Scarce resources make the evaluation of aid projects incredibly important, as many governments must do more with so much less. This is aptly demonstrated in Africa’s input subsidy programs (ISPs), programs that provide agriculture inputs such as fertilizer at a steep discount. The Zambian government spends 90% of its agriculture budget on ISPs. Unfortunately that leaves a very small percentage for other agriculture development projects. Some may argue spending such a large amount on subsidies fails to help improve agriculture development and food security in the African nation.

Zambia is not alone in the push for ISPs. Based on initial analysis of Malawi’s subsidy program, ten Sub-Saharan countries have designated significant budgetary commitment to input programs. African countries spend a combined $2 billion annually on ISPs. However, more recent analyses have shown these programs are not as effective as originally thought.

While input subsidy funding has increased, funding for other agriculture development initiatives suffers. Research and development and agricultural management programs are two areas that have had their budgets hacked to make up the difference. These other development initiatives are considered to be more effective methods for increasing agriculture production.

Subsidy programs are not as effective in African nations for several reasons. For one, fertilizers are not as effective if much of the soil in these nations. The soil does not absorb fertilizer well and as a result its full potential cannot be reached. Also, many of these programs are not effectively run. In Zambia, for instance, one-third of fertilizer subsidies are consistently late. Farmers therefore are unable to plant their crops during the ideal time period, causing yield losses.

A recent panel discussion hosted by International Food Policy Research Program (IFPRI) on ISPs discussed the political opportunities ISPs hold. They are a visible and positive program that politicians use. The quantitative nature of the program makes demonstrating success easy. This is despite the existence of more effective agriculture development initiatives. The positive political nature of ISPs also makes their elimination difficult and a political circus.

Of course, the best way to make ISPs more effective is to increase funding in complementary agriculture development projects such as research and development, seed technology, infrastructure improvement, and extension services. Unfortunately, a funding boost in these programs is unlikely if the government is already spending the majority of its budget on ISPs.

Callie D. Coleman

Sources: The Guardian, IFPRI, IAPRI

Toms Founder Responds Criticism Development
They’ve become a staple in the closets of many. The bright colors and eccentric patterns fill department store walls plastered with the signs “One for One.” TOMS shoes has become a well-known and very popular shoe brand over the years not only for the comfortable canvas slip-ons the company is known for, but also its promise to give back.

For every pair of TOMS shoes sold, the company gives away another pair to someone in need. This “One for One” philosophy has helped people throughout the developing world by providing them with footwear where they otherwise would not be able to afford such a luxury.

Despite its generous initiative, where the company has given 10 million pairs of shoes to children in need over the past seven years, many see TOMS’ do-good mission as a marketing ploy, rather than a genuine attempt at making a difference in the developing world.

In fact, because the company is for-profit instead of a nonprofit charity, the TOMS ‘One for One’ business model is purely just that—a tool for Western business expansion that undermines developing nations’ economies by not attacking the real roots of poverty. Instead, critics say that the company makes matters worse by undermining local footwear industries in the countries that receive the shoes.

TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie recently responded to criticism about his company’s motives as well as his own when he first created the brand.

“I didn’t come out thinking, ‘Hey, we’re going to solve the world’s problems. We’re focused on helping people that needed something that we can provide,” he said in an interview with the Huffington Post.

By providing children in the developing world with shoes, TOMS helps to promote education, as children in poorer countries are oftentimes required to wear shoes to attend school. Also the company helps to protect adult and children’s feet from cuts and infections which keeps them healthy.

The company also expanded its giving profile in 2011 to include eyewear, thus donating professional eye care treatment as well as eye glasses to people in the developing world in the hopes of decreasing the high amount of visual impairment in poorer countries.

Mycoskie also plans to take the company beyond shoes and eyewear hopefully by getting involved with micro finance initiatives, clean drinking water, education supplies, and hunger.

Recently, the brand has also promised to produce one-third of TOMS shoes in the countries where they are donated in order to create local employment.

