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women's_empowerment
Often in the news for its ongoing bloody conflict, Afghanistan has now made headlines for a much different reason. In early November, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) invested $216 million in developing Promote, a program that focuses on the training, promotion and education of over 75,000 Afghan girls that will lead to a greater contribution from women in the country’s development. The million dollar investment has made Promote one of the largest women’s empowerment programs supported by USAID.

The five-year plan consists of four parts that aim to “improve women’s rights groups, boost female participation in the economy, increase the number of women in decision-making positions within the Afghan government and help women gain business and managerial skills.” Program planners will seek out women ages 18-35 who have had at least a secondary education to enroll in Promote. USAID is also seeking another $200 million commitment from additional donors that will assist them in their objectives.

Both President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah attended the launch of Promote in Kabul, along with USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah. The men were keen on giving women more power and voice in government decisions and wanted to continue the extraordinary progress Afghan women have made since the collapse of the Taliban regime in the early 2000s.

U.S. Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues Catherine Russell has acknowledged this progress and emphasized that women must be even more present “at the table” and in greater numbers. First Lady Rula Ghani also added that Promote should not only reach out to women in urban areas, but also the young girls in Afghanistan’s many provinces.

With help from USAID, Afghan women have already made vast improvements in health, education and empowerment. Maternal mortality has reduced exponentially leading to a 20-year increase in life expectancy and the number of girls in school is much higher, compared to 2002 when there was virtually none present. USAID hopes that Promote will continue encouraging and empowering women in Afghanistan, key components that are essential to the country’s own economic prosperity and national security. Or, as Dr. Shah puts it, “by investing in women as champions for development, we can advance peace and broad-based growth across Afghanistan.”

Leeda Jewayni

Sources: USAID, Tolo News, Feminist.org
Photo: Washington Post

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Despite the progress Afghanistan has made in regard to women’s rights since the end of the Taliban regime in 2001, the position of Afghan women in society is deplorable. Afghan women have won the vote and the opportunity for jobs and education, but there is much work to be done. Afghanistan is still a male-dominated culture, one that is rampant with forced marriages, cruelty, and violence against Afghan women.

Recently, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the “Promote” program to further the position of Afghan women in society. With “Promote,” the U.S. will fund a $200 million program to empower women between the ages of 18 and 30 in Afghanistan. With expressed interest in assistance from Australia, Britain, Japan, and the European Union, the funding for this program could double. In addition to furthering women’s position in society, this program also seeks to engage in economic development in Afghanistan.

This five-year program, the largest of its kind to date, intends to help at least 75,000 women overcome the restraints on their true potential and attain economic and educational security. Rajiv Shah, head of USAID in Afghanistan, states that this program seeks to create 3,500 small businesses by providing women entrepreneurs with credit and microfinance to promote economic growth. Training will also be provided to women who want an active role in the economy so that women will seek out government and policymaking positions in higher numbers.

USAID’s Women in Government Internship Program over the last three years has provided training and placed more than 440 interns in Afghan government agencies. This program seeks to increase female representation in government to 30%. Currently less than 20% of government officials in Afghanistan are women.

If women are successful, Afghanistan will be successful, which is why Shah demonstrates that there must be progress on women’s role in Afghan society. If the withdrawal of U.S. forces after the Afghan presidential elections scheduled for 2014 results in the resurgence of the Taliban, women will continue to be undermined, and all developments in women’s rights issues may be lost. Shah urges that the opportunities for women to be successful must increase because their role in society is vital for poverty reduction efforts and economic development. It is now more crucial than ever to empower women, because after foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan, there will likely be a decrease in foreign assistance.

– Rahul Shah

Sources: Khaama, Washington Post, Al Arabiya, USAID
Photo: Women of Vision

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The House and Senate are in the process of debating multiple versions of the farm bill, which may affect the way food aid is delivered. The Obama administration has suggested an overhaul to allow food aid to be bought and distributed locally, rather than grown in American and shipped abroad. Both the House and the Senate have rejected this principle, with the Senate approving a significantly scaled-back version of the suggested plan.

