A longtime Arlington County Board member shakes up Virginia politics by announcing plans to step away. Uncertainty clouds the future for the chief of one of Maryland's treasured public school systems. And the field of candidates narrows in D.C.'s special elections looming in the spring.
The U.S. government is in the process of reshaping how it provides development assistance to countries around the world. At the center of that effort is Rajiv Shah, who, among other things, has managed the White House’s initiative to reform food aid programs in developing countries. Shah joins Kojo to examine the results of the Obama administration’s foreign aid strategies, particularly as they pertain to food aid reform.
- Rajiv Shah Administrator, USAID
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Discussions about the Obama Administration's foreign policy often conjure up images of the front lines of the war in Afghanistan or sleep-deprived diplomats trying to revive peace talks in the Middle East.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThey don't always evoke images of a small landholder farmer in East Africa or in Latin America. But food aid is part of the core mission of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which plays a critical role in how the U.S. government engages with the rest of the world. Four years ago, the president tasked USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah with spearheading a new effort to combat global hunger and lift small farmers out of poverty.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe joins us in studio today to discuss the results of the so-called Feed the Future Initiative and the future of foreign aid as a tool in American foreign policy. Rajiv Shah is the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.
MR. RAJIV SHAHThank you, Kojo, for having me.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for us, you can call us at 800-433-8850. What do you think the United States should be doing to make the aid it provides in foreign countries more effective? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Rajiv Shah, one of the first pieces of foreign policy this administration set in motion was one designed to counter spiking global food prices four years ago. What were the specific problems the so-called Feed the Future Initiative was designed to solve? And how was it crafted to do so?
SHAHWell, it's important, I think, to recognize that in 2008 and 2009, the world was in a global financial crisis but also a global food crisis. Food prices had spiked dramatically. And for the first time in decades, literally tens of millions of people were moved back into a condition of extreme poverty and hunger.
SHAHAnd it was in that context that President Obama at his first G-20 meeting in L'Aquila, Italy brought together world leaders and said, we have to address the financial crisis, we also have to address the food crisis, raised $22 billion in commitments from around the world, including $3.5 billion from the United States, and launched not just new money but a new approach to saying, let's not just give out food, but let's help small-scale farmers use their own ingenuity and hard work to move themselves and their families out of poverty and subsistence and create the basis of stability and growth in their communities.
NNAMDIYou are reporting the results of this program this week. What data are you pointing to as evidence of its effectiveness or for areas where you think these efforts need serious improvement?
SHAHWell, this week, we've been proud to announce that Feed the Future has more than exceeded its initial goals, has reached 7 million small-scale farmers in 19 countries, and, most importantly, 12.5 million children who live in these families and in these households who would have otherwise gone hungry, have moved beyond hunger to a place of being adequately nourished, starting to go to school, and starting to embrace the opportunity for a brighter future.
SHAHFeed the Future has improved farming practices on a land mass that is almost 10 million acres of land. That's twice the size of the state of Massachusetts. And we've, importantly, matched the almost $5 billion of U.S. government investment in hunger around the world with more than $7 billion in investments from private companies that are working with us in innovative new public-private partnerships.
NNAMDIBut when you talk about the agricultural technologies that this program makes more accessible to small landholder farmers, what specifically are you describing?
SHAHWell, the specifics are extraordinary, Kojo. In Honduras, we're helping farmers get access to better beans and vegetable varieties, improved forms of Arabica coffee, and we now know that the 26,000 families, more than 120,000 people in those families, have moved from, on average, living and subsisting at 71 cents per day per person to $2.39 per day per person. And that almost 250 percent increase in their incomes is their pathway out of poverty.
SHAHSimilarly, in Haiti, we're working on rice and corn and beans. And in the past, when the food crisis happened, there was a front page article in The New York Times about a young girl in Haiti literally mixing mud with food and making and eating mud cakes to keep her belly somewhat full. Today, rice yields are up more than 130 percent.
