farmers will have used at least one OBM product or service, such as a loan, savings account or mobile money.

After seeing publicity for this financial resource and training opportunity, Ayesu joined a club where, as a member, she was able to receive training. She has learned about topics ranging from conservation farming to water management and irrigation to pest and disease control, including instruction on integrated pest management and safe handling and usage of pesticides.

Following the recommended agricultural practices, Ayesu planted her acre with soybeans and now expects to harvest more than 20 bags of soybean—more than enough to feed her family and to sell at market.

Ayesu also opened her first bank account with OBM and qualified for a K50,000 ($75) agriculture loan. She is now investing the borrowed money to pay for extra farm labor to weed and maintain her field which helps ensure a quality harvest. Her ongoing participation in trainings is providing her with mentors, technical assistance, and a new confidence that she can grow her business. “I see a bright future,” Ayesu said. “I will produce more soybeans and expect to borrow again next year because I will have saved money for collateral.”

With better farm management and agronomic skills, farmers, especially women, are less likely to default on loans, and by grouping farmers, OBM can reduce its operating costs.

Partnerships with extension service providers, training in good agricultural practices, and ongoing technical assistance are critical to smallholder farmer success. In Malawi, this unprecedented effort to reach women farmers with financial services is an important opportunity for both women and the local bankers who will benefit from their business.

*Last name has been changed to protect privacy.

June 18, 2015
MCCHigh-value crops like strawberries are helping farmers in Moldova increase their incomes.

Feed the Future focuses efforts in 19 countries, selected not only based on level of need, but also opportunity for partnership and potential for agricultural growth, among other criteria. That approach mirrors the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s model of smart, rigorous development driven by countries’ own priorities for economic growth and poverty reduction. Read on to learn how this model is contributing to better food security in countries that share the United States’ commitment to democracy and mutual prosperity.

On the banks of the Shire River in Malawi, a towering hydrodam hums along, supplying clean energy to thousands of rural communities. Just months ago, the dam experienced frequent outages due to aquatic weed infestation and dense sediment in the river, a result of severe upstream erosion. But support from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is helping address the immediate causes of the power outages while promoting sustainable management of natural resources to prevent recurring problems. An environmental trust between local watershed communities, utilities and private companies is working to reduce factors like soil erosion and sedimentation that threaten Malawi’s power infrastructure as well as agriculture and food security.

The Shire River dam, part of MCC’s five-year, $350.7 million compact with Malawi, is just one example of how MCC strengthens agricultural and rural economies in some of the world’s poorest countries. In many cases, the agreements MCC signs with host country governments promote reliable access to sufficient, safe and affordable food, contributing to Feed the Future’s goals of reducing hunger, poverty and undernutrition. In fact, $4.5 billion – almost half of MCC’s obligated investments – are related to improving food security, much of it going toward infrastructure that improves conditions for agricultural growth and connects small-scale farming communities to markets so they can earn more income.

The MCC development model is unique in that good governance, economic freedom and investing in citizens are all prerequisites for receiving grants that fund country-led solutions to poverty and its related challenges. Like Feed the Future’s, MCC’s approach is rooted in country ownership, and almost all MCC partner countries have prioritized investments related to food security as part of their compact programs.

Just last year, MCC completed two compacts in Burkina Faso and Namibia with large food security investments, including water management, livestock, land tenure, rural finance and rural road components. Two more compacts with Senegal and Moldova will end this year, which have already resulted in significant irrigation improvements in Senegal and the completion of a 93 kilometer road in Moldova.

Some MCC food security investments also align with those of other development organizations. In Moldova, for instance, MCC and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have pooled resources to carry out a coordinated strategy to grow and trade high-value crops among rural farming households, which have struggled during the transition from a centrally-planned to a market economy over the past 20 years. This co-investment aims to revitalize Moldova’s agriculture sector, once a pillar of the economy and a major regional supplier of food products. By improving irrigation, unlocking critical new markets and increasing access to technology and financing, MCC and USAID will help farmers grow more high-value crops like tomatoes, table grapes, nuts, fruits and vegetables.