However, Mycoskie has learned that no matter what he plans to do with TOMS, there will always be criticism.

“No matter what, you’re going to have someone who’s going to be critical. I invite those people to come on a trip and see the impact,” he said.

Elisha-Kim Desmangles

Sources: Huffington Post, TOMS
Photo: PhotoPin

In the village of Bandafassi, just outside the larger town of Kedougou in eastern Senegal, women have established a weekly market as a result of a new business-training program. The training program is part of Saving for Change, an Oxfam initiative that helps poor people in Mali, Senegal, El Salvador, Guatemala and Cambodia improve their livelihoods and build a better future by increasing their access to financial services.

For many families in developing countries, obtaining a small loan can be a huge stepping-stone in lifting themselves out of poverty. In regions where access to banks and credit unions is scarce, Oxfam provides a savings and lending service to those who need them most.

Working on the community finance or “microfinance” model, Saving for Change helps villages come together to form groups of about 20 people; the members save money, makes loans, and pay each other interest that grows the group fund. Members can use their loans to start or grow small businesses, purchase seeds, buy medicines for sick family members, or pay school fees for their children.

The weekly markets play a central role for small-scale traders in villages such as Bandafassi; even the simplest infrastructure to present market goods signifies opportunity for the women there. In order to start the market, the women had to meet with local authorities, including the village leader and the mayor, to seek permission, and to find an appropriate public space.

They then had to raise enough money from the Saving for Change group members; 69 group members contributed 250 francs each, or about 50 cents, to construct the first set of shops. The new market represents the skills and knowledge these women have acquired from the Saving for Change program and its respective business training; it is empowering them to trade and prosper in their own communities.

“We’ve always thought that with good business training, women will open up their eyes and see a new vision of the world, and their place in it,” said Paul Ahouissoussi, Oxfam’s Saving for Change coordinator in West Africa. “The training is really about how to diversify their small commercial enterprises, but it’s also about finding the courage to try new things.”

– Chloe Isacke

Sources: Oxfam America, Freedom from Hunger
Photo: CIPE

Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee-shop operator, will open a café in Bogota, Colombia after almost a century of buying coffee from the country. The café will open in the first half of next year, along with an additional five locations by the end of 2014. The company, headed by Starbucks Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz, hopes to reach the goal of opening 50 Starbucks in Colombia in five years.

“This is long overdue,” Schultz said at a press conference in Bogota. “There is tremendous enthusiasm as we talk to people and walk the streets—most of these Colombian people we talked to have consumed Starbucks coffee somewhere else.”

Starbucks will help to boost its sales by expanding to countries with growing middle classes. The company has about 8,000 cafes located outside the United States, opening its first in India in 2012 and opening one in Vietnam this year. According to Starbucks’ annual global responsibility report, the company bought about 545 million pounds of coffee from 29 countries in 2012, a 27 percent increase from 2011. Colombia has been Starbucks’ largest or second-largest coffee-bean supplier in its 42 year history.

Starbucks is also partnering with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to invest $3 million into the security of coffee quality and supply in various regions of Colombia. USAID and Starbucks will each invest $1.5 million in research to benefit small-plot coffee farmers in Colombia over the next three years. The funds will go to Starbucks’ farmer support center in Manizales, which will pay for agronomists to analyze soil and inform growers on factors that affect profit and yield, including fertilizers, climate and pests.

Starbucks opened its first support center in Costa Rica in 2004, and opened branches last year in Colombia and China to help local coffee farmers improve the size and quality of their harvests. By 2015, Starbucks aims to sell all ethically sourced coffee.

– Ali Warlich
Sources: Starbucks, TIME, Bloomberg
Photo: Reuters

tobacco control measures
Global public health policy has taken a step in the wrong direction as negotiations continue between the United States and 11 other countries regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

The United States Trade Representative (USTR), the primary U.S. governmental agency responsible for negotiating international trade policy, recently abandoned its stance that would have tightened regulations for tobacco companies regarding their ability to challenge domestic tobacco control measures.