SHAHCorn yields are up 320 percent. Bean yields are up more than 100 percent. And as a result of a more vibrant Haitian agriculture, the rate of acute malnutrition in Haiti is half of what it used to be, according to our new survey data. So we can see real progress, even in some very impoverished parts of the world.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, our guest is Rajiv Shah, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. If you have questions or comments, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Do you buy into the idea that developing aid and foreign assistance are important ways for the U.S. to assert its influence throughout the world or why not?
NNAMDI800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment right there. We spoke to former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman a few months ago when the Farm Bill passed, about where food aid fits into the broader picture as a diplomatic tool. How do you see it?
SHAHWell, food aid is always going to be important. There are times -- and today we see these times in South Sudan where we're literally fighting off a famine by trying to get food, some of it produced in the United States and some of it produced in local neighboring countries, to those who are suffering and suffering acutely and really need it to survive and avoid famine and starvation.
SHAHOn the other hand, Feed the Future is about saying, you know, let's try to eliminate the conditions that create famine and starvation. Let's work with governments who are willing to lead by reforming their policies, by doubling or tripling their own investment in agriculture, and then let's work alongside them by bringing companies and science and technology and innovation to help them get their agricultural economies going.
NNAMDIOne of the things that the Food Bill targeted was monetization, a concept which I freely admit I have some trouble understanding. Could you help explain that for us?
SHAHMonetization is easy to explain, more difficult to justify. Monetization is the practice of Congress giving us money and then requiring that we buy food in the United States, put it on ships, ship it to places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, transport it into local villages and communities, and then sell it in those communities. With the money that's raised, we then give that money to NGOs to pay for agricultural development activities. It is an extraordinarily inefficient practice.
SHAHAbout half of every dollar is lost in that process. And it, frankly, reduces food prices in the very communities where you're trying to create incentives for farmers. So we are proud to announce, as part of our ongoing efforts in Feed the Future and food aid reform, that this year, thanks to Congress giving us certain elements of the reforms President Obama asked for in the last Farm Bill, this year, for the first time, USAID will not monetize food in that manner anywhere around the world.
NNAMDII'm proud to announce that I finally understand monetization. Please put on your headphones because we're going to go to the phones to talk with Jess in Silver Spring, Md. Jess, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JESSHi. I have a specific question about an agricultural technology. So I'm not an agriculture expert. But one technology that really seems interesting to me is biochar which puts carbon into the soil, and it particularly -- particular areas, like tropical areas where the soil is infertile to begin with -- have you looked into that technology as a way of permanently increasing soil fertility in some of these areas?
SHAHWell, thank you for your question. We have. In fact, part of Feed the Future was saying, let's take a new approach to this work, and let's partner with great scientists and researchers all around the world. So we launched 23 Feed the Future Innovation Labs on U.S. universities, land grant universities, and partnered them with scientists and researchers in the 19 Feed the Future countries.
SHAHAnd, as a result, we're helping to improve soil fertility using biochar and a range of other strategies, including deep urea placement and other new forms of fertilizer that we've worked to invent for small-scale farmers over the last several years. And it's making a big difference.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jess. It's my understanding that USAID is involved with helping coffee farmers in Latin America and the Caribbean fight against a fungus called coffee rust that's wiping out crops. How is the Feed the Future program leveraged to help small farmers fight this kind of problems?
SHAHWell, Feed the Future took a perspective that said, we want to bring the best and most relevant science, technology, and innovation to small-scale farmers to help them move themselves out of poverty through their own hard work. And, today, coffee rust, which is a fungus that attacks the leaf of the coffee tree, is reducing coffee yields in Latin America and Central America by anywhere up to 40 percent and literally pushing families that we've helped move out of poverty back under the poverty line.
SHAHSo we have announced a new partnership with Texas A&M University to create improved varieties of coffee trees that can be resistant to the rust disease, as well as some new partnerships with countries like Mexico and others to do early surveillance in the region and help to protect those farmers, so they can protect themselves from losing what is essentially their main source of livelihood and being pushed back under the extreme poverty line.