And in El Salvador, where cocoa is a major cash crop well-suited to small-scale farmers, MCC is partnering with USAID, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to improve cocoa production in coordination with the Salvadoran government. The partnership is stimulating niche markets for “fino de aroma,” specialty chocolates based on cocoa plants native to Central America and the Caribbean, and buyers are already starting to take notice as this supply chain re-emerges in El Salvador.

With an emphasis on rigorous assessment tools, MCC also invests in independent impact evaluations that help show whether positive changes – such as increases in farmer income – are caused specifically by U.S. assistance or are the result of external factors like a national policy change or weather conditions. These evaluations help ensure evidence and data guide future programming and answer important questions about what is effective and what can be done better in development, supporting a Feed the Future Learning Agenda that aims to build the evidence base for what works in food security.

Learn more about the Millennium Challenge Corporation or read more blogs in this series.

April 30, 2015
Mario TelloAgronomist Gabriela Mishel Villatoro Fuentes with Carlos Carmelino Dominguez González and son.

“Grain legumes” is the technical way to describe some of the most basic foods available: beans, lentils, and peas all fall under this category. These nutrient-dense staple crops have historically been cultivated for their protein and are considered “low-hanging fruit” in the fight against undernutrition, since they are already familiar in many diets around the world.

The Feed the Future Legume Innovation Lab, led by Michigan State University, is undertaking a number of projects to maximize the potential of these common food staples to combat undernutrition and food insecurity.

In Guatemala, for example, the Feed the Future Legume Innovation Lab is supporting a project to promote protein-packed black beans among smallholder farmers, distributing disease-resistant bean varieties adapted for high elevations. Carlos Dominguez, a smallholder coffee farmer in the western highlands of Guatemala, recently harvested 200 pounds of black beans as a result of the seed allocation and training he received on improved soil fertility and pest management practices. This means he will be able to provide 100 pounds of food for his family and retain enough seed for the next planting season. The remaining profits will help Dominguez’s family stay food-secure in a region where climate change and plant diseases have made it increasingly difficult to grow crops including grain legumes.

In conjunction with these efforts to increase bean production, Feed the Future is supporting nutrition educators who visit remote villages to educate women and men about the importance of greater dietary diversity and how eating more beans can help improve children’s growth and long-term health. At nutrition fairs, the educators share easy recipes for a bean-fortified maize porridge for infants to replace their traditional diet of atole, a maize-sugar beverage high in calories but low in nutrients.  

On the other side of the globe, the Grain Legumes Innovation Lab is bringing physicians and scientists together to combat child undernutrition in Malawi, where nearly half of children under the age of five are stunted. One of the pervasive causes of undernutrition among children is an asymptomatic chronic inflammatory gut condition called environmental enteropathy, which occurs when young children are exposed long-term to an unsanitary environment, including unhygienically prepared complementary foods. The project’s researchers are investigating whether easily digestible grain legumes – in lieu of more traditional staples like maize, cassava and sorghum – can help reduce environmental enteropathy in young children by improving gut health. Cowpea, for example, has three to four times more protein per gram than corn and may have anti-inflammatory effects.

To test this theory, researchers are conducting two trials among different age groups to investigate the effect of common bean and cowpea consumption on infant and toddler gut health and growth. These experiments will contribute to a clearer understanding of whether a grain legume supplement can contribute to children’s increased growth and reduced risk of environmental enteropathy compared to children who receive standard food supplements. If so, grain legumes will represent an exciting new front in the battle to end millions of child deaths resulting from undernutrition and improve the long-term potential for children and economies to grow strong and healthy.

April 20, 2015
Mark LundyAs a graduate student, Mark Lundy (far left) worked with Chimwemwe (second from right) and colleagues in Malawi on a tomato production project in 2012.

The United States has always been a world leader in the fight to end hunger and poverty. This spring, our partners share how recent efforts embody the best of the United States and why this leadership matters. The following is a guest post authored by Mark Lundy, who traveled to Malawi as a graduate student to work on an agricultural development project. Mark is now a cooperative extension farm advisor in California.

Having grown up in a city, my interest in agriculture was largely something that developed after I left home. As an undergraduate student and in the years afterward, I was lucky to have the opportunity to study and work in China, Ireland and Mexico.

