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An Insider's Journey to Improving Food Security and Literacy in Tanzania

USDA’s McGovern–Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program helps reduce hunger and improve literacy and primary education in low-income, food-deficit countries around the world. Today, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) works hand-in-hand with non-profit charitable organizations and others to operate McGovern-Dole programs in 25 countries. One of these partnerships is with Project Concern International (PCI) for a multifaceted school feeding program in northern Tanzania.

FAS caught up with PCI Operations Officer Kara West while visiting Tanzania to glean an insider’s perspective on the program.

Research in Energy Security Helps Lead to Food Security in West Africa

Research shows the majority of people in Africa depend on biomass to meet their energy needs, with approximately 80 percent relying on wood energy. Such high dependency makes families vulnerable to unexpected and sudden changes, including extreme weather and socio-political events. Researching and developing ways to diversify energy sources is crucial for a more sustainable, food secure future.

A project funded through the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) Cochran Fellowship Program on “Biofuels for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods,” hosted by the University of Missouri (MU) College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources International Programs, set out to address this very issue. The research and training program was organized for West African Cochran Fellows to learn how different uses of biofuels can help support sustainable livelihoods in their communities. The two-week-long program consisted of workshops, field visits and interactive discussions in cooperation with the USDA Forest Products Laboratory, the MU Center for Agroforestry, Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture and Envest Microfinance.

U.S. and Mexico Collaborate on Organic Monitoring and Enforcement

As consumer demand for organic products continues to grow around the world, the USDA Organic Seal has become a leading global standard. USDA provides support for the vibrant organic sector, representing a retail market of over $43 billion in the United States alone.  USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is excited to announce another way we are helping organic producers reach new markets and offering consumers additional organic products.

We plan to establish a Joint Organic Compliance Committee in support of a potential organic equivalency arrangement between the United States and Mexico. There is already a robust trade in agricultural products taking place between our two countries: Last year, the United States exported over $100 million of organic food products to Mexico – our third largest agricultural export market – and Mexico supplied the United States with food certified to the U.S. organic standards, including seasonal produce.

Agricultural Data Users Weigh-in on USDA Statistical Programs

As I’ve learned over my years with the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), in order to make an impact, our information needs to meet the needs of the people who use the data we produce. And while we constantly try to gauge and meet their needs, it is imperative to speak to our data users directly to get their input. We are open to feedback all the time and we hold annual special Data Users’ Meeting in Chicago every October.

Of course face-to-face interaction has its limitations since not everyone can travel to Chicago to meet with us. To address this concern, for the first time this year, we are also adding a social media component to our Data Users’ Meeting. Immediately following the panel session at the meeting, from 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Central Time, I will be answering questions via Twitter during our monthly #StatChat.

USDA Borlaug Fellow Helps Farmers in His Native Country

Issah Sugri of Ghana is helping his nation feed itself and improve its farmers’ efficiency thanks to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program. The Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program, funded by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), is a six to 12 week training program that pairs up-and-coming researchers from selected countries with mentors from a U.S. land-grant institution or government agency. Sugri, one of 36 FAS Borlaug Fellows in 2012, was assigned to the University of Florida with the specific goal of reducing post-harvest losses of tomatoes by better understanding climate-relevant, low-tech methods of extending shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables.

When he returned to Ghana, Sugri put his fellowship training to immediate use. Collaborating with fellow researchers at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (CSIR-SARI), based in Bawku, Ghana, he published fact sheets for local farmers describing optimal harvest and storage conditions. Sugri even included his mobile phone number so he could accept field questions and provide clarification.  He also worked with extension agents to train producers on post-harvest loss avoidance techniques and their economic benefits. At Sugri’s urging, SARI hired a dedicated food scientist to focus additional research on the topic.

Kenyan Credits McGovern-Dole Program for Changing His Life

As a young boy in eastern Kenya, Peter Mumo faced a life of poverty, hunger and illness. That is until he started receiving school meals at the age of nine through the USDA McGovern–Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. After that, his life turned around. He started to gain weight, his health improved and he began doing well in school.

And now, at age 28, he is in Des Moines, Iowa, to take part in a six-week business and entrepreneurship training program hosted by Drake University as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship. The Fellowship is the flagship program of the Obama Administration’s Young African Leaders Initiative that empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training and networking.

Discovering New Opportunities in Thailand - from Grains and Greens to Seafood

In mid-August, I traveled to Southeast Asia and witnessed firsthand the great strides being made to help increase food security and trade. I also came to appreciate the immense potential for future trade opportunities in the area. I returned with a reaffirmed sense of urgency to continue building upon recent gains in trade with Thailand.

Thailand purchased a record $1.7 billion in food and agricultural products last year from the United States, making it our 13th largest export market. Overall, U.S. agricultural exports to Thailand have grown by more than 150 percent over the past decade. Throughout my visit, growing demand for both U.S. bulk commodities and consumer products was very clear.

Showcasing New Opportunities in the Growing Philippines Food and Beverage Market

As the largest U.S. food and beverage export market in Southeast Asia and one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, the Philippines is attracting top food franchises. To showcase these new market opportunities, the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and U.S. Commercial Service offices in Manila organized a first-ever cooperative marketing event for the country.

Supported by the Philippine Franchise Association and the Hotel and Restaurant Purchasing Managers Association of the Philippines, the event brought together more than 15 importers and 180 key decision makers of U.S. and Philippine-grown food franchises. Not only did the event showcase the availability, quality and uses of U.S. fine foods and beverages, it also linked importers with food franchises and helped them identify market access issues, trends and new trade opportunities.

Cacao for Peace: How the Fruit of a Tree Could Help Sustain Peace and Revive Rural Communities in Colombia

I’ve learned a lot about cacao lately. I learned that it’s pronounced ka-COW. I learned that it’s grown on trees in tropical climates and is the essential ingredient in chocolate, cocoa powder and cocoa butter. I learned that it’s not to be confused with coca, which is an illicit crop and the primary ingredient in cocaine.

I also learned that Colombia, despite having near-perfect growing conditions for the cacao tree, produces a small fraction of the world’s supply. So how might cacao help solidify peace in Colombia after a 52-year armed conflict and, at the same time, enhance the U.S.-Colombia relationship? I discovered how when I visited last month and learned more about USDA’s Cacao for Peace project.

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Mary Safie

Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading the industry and helping other women succeed along the way. This month, we hear from Mary Safie, owner of Safie Specialty Foods. In 1994, Mary took over her family’s canning business which began in 1929 in her grandfather’s kitchen with food grown on his farm in Chesterfield Township, Michigan. Specializing in pickled vegetables, Safie’s has experienced success domestically and abroad, with assistance from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service and State Regional Trade Groups.