NNAMDIWhile we're talking about food aid and while we're on the general subject of Africa, you said only a few weeks ago that South Sudan, which is dealing with intense internal strife, is on the brink of famine. U.N. officials said yesterday that 4 million people there could be facing starvation if the conflict continues through the end of the year. From the perspective of humanitarian aid, what do you feel needs to happen while the political situation is hopefully diffused?
SHAHWell, the first thing that needs to happen is political leaders need to abide by the cease-fires they have agreed to, live up to that, stop fighting so families can plant on their farms and reap harvests in the future, and so that food can move around the country freely. We have partners in certain states that are asking to be paid in food, NGO partners, because there's no food available in local markets.
SHAHWe are now working with the international community and just yesterday announced, in a major global donor effort, a more than $600 million of new financial commitments to help address the pending famine in South Sudan. And we raised money from our European partners, including in the U.K. and Norway and elsewhere, so that everybody's putting resources and effort into helping South Sudan avert what looks to be a likely famine in the August and September timeframe.
NNAMDIYou mentioned about leaders keeping their agreements, and we know that these agreements have been reached. And essentially within days or hours, they seem to have been broken. You told NPR's Steve Inskeep several weeks ago, when John Kerry was in South Sudan, that USAID operations there have been disrupted and that there were immediate actions the government there could take to restore access to affected communities. Have those actions been taken? Or are you still waiting for them to be taken?
SHAHSome actions have been taken. Yesterday, the foreign minister of South Sudan promised access to affected communities. We're not seeing full unimpeded access yet. So we reiterated the need for access to rivers so we can take food up the river on barges. Those are prepared and ready to go. They just need escort and access, access to the road infrastructure so we can reach difficult-to-reach communities, protection for U.N. and humanitarian workers who are putting their lives at risk in the midst of a conflict to ensure that children don't starve to death.
SHAHAnd just to put it in perspective, we are now getting reports from our partners on the ground, of children coming to refugee camps with red hair, which signifies and acute level of malnutrition. And, in fact, we do believe that our famine early warning system analysis is accurate. And that as many as 50,000 children, as UNICEF has noted, are at risk of death related to starvation if something isn't done immediately.
NNAMDIHere now is Daniel, in Potomac, Md. Daniel, your turn.
DANIELThank you very much. I'm aware that the U.K. government has started a project focused on childhood stunting, you know, where kids don't get enough food and they never actually recover physically or mentally. And they've tied that to the Olympic movement. So that in Rio the grants will be reviewed and progress will be assessed and that sort of thing, including with respect to orange/sweet potatoes, which I know AID has been a leader in promoting, with respect to Vitamin A. Is AID involved in that? Because it strikes me as a great way to sort of leverage attention and effectiveness.
SHAHWell, thank you. The United States Feed The Future and USAID are absolutely at the center of a major global effort right now to address stunting. Stunting is the fact that there are 165 million children around the world who were so severely malnourished during their mother's pregnancy and during their first two years of life, that they suffer permanent brain damage, permanent loss of function as they go forward in their lives. And we now know that that loss of function results in lower growth rates in country after country.
SHAHSo we have been part of this global effort called Nutrition for Growth, to help make sure that we're targeting children during that critical 1000-day period, when getting them improved food quality can help lifelong improvements in their livelihoods. And we are proud to note that in our Feed The Future countries we are actively reaching, you know, significant numbers of kids in that cohort, with very specialized food products that we've developed over the last several years as part of an innovative new program.
SHAHSo, yes, we've been the largest investor in that effort. We're measuring very carefully the results of those efforts. And we're proud to note that of the 12 and a half million children we're helping, a number of them are in that first 1,000-day period. And it will reduce stunting rates in country after country.