As diverse as these locations were geographically, culturally and linguistically, something that unified these experiences for me was that in each place I ended up working and interacting with farmers in rural areas. In the process, I became increasingly interested in learning about rural livelihoods and how they were changing in a rapidly globalizing world economy. Eventually, this motivated me to dive into the agricultural sciences. I began working on farms and ultimately earned a master’s degree in international agricultural development and a doctorate in agronomy from the University of California, Davis.

It was during the course of my graduate work at UC Davis that I participated in the Trellis program, which partners graduate students in the United States with agricultural research and outreach organizations in the developing world. Run by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Horticulture, the Trellis program’s objective is to share expertise and foster cross-cultural collaborations in agricultural development.

When I applied to participate in Trellis, I was mid-stream in my graduate work and eager to put my “book learning” to some practical use. I was also curious to see how the more detailed understanding of agricultural production I had been gaining largely in the context of Californian agriculture would apply to a rural, developing world setting more similar to those that had initiated my vocation.

Collaborating in Malawi

I was partnered with the Bvumbwe Agricultural Research Station outside of Blantyre, Malawi, whose Trellis project focus was to disseminate improved production practices for small-scale farmers growing fresh-market tomatoes. Our collaboration consisted of compiling region-specific best practices with visual aids into poster handouts and organizing on-farm field demonstrations of best management practices. Trellis provided part of the funding for me to travel to Malawi to participate in some of the field demonstrations.

One of my colleagues during the project was an agronomist named Chimwemwe, who had been educated in the area and possessed both fundamental agronomic knowledge and a nuanced understanding of agricultural production in his region. He had good relationships with leaders in the farming communities we visited and he was well respected among his colleagues at the research station. During my time in Malawi, he and I discussed cropping system innovations such as conservation agriculture, the feasibility and constraints of organic production systems, and possibilities for tomato processing and composting operations.

I was impressed with Chimwemwe’s know-how and, simultaneously, frustrated by the resource constraints that confined the possibility of his impact.

Even though we successfully accomplished the Trellis project objectives, I remember thinking that as much as I valued what I was learning from the experience, the money invested in my plane ticket might have been better spent directly on Chimwemwe’s programs. How much more might he have accomplished beyond the objectives of the project with those resources in hand?

Getting Sharper

In the years following my participation in Trellis, I finished my graduate work and became an agronomy advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension, part of the Agriculture and Natural Resources division. In that role, I provide agronomic expertise to farmers and lead applied research and extension programs for a wide range of crops (including tomatoes!) in the lower Sacramento Valley. My decision to work in this role was partly informed by my participation in Trellis and my interactions with Chimwemwe.

Seeing Chimwemwe’s extension program in action underscored to me that agriculture is simultaneously (even paradoxically) a global and a local enterprise. Many of the fundamentals of cropping systems do apply broadly across diverse agricultural landscapes, which is what permitted the productive conversations and collaboration between us.

There is no substitute for a nuanced understanding of the particular contours and constraints of any given region or farm. 

Nevertheless, there is no substitute for a nuanced understanding of the particular contours and constraints of any given region or farm. Despite my broad knowledge of cropping systems, Chimwemwe’s relationships with individuals in his region and his understanding of the particular constraints to production on the farms he was serving made him a sharper tool for the job we set out to do together.

With a few years’ perspective, I can now see that the project was successful beyond its immediate goal of extending best management practices to small-scale tomato growers in Malawi. Observing Chimwemwe in action inspired me to leverage the regionally specific knowledge I had gained about California agriculture during my graduate education and try to become a similarly sharp tool in my own backyard.

As a result, my Trellis experience continues to bear fruit in my day-to-day work right here in California.

Editor’s Note: Fourteen graduate students from UC Davis, North Carolina State University and the University of Florida are currently working on new Trellis Fund projects in nine countries as part of Feed the Future.  Follow their work by visiting the Feed the Future Horticulture Innovation Lab’s website

More from This Series:

March 31, 2015
MCCA rehabilitated hydropower dam on Malawi's Shire River means clean, renewable energy, while a new environmental trust will support local watershed communities.

In Malawi, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is investing in hydropower, a clean and renewable energy source, to revitalize the country’s power sector. 