Local and regional procurement (LRP), the purchase of food within the area where it is to be distributed, has many advantages. LRP cuts delivery time by an average of 13.8 weeks, according to an extensive study completed out of Cornell University. LRP can also decrease the cost of food aid, especially with transportation. For example, local grain purchases are extremely effective at cost reduction, with an average savings of 53%. It has been suggested that locally procured food may be safer and of higher quality. The previously mentioned study found that LRP recipients were universally more satisfied than recipients of foods shipped from overseas.

The purchase of local foods also supports local farmers in developing economies, and has been found to have generally negligible effects on local market price levels and their volatility. Additionally, local companies may have a better understanding of the recipient communities and markets than U.S. companies do. Distributing locally produced foods can also be safer. According to Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, shipping large amounts of food aid into some war-torn areas is an extremely dangerous and prolonged process.

Despite all the benefits of LRP, there are a few concerns that should be raised. Local markets may not be able to support rapidly increased demand, and this may result in increased prices that put non-recipients at a disadvantage. In addition, food safety and quality are extremely varied and difficult to monitor overseas. It is also inadvisable to rely on local vendors that have not been proven consistent when attempting to get food to people who are starving.

The Obama administration’s suggested plan concerned the main U.S. food aid program, called “Food for Peace.” The changes would mean using up to 45% of “Food for Peace” funding to buy food locally. However, both the House and the Senate have rejected this idea. The House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture has approved a version of the farm bill for debate on the House floor that advises a 20% cut to the “Food for Peace” program. Meanwhile, the Senate has passed a bill that would increase annual funding for the purchase of local products by 50%, to $60 million. This is still a minute portion of the $1.8 billion spent on food aid each year. While the changes suggested by the Senate are commendable, they should be seen as a small step in the right direction, rather than a complete solution.

– Katie Fullerton
Source: NPR, The Columbus Dispatch, Reuters
Photo: Organic Connections

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Since the proposed changes to the US system of food aid, many have voiced concerns about the shift away from domestic agriculture and towards local food supplies in developing countries. But how will food aid reform affect US shipping and agriculture?

Devex journalist, John Alliage Morales, reports after the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations held May 7, 2013. Shah defended President Obama’s proposal to reform the $1.5 million US Food Aid Program: it would only affect about 300 employees in the shipping industry and 0.2 percent of American agricultural exports.

The six-decade old food aid program was designed primarily to help American farmers by purchasing their surplus, and American shipping companies by requiring at least 75 percent of the goods to be transported to countries in need on U.S.-flagged vessels.

Under Obama’s proposal for fiscal year 2014, the government would still buy food from farmers, but only up to 55 percent of the total, allowing the USAID to source the remaining 45 percent from local or regional markets closer to the crisis areas. USAID estimates that the $1.8-billion new program could reach an additional four million people simply by freeing up money spent on shipping and other costs.

Responding to queries from senators on the reform’s impact to local agriculture, Shah said: “We think the net change would be close to 0.2 percent of total value of U.S. agriculture export.”

“There are other sources of market demand,” added the USAID chief, who stressed that it is “inaccurate” to say that no one will buy the agricultural produce that would no longer be purchased by the government.

Ten years ago, USAID bought and shipped 5.5 million metric tons of food, but today this figure is down to 1.8 million metric tons. In addition, shipping costs have tripled over the same period of time, eating away about 25 percent of the budget, which could have been used to buy more food.

Shah noted that if the reform is approved by Congress, only about eight to ten ships or about 300 employees of the shipping industry will no longer benefit from the food aid program. That accounts for 0.2 percent of the total 15,000 workers in the American maritime shipping sector, he added.

“Of course, we expect that those ships will have other business activities, some of which will come from Department of Defense, some of which will come from elsewhere that they can pursue,” the official said.

– Maria Caluag

Source: Devex
Photo: US News

Farmer Harvests Sorghum Seeds in Sudan

The Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Rajiv Shah, the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Donald Kaberuka, and the Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation, Gunilla Carlsson, recently announced a new fund called the Agriculture Fast Track. The Agriculture Fast Track is a $25 million fund that will spur greater private investment in agricultural infrastructure projects in sub-Saharan Africa. The Agriculture Fast Track fund is the first of its kind.