The USTR’s backpedaling has enormous public health ramifications globally. According to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), over 1 billion people worldwide will die this century as a result of tobacco. That’s 11 percent of the globe’s population.

The USTR initially proposed language in the TPP that would have created “safe harbors” so that domestic tobacco control measures could not be challenged by the tobacco industry. Increasingly, “Big Tobacco” and its allies are using international trade agreements to dispute local tobacco control laws. For example, in Australia, tobacco companies are challenging the legitimacy of the country’s law requiring that cigarettes can only be sold in plain packaging. While in Uruguay, Philip Morris International is protesting the nation’s statute regarding the use of large, graphic health warnings on its packaging.

Moreover, the new USTR proposal does not even recognize tobacco as a uniquely harmful product that should be regulated differently than mangoes or coffee beans or some other generally benign commodity. The ruling fails to recognize the overwhelming global support for increased tobacco control measures. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which 177 countries have ratified, explicitly states that signatories are obligated to implement more stringent tobacco control measures.

Embarrassingly, the United States has not ratified the FCTC and appears to be headed in the exact opposite direction from the rest of the world on this matter. It comes down to a cost-benefit analysis – apparently the $145 billion of annual tobacco related revenue is worth more to U.S. policymakers than the health and well-being of billions of people worldwide.

The public health ramifications are particularly stark for people living in the developing world, where 49 percent of men use tobacco. Eleven percent of women in the developing world use tobacco products, and that figure is on the rise. The long-term health costs associated with tobacco related illness and disease for these individuals is astronomical.

The interconnectedness of public health and poverty alleviation is clear. A healthy population is much more likely to experience improved economic conditions than one that is hampered with enormous health care costs that they cannot afford.

As Dr. Oleg Chestnov, Assistant Director-General of the WHO, stated, “We have the tools and we have the will. Millions of lives stand to be saved–we must act together and we must act now.” His optimistic view is inspiring, but the USTR’s ruling on the TPP is certainly not helping his cause.

– Aaron Faust

Sources: American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, World Health Organization, Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Council on Foreign Relations
Photo: CCTV

quino market
In recent years, international interest in quinoa has exploded—knowledge of the grain’s nutritional dynamism has proliferated, making it a desirable choice in an increasingly health-conscious world. In light of its recent popularity, the UN named 2013 “the international year of quinoa.”

The West, with its new market for quinoa, has largely turned to Bolivia, where the grain has been growing for over 7,000 years in the steppes of the Andes. Originally, the newfound demand for quinoa portended great things for the national economy, which would stand to accrue significant wealth through exporting the super-crop.

However, unforeseen implications of the international quinoa market have engendered a new problem for the Bolivian people: namely, the crop is becoming so expensive that many Bolivians no longer have access to it. In 2000, before the international market for quinoa took off, 100kg of quinoa cost about 80 Bolivianos ($11.60 USD). Today, prices have risen nearly ten-fold: 100 kg of quinoa now costs around 800 Bolivianos ($115 USD), and prices continue to rise.

Tellingly, losing a national dietary staple—particularly one with such prodiguous nutritional value—has devastating effects on local health. Bolivia must work towards intitiatives to subsidize crops for locals, providing them with the invaluable nutritional benefits of quinoa.

– Anna Purcell

Sources: NYTimes , Al Jazeera
Photo: PhotoPin

For a variety of reasons, China has become known for its “interactiveness” with the global south. This “interactiveness” has included construction projects, student scholarships, and sending  doctors.

Recently, China began to fund five research centers in Africa and the global south in order to increase collaboration between Chinese and African scientists. The topics of focus for the scientists will include the climate, water, environmentally friendly technology, biotechnology, and space technology.

Using the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), $6.5 million will be distributed to the research centers over the course of the next three years. These funds will work to improve China’s soft power in the global south by conducting joint research projects between the CAS and the research centers.