NNAMDIDaniel, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation with Rajiv Shah, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. But you can still call with your comments or questions, 800-433-8850. Or send email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Rajiv Shah. He is the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. If you've got comments or questions give us a call at 800-433-8850. Where do you think food aid should fit into America's broader diplomatic strategy? 800-433-8850. I'll start with Amy, in Bethesda, Md. Amy, your turn.
AMYHi. My question is how much autonomy the farmers are allowed with the seeds from the products that you're giving them. Are they reliant on the seed corporations that are producing and providing them? Or are they permitted to use the seeds again?
SHAHWell, it's a great question. The farmers that we work with, now more than 7 million of them, have the choice as to what technologies to use on their farms and how to access to them. It has been important, as part of Feed The Future, to use this new model of development that says this isn't going to be public handouts, but rather the ability to get governments to make policy reforms. Private companies, including local, small-scale companies to invest in building businesses that serve the very poor.
SHAHAnd then farmers treating agriculture like a business. And one of our highlights was last year President Obama, himself, met one of these farmers, a woman named Nimna in Senegal. And she told him the story of how she used to be poor, as part of Feed The Future, she started getting access to better seeds and fertilizers. She formed a cooperative of women farmers that came together.
SHAHNow they're selling to bigger companies and buying tractors and using mobile phones to track market prices to get the best deal, and moving their entire community out of poverty through their own hard work. And she said thank you for that engagement through Feed The Future. And that's really what success should look like.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Amy. I'd like to move on to contracting. The Washington Post published several articles this month outlining how one contractor, IRD, because a $700 million business from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And how its employees, some of which include former USAID officials, earn very, very high salaries. And the results they've achieved there have been, at the best, mixed.
NNAMDILet's start with the issue of the money. You've said you've taken steps to limit the size of awards that companies can get and that writing big checks to contractors is not development. How would you respond to the visceral criticism that it's clear that people are literally making fortunes in the private sector off USAID's dime?
SHAHWell, you know, Kojo, a lot happened in Iraq and Afghanistan over more than a decade that I think helped inform an agenda for our management leadership when I took office about four and a half years ago. And the most important thing we did at the outset was launch a major new reform to our contracting that included much tighter oversight. The number of contract enforcement actions that we've had under my tenure is up 25 times, relative to the five-year period before.
SHAHOur award sizes are down more than 30 percent. We implemented a process called Accountable Assistance for Afghanistan where we measured results related to contracts and sub-awards. And that level of extra scrutiny resulted in a number of partners no longer working with the agency. And some no longer being in business. So we've been strong on contract oversight and management.
SHAHAnd in order to do that we've had to grow the size and staff of our agency, almost 35 percent, because it was penny wise, pound foolish two decades ago when we really reduced the size of the USAID organization, but tripled the number of contracts required to be overseen. And I hope our country doesn't make that mistake again.
NNAMDIWhat have you learned from your experiences working with contractors about how implementing programs can be done most effectively, which things you may feel only government can do effectively and in which situations contractors are essentially being trusted as primary implementers of core missions?
SHAHWell, I think we've learned that there's some things that only government can and should do. But there are a lot of things that our partners can do, especially if they adopt this new model of development that is so evident in Feed The Future. So, for example, in Ethiopia, instead of having contractors hand out seed and fertilizer to small-scale farmers, in an effort to help them move out of poverty, we now have public-private partnerships with local companies, like GUTS Agro or international companies, like Pepsi and Dupont.
SHAHAnd what our partners, some of our contract partners do, is they build the collaborative partnership between Dupont, 35,000 small-scale farmers, women-headed farmers organizations, the government and us. And that all-hands-on-deck collaborative partnership is far more effective at helping at helping people move out of poverty, without breeding dependency. And Americans get more bang for their development dollar.
NNAMDIAny other fixes you think are necessary for reforming your system for procurement?