One such effort underway is the rehabilitation of a major hydropower dam on the Shire River. To ensure the sustainability of this power infrastructure and the long-term functionality of the hydropower plant, MCC is addressing a range of environmental challenges. For instance, aquatic weed infestation and dense sediment in the Shire River from severe upstream erosion are creating forced outages at the hydropower plant, reducing efficiency and increasing costs. 

Together with local implementing partner MCA-Malawi, MCC is tackling this problem with a two-pronged approach that addresses the immediate causes of the power outages while also promoting more sustainable environmental practices to prevent the problem from recurring.  

First, MCC funded the purchase of weed harvesters and dredgers to mechanically remove the aquatic plants and silt that have built up over years of the hydropower plant’s operation. But removing the weeds and silt is the easy part; the hard part is preventing future build-ups, which is why MCC is investing in a longer-term approach that promotes upstream conservation. MCA-Malawi is working with upstream farmers to adopt conservation agriculture, reforestation and other farming practices that will ultimately improve environmental outcomes at the plant site and help sustain more reliable hydropower generation.

To help sustain support for local watershed communities beyond the life of this project and build long-term food security, MCC will help create and partially fund an environmental trust to support sustainable improvements in land use management in the Shire River Basin. This trust may be supported through combined financing from water and electricity tariffs, and from downstream private companies through a ”payment for ecosystem services” mechanism. The goal is to link utilities and private companies that suffer the impacts of poor water quality with the upstream communities that manage the natural resources. The trust, using funding from these downstream stakeholders and/or tariffs, will support NGOs to work with upstream local communities to reduce weed infestation, soil erosion and sedimentation. 

This work, which ultimately aims to increase the performance of the power sector to drive investment and create economic growth, is part of an environment and natural resources management project that falls under MCC’s five-year, $350.7 million compact with Malawi.

Learn more.

January 29, 2015
USAIDFeed the Future is helping get improved, drought-tolerant seed varieties like CAP9001 into the hands of smallholder farmers.
A little friendly competition goes a long way when it comes to seed production in southern Africa. 
Research into improved seed varieties, especially drought-tolerant ones, is vital for improving food security in this region, but without strong commercial distribution channels, seed companies face a disincentive to ramp up production of improved varieties. Although “CAP9001,” a variety developed specifically with the needs of this region in mind, has been approved by the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa Initiative (DTMA) of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the lack of multiplication and commercial distribution has been a major obstacle to getting seed to farmers.
To help lower these barriers to the market, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Southern Africa Trade Hub provided a grant of $100,000 under the Feed the Future initiative to Capstone Seeds SA to accelerate commercial access to drought-tolerant, hybrid maize seed in Malawi. Capstone, an independent South African seed company, entered into a joint venture with Peacock Enterprises Ltd of Malawi to multiply and market CAP9001 – which maximizes yield potential in small-scale, rain-fed, drought-vulnerable farming systems – in Malawi. Through the grant, Peacock Seeds purchased parent seed and received technical assistance in best practices for seed production operations.
Pairing these two independent seed companies in South Africa and Malawi helped bring new seed products to the market effectively: approximately 80 metric tons of certified, hybrid seed maize were produced as a result of the grant project. Both parties stress the importance of a strong, local seed industry to bring competition and varied products to the market. 
"It is very important that this grant supports two independent seed companies,” Capstone Seed Director Philip Taylor says. “Real competition and innovation will only come from stronger local seed producers, and a more competitive seed market ultimately benefits the farmers of Malawi.”
Peacock Seeds marketed the seed directly to smallholders in 10-kilogram packs, targeting approximately 8,000 farmers in the first year. But the first year is just the start. 
"This partnership means that the variety will now be consistently available to the farming community,” says Director of Peacock Enterprises Felix Jumbe. “We hope to increase our outreach through our dealer network which currently numbers 15. Demand is increasing, and we are confident that small-scale farmers will achieve the yield potential for our variety. Now working with a credible seed company from South Africa and distributing certified seed on the market, Peacock is happy to be part of Malawi’s agricultural development.”
November 20, 2014
MDFAThe Mpoto Dairy Association in northern Malawi will participate in Bettie Kawonga's (far right) project for young dairy entrepreneurs.

Meet Bettie Kawonga, a 2014 Scholar in the Borlaug Higher Education for Research and Development Program, implemented by Michigan State University and supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development under Feed the Future.