Currently, there is a CAS network known as The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) that will also benefit from this Chinese outreach to the global south. Along with the research projects, the funding will also provide for an increase in workshops, training, and PhD programs.

According to Salim Abdool Karim, director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa and a TWAS member, “The five centers will play an important role in global scientific collaboration by increasing South-South training opportunities.”

This collaboration is expected to increase climate change research. Yongqiang Liu, a research meteorologist at the USDA Forest Service’s Center for Forest Disturbance Science sees it as a good way to “prepare future leaders to lead climate change research for developing countries.”

Action through research investment should improve China’s image in the world. Currently, China stands at 50% favorable and 36% unfavorable among populaces from around the world. Comparably, the US was seen as favorable by 63%, and unfavorable by 30%. More specifically, when people were asked if they thought China considered their country’s interests, 27% thought a great deal with 63% saying either not too much or not at all.

There is still a great deal of room for China to improve its international appeal. By working with developing nations to improve research in sustainable technology and other important sciences, China can build off the work of TWAS and foster support from citizens in these countries.

Once the three years comes to an end, the education and collaboration should improve the environmental technology sector, as well as build the capacity for a future scientific community with various projects and goals. If successful, this move may be beneficial in regards to China’s popularity as well.

– Michael Carney
Sources: SciDev.Net, Pew Global

Despite advances in advertising in recent years, word of mouth is still considered by many marketing experts to be the best form of advertisement. As businesses look to increase their presence in South Africa, word of mouth publicity could be the key to appealing to otherwise unreachable demographics.

Zonal champions, as they are called by marketing agency Creative Counsel, are human advertisements. They are members of local communities who are employed to represent a brand and promote appropriate products during their everyday conversations. The potential consumers are able to freely question zonal champions about the products, allowing for all curiosities to be satisfied before a purchase is made.

Nontando Vena, a zonal champion for South African mobile phone company Vodacom, says she doesn’t have conventional work hours. Instead, she promotes the brand “24/7, 365,” and members of her community occasionally refer to her as “Miss Vodacom.”

The merits of zonal champions are numerous for both the customers and the providers. For businesses, zonal champions are able to reach rural parts of Africa that traditional advertisements are unable to. Upwards of 550 million people are without electricity in Africa, which represents a massive untapped market for businesses to sell products. A zonal champion only needs two to four days to be properly trained, and they can continuously reach rural customers on a daily basis.

South African consumers are more welcoming of zonal champions than they would be of commercials and billboards. Consumers are more trusting of a friend or family member than they are of an advertisement, and this is especially true in South Africa. Zonal champions are able to give a familiar face to otherwise detached companies, which let consumers feel more comfortable with new brand names.

Economically, zonal champions are also beneficial to the many rural consumers who are forced to be judicious with their income. While the income of South Africans has risen by upwards of 170% in the past decade, the average annual income is still about $6,258. As a result, South African consumers are extremely hesitant to invest in products they are unfamiliar with. By answering questions and recommending products, zonal champions are able to engage local citizens and let them know if the product being offered will meet their needs.

In addition to the benefits for businesses and consumers, the zonal champions themselves are able to benefit from this unique form of employment. Unemployment in South Africa remains very high, with up to 24% of citizens without work. Many of these people have no access to education, and therefore are considered “unemployable.” There are no prerequisites to become a zonal champion, and the work itself primarily involves being present in a community. This allows a new opportunity for these “unemployable” citizens to find work and curb the harsh unemployment rate in the process.

Africa’s economy is among the fastest growing in the world now, and international businesses are starting to take notice. President Obama’s recent trip to Africa highlights the continent’s growing relevance in the global economy, and zonal champions will surely play a large role in growing markets in these once impoverished parts of the country. With the numerous advancements in technology and advertising in recent years, zonal champions prove that old fashioned conversation is still as relevant as ever.