SHAHI do. I also think we have to be extraordinarily results oriented. And that's why when we started to measure what we're achieving in Afghanistan we now know that we helped 7 million kids go to school, including 3 million girls, that there are 40,000 women in colleges in Afghanistan because of America's developmental investments. And we've built up more than 2,000 kilometers of road. The results monitoring system I'm most proud of is the one that we've put in place for Feed The Future.
SHAHWhere, for the first time, we can actually report on specific income gains, household by household, of the families that we work with, and that's how we know that Feed The Future, and the president's leadership to end hunger has actually helped 12 and a half million children no longer go hungry, not by giving out food, but by helping their communities improve their agriculture.
NNAMDIA few weeks ago on this broadcast we spoke with former World Bank official William Easterly, a self-described recovering expert and, well, troublemaker, who's been very critical of the status quo in international development on several fronts. One thing he's been particularly critical of is the marriage of American foreign aid strategy and national security strategy. Do what degree do you either share those concerns or do you feel like there's been a national takeover of our aid strategy during the past 15 years, as he clearly feels?
SHAHWell, you know, during -- under President Obama, he made a very specific commitment, as did Secretary Clinton and Secretary Kerry, to make sure that we elevate the role of development as part of our foreign policy. So for Feed The Future, for example, our diplomats are in the field, country after country, negotiating policy reforms, getting Tanzania to pull back its export ban of food because we know that that prevents companies from investing.
SHAHOr getting the Ethiopian government to change the way it governs its seed sector because it was stifling innovation and progress. And the same is true of the military, as part of Feed The Future we work with our military colleagues, and have found that if you look at food insecurity in the Sahel, in western Africa, it maps very closely to the most vulnerable communities that are likely to or are currently at significant risk of violent extremism.
SHAHAnd so we're trying to make the case through Feed The Future that if we can address our core human opportunity for the world's most vulnerable people, we can create a safer planet and safer communities as well.
NNAMDIHere is Bamessi in Washington, D.C. Bamessi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BAMESSIHi. I was just wondering, last time I had a client who works for USAID and she was working in (unintelligible). She told me was working in the (unintelligible) area. And her comment was, "The government, most of the time, dictates how the -- where this aid and assistance to the farmers are given." And she told me that the area where she was working was not favorable for farming.
BAMESSIAnd then lots of aid will have been west of there just because the government (unintelligible) aid was -- they're a tribal area, to benefit their own area versus the other. So is there anyway USAID can say, you know, no, this aid is best and do not spend in some other areas? Because, you know, something like that?
NNAMDII know we traveled to Ethiopia earlier this year and did realize that there was sometimes some tension between the government and the aid community about precisely such matters, Rajiv Shah.
SHAHWell, that's why Feed The Future decided to take a new model and put it in place. The model starts with countries leading. So Ethiopia is a good example. They have more than doubled their investment in agriculture out of their budget, as a precondition to our co-investing with them. They've also made important policy reforms that I often negotiated with their leaders to make sure that there's space for private investment to come in and help commercialize agriculture.
SHAHAs a result, today we can say that there are dozens of new companies, mostly local firms, that are growing their businesses, reaching tens of thousands of farmers. And most importantly, because we measure the results we know that 1.7 million children, who otherwise would be hungry in Ethiopia, are no longer extremely poor and are starting to have enough food and go to school.
SHAHAnd that's the cycle of breaking this poverty, famine, drought cycle, with a more positive growth path that we believe will help advance our national security, make the world and the United States more prosperous, and is why development should be a bigger part of our foreign policy.
NNAMDIBamessi, thank you for our call. Along that line, one of William Easterly's biggest criticisms of conventional development philosophy is that it ignores the root cause of poverty, which he believes is the abuse of political power against people without rights, and that too often people managing development projects are willing to tolerate autocratic rules in the name of results. How do you see it?
NNAMDIAs I mentioned, when we were in Ethiopia, for example, we heard a lot of criticism about how the government there is shrinking the space for civil society. What do you see as the relationship between civil society and its expansion and poverty?