The announcement was made at Grow Africa Forum in South Africa. Grow Africa is a partnership of the African Union, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the World Economic Forum. It works with eight African countries to engage governments, civil society, and the private sector to advance sustainable agricultural growth.

The Agriculture Fast Track will spur agriculture infrastructure development in countries that are members of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, strengthening the links from farmers to markets to tables. It will also finance upstream work of project design, including feasibility studies, market analyses, site surveys, business plans, financial modeling, and other activities necessary to ensure project quality and bank-ability by supporting each project with up to $1.5 million. These project preparation grants will ultimately facilitate access to more funding for agriculture infrastructure because banks and other investors require this documentation to issue commercial loans.

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was launched last year by President Obama at the G-8 summit and includes six member countries: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, and Tanzania. The New Alliance matches market-oriented regulatory reforms in these six countries with $3.7 billion in commitments from the private sector in agriculture.

The fund will be managed by the African Development Bank with the USAID pledging $15 million and the Government of Sweden, pledging $10 million, respectively.

Shah said, “Since the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was founded last year, we’ve seen member countries make serious reforms that have led to real progress. The launch of the Agriculture Fast Track allows African farmers to take advantage of these reforms through fast-tracked infrastructure projects that will better deliver their products to markets.”

Carlsson noted, “By targeting the project preparation stage of projects, the Agriculture Fast Track will advance infrastructure projects when funding is most acutely needed to pivot from planning to construction. This targeted approach allows us to catalyze significantly more private sector investments and ensure the highest standards in terms of social and environmental sustainability.”

–  Essee Oruma

Source: USAID
Photo:NEPAD

USAID holds a unique position in that its main objective is to put itself out of business. In order to achieve this goal, USAID established USAID Forward.

Shortly after Rajiv Shah became president of USAID in 2009, USAID Forward was created. USAID Forward is a group of measures implemented to strengthen the effectiveness of the Agency’s performance in areas such as budget management, project implementation, and monitoring and evaluation.

Recently, USAID has issued a progress report and infographic containing the progress USAID Forward has made in maximizing transparency and delivering better results. This report not only catalogues the current progress being made, but also hints at future developments and the future direction of USAID.

As an agency, USAID is moving away from establishing individual missions around the world, and moving toward establishing partnerships with foreign nations. During the presidency of Rajiv Shah, USAID has cut its global footprint by 11 missions. Rather than establishing missions, USAID works to aid nations monetarily and help them establish a sustainable infrastructure created with its own people. This is a result-oriented tactic that centers around providing data and technical support as well as goal oriented monetary aid with a focus on accountability.

USAID is one of the United States’ largest nonprofits and was established by President Kennedy in 1961. It is currently one of the largest nonprofits in the United States and operates directly under the guidance of the President of the United States and Secretary of State.

Despite the changes in strategy and tactics, the main goal of USAID remains the same: creating conditions where aid is no longer needed.

– Pete Grapentien

Source American Enterprise Institute

Maternal Health in Nigeria

“The United States Agency for International Development, USAID, has expressed commitments towards ensuring that pregnant women and [sic] People Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria are provided with adequate medical services,” report Vera Sam-Anyagafu and Prisca Sam-Duru of allAfrica.

The effort of providing proper medical equipment and training is part of the USAID mission to save one million lives, notes Dr. Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator, during his official visit to Island Maternity in Lagos, Nigeria.

This arm of US foreign policy emphasizes the fight against AIDS and the United States’ investment in the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of providing adequate maternal healthcare worldwide. Having proper prenatal care and enforcing proper hospital procedures and training has helped eliminate disease transmission of HIV and AIDS in Island Maternity and Dr. Shah believes that this result bodes well for the elimination of HIV and AIDS in Nigeria as a whole.

In his words, “…if Nigeria can replicate what has happened in this hospital throughout this country, it will be well out of its way to achieving its goal of saving one million lives and the United States is proud to be the primary partner to help achieve that outcome.”

– Nina Narang

Source: allAfrica
Photo: The Guardian