– Timothy Monbleau
Sources: Linkedin, How We Made It In Africa, CNN, Creative Counsel, BBC, Google Currency Conversion, World Bank, Vodacom
Photo: Riger Jabber



In 2012, the United States provided nearly $12 billion in official development assistance (“ODA”) to African nations. The ODA is allocated to education, health, infrastructure and economic development programs in recipient countries. Currently, the United States allocates foreign aid to 47 African nations and USAID operates 27 missions on the continent.

US Foreign aid to Africa began in the 1960s as many African nations gained independence and the United States sought strategic alliances to counter the influence of the Soviet Union. With the exception of disaster and famine relief, most foreign aid to Africa began to decrease with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In the 2000s, President Bush more than tripled aid to Africa by establishing programs such as the Child Survival and Health Programs Fund as well as the Global HIV/AIDS Initiative.

Though foreign aid programs are designed to assist recipient nations with development, they also benefit the United States in a number of ways.

First, these programs help build strategic alliances and foster support for democratic transitions. It also stimulates Africa’s growth and development, which provides opportunities for increased trade and direct investment in the continent’s emerging markets.

But for all the benefits, foreign aid to Africa has no shortage of detractors. Many critics point out that much of the money allocated to Africa never reaches the people who most need the assistance. “Eighty percent of U.S. aid to Africa is spent right here in America — on American contractors, American suppliers, and so forth,” said George Ayittey, president of the Free Africa Foundation.

In more corrupt nations, politicians and civic leaders are often charged with misappropriating funds designated for the people. Others critics claim that foreign aid to Africa simply does not work—after 50 years of assistance, Africa still confronts the same issues.

But even critics would have to agree on one crucial point: foreign aid is an integral part of U.S. foreign policy. In Africa, aid programs support a large framework of social and economic assistance for developing nations.

Critics are correct that American companies and corrupt politicians siphon a large portion of foreign aid. But aid to Africa has also done much to improve infrastructure, bolster economic development and improve health care conditions for millions of people on the continent.

– Danial Bonasso
Sources: Foreign Policy Initiative, Washington Post, NPR,
Photo: James Bovard

Last week, Washington welcomed 30 small and medium-sized female business owners from 27 countries in Africa, who are participants in the African Women’s Entrepreneur Program (AWEP). Every year, 30 female entrepreneurs are invited to the U.S. to attend professional development meetings and network with U.S. policy makers, companies, industry associations, nonprofit groups, and multilateral development organizations. For the past two weeks, the women have traveled throughout the U.S. to meet with scores of professionals in cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.

The visit marks three years of success for AWEP, which was launched by the U.S. Department of State in July 2010. The program is an outreach, education, and engagement initiative that works with African women entrepreneurs in several main focus areas. AWEP supports the Presidential Policy Directive on U.S. strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa by operating on two parallels: it spurs economic growth and trade by involving female entrepreneurs in the sector, and promotes opportunity and development throughout the continent for women and youth.

The Department of State acknowledges that supporting growth in Africa is economically and politically vital; doing so opens up trade to U.S. markets and creates positive business environments both at home and abroad. In addition, AWEP helps to empower women in their respective countries; in Africa, women are the backbone of communities, and by enabling them to utilize their economic power, the program is helping to reduce the gender gap in education and improve health, political participation and economic inclusion.

The women in the program include Mame Diene from Senegal, whose organic cosmetics and nutraceuticals company, Bioessence Laboratories, employs almost 4,000 people. The visit to Washington enabled Ms. Diene and her peers to discuss business growth and female empowerment in Africa. When the women return to their countries, they join AWEP chapters where they can connect with other successful businesswomen; by building networks, the initiative is enabling these women to become voices for social advocacy in their communities.

AWEP is a prime example of U.S. commitment to foreign investment in developing regions. Globally, women constitute 50% of the global population and 40% of the global workforce, yet they own just 1% of the world’s wealth. By providing a platform from which women can effectively run their own businesses, AWEP is resulting in positive economic, social and political changes that are beneficial for the U.S. both abroad and at home.

– Chloe Isacke
Sources: DipNote, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State