SHAHWell, as we've seen in country after country around the world, development is fundamentally a political process. It requires leaders that make an investment in their people, that choose peace over conflict, and that respect the rights of minorities. That's why USAID is proud and sometimes this is on the ground, difficult to do, but we do it anyway, to support civil society organizations throughout our programs.
SHAHFeed The Future has a very specific civil society action plan that includes farmers organizations and local advocacy groups, women's rights groups, that make the point that if we're not ultimately benefiting the poorest of the poor, and women in particular, we're not going to have the biggest impact on moving children out of malnutrition, hunger and poverty and creating the kind of social justice we want to see on the planet.
NNAMDIWhen it comes to promoting democracy and social justice, your agency ended up taking a lot of heat for an effort in Cuba, to operate a social media network, like Twitter. You have said that was not a covert effort and that it was not build to undermine the government there, but the Associate Press news agency published micro blogs intended for that program that seemingly poked fun at Cuba's leaders, according to reports.
NNAMDIAnd AP investigation found that the program evaded Cuba's internet restrictions by creating a text-messaging service that could be used to organize political demonstrations. It drew tens of thousands of subscribers who were unaware that it was backed by the U.S. For those who weren't following that several weeks ago, can you explain what this program was designed for?
SHAHSure. Well, you know, like programs all around the world, we create platforms to enable civil society to communicate and express themselves. And we have done that in Afghanistan, in Kenya, in Senegal and in Cuba. In Cuba, obviously, it is more challenging to do those types of activities. There were many inaccuracies in some of those early reports. But, nevertheless, we conducted a comprehensive review of the program to which you're referring, and have shared all of the findings with our partners in Congress.
SHAHAnd have found that those programs were not -- that specific program was, in fact, a communications platform intended to aid others. Was not intended to be one that communicated aggressively political messaging. And, you know, it's important, especially as we look at civil society space closing in so many parts of the world, it's important to note that you cannot have effective development if you don't protect and support a vibrant and active civil society.
SHAHAnd I've seen the results of civil society vibrancy help usher in a democratic election in Senegal when it didn't look like that was going to be the case, helped to protect the democratic process in Kenya, after the 2007 and '08 elections showed that there could be potential violence. And I think civil society is a big part of our future, even in the Feed The Future program.
NNAMDIIs there, however, a distinction to be made between what is discreet and what is covert? Because when people think of covert, they think of the intelligence agencies. This program here was apparently described as being discreet.
SHAHYeah, we take cares to protect our people when they're at risk. You know, in Syria right now, U.S.-supported humanitarian actors are providing more than 125,000 surgeries to people who have been attacked with barrel bombs and their communities have been destroyed and children who would otherwise die. In that case, we have to be very discreet in order to protect our partners who are taking huge personal risks, many of whom have lost their lives in that effort. So there are times we'll be discreet.
NNAMDIBut in general, and as you can see with the Feed the Future report we're launching this week, I think it's important that we be as transparent as possible so the American public can see the results and impacts of our work, and so we can all learn together about how to better and be more efficient over time.
NNAMDIHere is Mohammed in Washington, D.C. Mohammed, your turn.
MOHAMMEDYes, Mr. Rajiv Shah, this is Mohammed Ali from the American Peace Council. First of all, I want to appreciate that our programs supports for peace, you connect them to (unintelligible) who is a great lady. And we are meeting tomorrow again, the action director and I hope we're going to succeed with that to help youth. But I would like to mention how the United Nations say what (unintelligible) starvation and they are, like, extracurricular and 50,000 children malnutrition at the moment.
MOHAMMEDIs there any program that is helping Somalia that you would like to point to us, so we can at least apply the same as well to help save this -- save future program for Somalia?
NNAMDIMohammed, thank you for your call.