A lecturer in dairy science and technology at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources Bunda College of Agriculture (LUANAR) in Malawi, Kawonga is earning a PhD in dairy sciences at the University of Kentucky’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences. She is also one of four winners of this year’s 40 Chances Fellowship at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa. After she completes her studies, Kawonga will use the $150,000 from her 40 Chances award to establish a network of Community Business Incubation Centers, which will enable under-employed Malawian youth to become successful entrepreneurs in Malawi’s dairy sector.

Watch a video highlighting Kawonga’s work or read on to see what she had to say about increasing opportunities for young people in her country.

Tell us a little about yourself: How did you become interested in livestock and why did you decide to focus your efforts on promoting employment for young people in Malawi?

My interest in agriculture dates back to the time when I helped raise chickens and grow vegetables for home consumption in our backyard garden while growing up. With this background it was easy to choose a career in agriculture after completing secondary education.

In 2000, I was one of two students from Bunda College who participated in a World Poultry Science Regional Youth Program in South Africa. Among many other things, I learned there how South Africa’s poultry industry developed through engaging both the private sector and youth along the poultry value chain, with youth receiving mentoring to help them become future leaders in the industry. This is the business model I want to promote with the Malawi Young Dairy Entrepreneurs Project (MAYODE).

Studies in Africa, including Malawi, have shown that close to 60 percent of the population are youth, many of whom are unemployed, in part due to a lack of skills. I believe the time has come for us who are working in the livestock sector to harness the potential of young people by providing necessary leadership and technical skills in the dairy value chain.

How do Community Business Incubation Centers work? Can you explain the process of skills training and start-up funds for youth in a bit more detail?

Groups of young people (20 members per group) in rural communities with an interest in dairy will be matched with mentors – accomplished business leaders and animal scientists – and provided with leadership, agribusiness, financial and technical skills in the dairy value chain. The groups will have access to start-up funds from an endowment trust to be created with part of the 40 Chances award.

Each group will be mentored for a period of one year, after which they will be required to mentor another group under the supervision of a mentor. Prospective new groups will access a competitive grant from MAYODE after satisfying set guidelines for the project. The cycle will continue with subsequent groups as a way of propagation and skills transfer at the community level. Each group will have a loan and savings system to inculcate a savings culture among youth and enable members to graduate and start independent dairy enterprises of their choice after two to three years of incubation. The groups will be managed through a Dairy Technology and Business Innovations Hub at Malawi’s Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

What kinds of opportunities can youth in Malawi find in the dairy sector? In your experience, are young people excited about job opportunities in food production?

There are a number of opportunities along the dairy value chain that young people can be engaged in, including feed manufacturing and production, dairy heifer production, animal health services, artificial insemination services, dairy processing and dairy extension services.

Young people are excited by enterprises that can offer them a regular source of income, and dairy enterprises can provide that kind of opportunity.

Are there one or two things you think governments, companies, and/or other organizations can do to help make careers in agriculture and food security more attractive to young people?

Provision of infrastructure such as rural roads, electricity, water and telecommunication should be prioritized by both government and the private sector. Young people are technologically oriented, and access to such facilities should be a priority in order to attract young people to rural and peri-urban agricultural areas.

What advice do you have for youth who are interested in careers in food and agriculture?

Science-based subjects such as biology, physics and chemistry will form a good foundation for a career in food and agriculture. Hard work, determination, focus, and having mentors will help shape young people’s dreams and aspirations for life. Every young person needs to optimize his or her strengths and be willing to work on their weaknesses to achieve their goals.

October 23, 2014
Jazmian Allen, Peace CorpsIndividuals from Chulu Village in Malawi receive four female goats to raise as part of a pass-on program implemented by a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Preparing for and serving in the Peace Corps was a journey I could not have completely prepared for. My decision to serve stemmed from my desire to utilize the skills I had acquired in agriculture and resource economics and animal science at Tuskegee University by assisting individuals to reach personal sustainability in lower-income countries.

Unaware of what I was getting myself into but excited about the opportunity to serve, I accepted my invite to serve in Malawi as soon as it arrived. I wasn’t exactly sure where on the map Malawi was (knowing only that it was located somewhere in Africa), but I knew this opportunity closely related to my personal and professional interests.