SHAHWell, thank you, Mohammed. We've been proud to partner with Somali Americans here in Washington, in Minneapolis, in Ohio, all around this country to help reach difficult to reach communities inside of Somalia, especially during the tragic famine there two and a half years ago. We'd be eager to work with you. You can reach out to our Food for Peace program that is quite active in Somalia.
SHAHBut Somalia also is a good example of why development is important as a major part of our foreign policy. You know, if we're going to have a secure and stable country that's able to nurture the aspirations of millions of children and their future, we know that Somalis need better access to their land, need safety and security. But they also better seeds, better fertilizers and more vibrant agriculture and the ability to move themselves out of poverty.
SHAHAnd that's why our programs in food security but also education and health had been so important to helping Somalia attempt to build a brighter future. And it's why I was proud to be able to visit there about a year and a half ago.
NNAMDIHere's Lindsey in Germantown, MD. Lindsey, you're on the air, go ahead please.
LINDSEYThank you, Kojo. Director Shah, I have the opportunity to visit two small holder farms in Kenya about two years ago with ONE Moms. And I visited a potato farm and a dairy farm that was owned by a woman that was partnering with Land o' Lakes. And I was so amazed and impressed by how much progress have been made in a very short period of time. I think the dairy farm had been up and running for about two years.
LINDSEYAnd the potato farm for about a year and a half when I visited. And in that time, the dairy farmer that I spoke to have been able to send their child to school for the first time with the money that she earned. And the potato farmers have created their own five-year plans for how they wanted to work their land in partnership with USAID. And for the first time, they had surplus of crop to go to market and also to be able to take care of their people that were older or infirmed and couldn't feed themselves. And it was just really an amazing accomplishment. And I was proud of my country.
SHAHWell, thank you. Thank you for that comment, for your visit. And I think you've highlighted that -- what we now know that a dollar invested in agricultural development generates $23 of real economic activity, that agricultural GDP growth and agricultural productivity growth is three to six times more likely to reduce extreme poverty than generalized growth. And that for 20 years before President Obama made this a major international issue in 2009, we had seen a dramatic decline in the world's investment in agriculture.
SHAHAnd so when President Obama took office and made this a major issue, we knew that we had to deliver on that commitment, not just the USAID but across the government. And today's report I think shows that success stories like the one you highlighted are happening at scale, and that's what's so important.
NNAMDILindsey, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break from these callers heaping praise on USAID. And when we come back, it's the all naysayers. No, that's not necessarily true. But we'll still continue our conversation with Rajiv Shah. He's the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. In case the phone lines are busy, shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow. If you've called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Rajiv Shah. He is the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. I have a lot more questions for you, but we are being swarmed by callers and emailers. So allow me to start with this email we got from a woman named Susan Howard (sp?) who writes, "I'm a co-founder of a 20-year-old women-owned small business. This year, our firm, for the first time in 20 years, is in jeopardy of our viability because of the USAID country-led initiative."
NNAMDI"The USAID Forward initiative have directly undermined U.S. small business who are best suited to provide technical assistance for small businesses, civil society, et cetera who, in many cases, do not have the capacity to manage people, projects and resources. Why don't you leverage the expertise of small U.S. businesses to build capacities of indigenous businesses in a twinning or shadowing approach."
NNAMDI"As it is now, money, as little as there is, is going away from U.S. small contractors to indigenous firms at the expense of our own viability." Please comment.
SHAHWell, you know, it is important to note that the reason we took USAID Forward so seriously and have implemented it with such focus and that ultimately the goal of aid and assistance should be to build the local capacity, local companies, local civil society and local governments so they can stand on their own feet and they move beyond the need for aid and we can move on to other forms of partnership.
SHAHIn that context, we've tried to do the best we can to work with small businesses. And I'm proud to note that when I started at USAID, our grade from the Small Business Association was an F. And today, it's an A in terms of our performance with small businesses overall. The specific case you referenced, I'd be happy to follow-up on. But I think we try to do the best we can with the primary mindset of let's build capacity in countries we work so that our aid and assistance are not need for a long time.