I arrived in Malawi during rainy season and instantly fell in love. The temperature was warm, the land was lush and green, and the people were welcoming and loving. I learned that I would be placed in Kasungu National Park and subsequently dreamed of animals and paradise, a beautiful landscape with lush surroundings. I imagined befriending one of the elephants and using her as my means of transportation.

This is what I envisioned…

A herd of elephants stands in a field

Photo by Patrick Chiyo/Duke University (courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

But this is what I actually saw…

A wildlife park with no wildlife in it

Photo by Jazmian Allen, Peace Corps

A wildlife park with no wildlife!

A major part of Peace Corps service is integrating into the community in order to understand its dynamics and needs to guide collaboration on future projects. While integrating into my community in Malawi, I learned that, in the past, many of my community members poached wildlife because there was a lack of meat (protein) in the community.

When most people think of poaching, they see it as a way to sell parts of the animal across borders (for example, ivory from elephants). But that was not the case here: My community saw poaching as a way to survive.

After speaking to my community and learning more about the challenges they faced, I knew there had to be a better solution to address protein deficiencies. How could more protein-rich, balanced meals be provided to decrease malnutrition? I reflected back, drawing from my extensive knowledge of goats and experience working at the Caprine Research Center (a goat research farm) while I was an undergraduate, as I searched for an answer.

I knew there had to be a better solution to address protein deficiencies.

In graduate school, while researching my thesis “Economics of Goat Meat Raising in the Alabama Black Belt Counties,” I had focused on goat farmers living in an area with extreme poverty very similar to Africa. I was aware of all the amazing properties of goats and how they could help low-income individuals. For example, goat’s milk is close to a woman’s breast milk and can serve as a milk replacement, helping increase survival rates of babies born to mothers infected with HIV/AIDS. Not only that, but goats also have the leanest and healthiest red meat for consumption.

Thinking of all the benefits of goats, I proposed the idea of raising them to my community to determine its level of interest. Once members expressed interest, we had to figure out how to bring the goats to them.

During my graduate studies, I had learned about an organization called Heifer International. It has an amazing “pass-on” program that I wanted to emulate, but I did not have much time and wanted to reach as many people as possible in my two years of Peace Corps service. I wrote (and received) a President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) grant for $10,000, through Peace Corps Malawi, to implement the project.

The project started with 16 individuals who would then train others in the pass-on program. Local agriculture extension workers and local agriculture non-profits trained these 16 individuals for one week. Incorporating extension workers and local non-profits ensured a level of sustainability that I would not be able to provide once I left Malawi.

During the week-long training, participants received information on goat production, management and sales. After the training, they returned home to build secure housing for their goats as their contribution. They each received five female local-breed goats, delivered by breeders in southern Malawi, for a total of 80 female goats across the 16 participants. We also purchased two male South African Boer goats from a local Malawian non-profit, Small Scale Livestock and Livelihoods Program, for breeding purposes. South African Boer goats have a high muscle mass (more meat) and higher production rate (twins and triplets). Breeding them with local Malawian female goats produces offspring with these desirable genetic traits. After the offspring were old enough to live without their mothers, five females were passed on to the next person in line for the pass on, and the process continued.

I left Malawi in April 2011. Over the past six months, I have been in contact with my Malawian counterpart, Chegwenyu, and he informed me that the program is still going. Initially, we started with 500 individuals that we estimated would expand to 2,500. To my surprise, that number had been surpassed and Chegwenyu believes that there will be an impact double or even triple the amount originally projected!

The fact that my community, Chulu Village, now has access to more protein-rich, balanced meals every day has solidified my belief that goats can be used to create a better quality of life for those in lower-income communities around the world. And, as an added benefit, it means wildlife in the village can remain where it belongs: in the wild at the local national park.

Zikomo Kwabiri!

Editor’s Note: The author is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. As part of Feed the Future, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Peace Corps have teamed up to provide more than 1,200 Feed the Future Peace Corps Volunteers. These Volunteers work with communities around the globe to improve food security at the grassroots level—and you can too! Visit to learn more. This post also appears on the Peace Corps Passport blog.

Jazmian Allen, Peace CorpsAs part of their contribution to the pass-on program, individuals receiving goats built secure housing for their animals.


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