NNAMDIIt's so interesting that there are these discussions about who should be the primary beneficiary of what USAID does. Here in Washington, there has been a debate this spring about a House spending bill for the Coast Guard that would require some three quarters of food aid that the United States sends around the world to places like South Sudan to be sent on American ships. You've said this proposal would only increase the cost of shipping emergency food aid and could cripple the process. Where does this debate stand?
SHAHWell, first, I want to thank on a bipartisan basis members of the House and Senate who had really stretched themselves to answer President Obama's call last year to modernize the way we provide food assistance. And the reforms they put in the Farm Bill will allow us to end monetization this year and will allow us to reach 4 million additional beneficiaries without costing any additional money.
SHAHA lot of folks said, politically, it couldn't be done and they did it. This would be a big step backwards. This increase of what's called the cargo preference requirement in the Coast Guard Authorization Act would actually take away our ability to reach about more than 2 million people this year and essentially be a transfer of funds to a handful of shipping companies who are important long-term partners.
SHAHBut at a time when we're facing a near-famine in South Sudan, when we know that there are 11 million people in and around Syria that need some form of support, and at a time when we're trying to have an effective transition in Afghanistan, it would be devastating to our humanitarian presence around the world.
NNAMDIHere now, Samson in Washington, D.C. Samson, you're on the air, go ahead please.
SAMSONThank you, Kojo, for taking my call. And now, my question is for Mr. Shah. And I will say today about the involvement when polio vaccination, you know, just got to the (unintelligible) who have polio vaccine issue. My question is, how clear is your office in terms of, you know, just doing your job out here (unintelligible) framework of helping people and another point I want to make is, as you know, you know, the future involvement of Western aid (unintelligible) American aid, is this (word?) from day to day and Asian involvement, including China and other Asian countries you go.
SAMSONHow -- what will you do? What would you change? You know, the contrast between the Western aid or American aid and countries you're helping. Thank you.
NNAMDII'm not -- I'm not sure I understand the question, Samson. You're asking what can be done to assure…
NNAMDIOkay, here's Rajiv Shah.
SHAHWell, I think there might have been two questions there.
NNAMDIYou heard two.
SHAHOn polio, I would just note that the United States continues to be the premiere sponsor of polio eradication around the world. And most recently, we took extraordinary efforts to support UNICEF and the World Health Organization and local partners to conduct waves of polio vaccination inside of Syria, because there had been positive cases identified there. And it's one of the, you know, few significant successes, I think, in terms of what's happening right now in that context.
SHAHWith respect to how we modernize aid and assistance and partner with the partners, I would just come back to point that I think Feed the Future is representative of a new model of development. A model that requires countries to lead and make their own investments that we then back up. It requires public and private partners to come together. And one of the most important achievements in this process was President Obama himself hosted the G-8 meeting in Camp David two years ago and brought together companies and country leaders.
SHAHAs a result of that effort, this week we now know that 160 companies around the world had made commitments to invest more than $7 billion in African agricultural economies. That kind of investment and partnership is required if we're going to solve hunger at scale. And I think it's just yet another prove point that if we stay focused, we can in fact bring all partners to the task and end the extreme poverty, fighting hunger and building safer, more secure societies.
NNAMDIWe got this email from John , "When working with Internews Network a few years ago, I supported one of the USAID-funded media development projects based in Juba, South Sudan along the Nile. In some of the markets there, we saw beautifully, locally grown fruits and vegetables for sale. However, we're warned not to purchase and eat them as they were likely irrigated by polluted water from the Nile."
NNAMDI"Do any of USAID's or -- and/or other development agencies take into consideration this dimension of agriculture, poverty and disease challenges in the developing world?"
SHAHWe do. And through Feed the Future, we had built a new capacity with now more than 23 Feed the Future innovation laboratories in the United States and around the world to bring really first class science and technology to understand those types of safety issues. We're combating aflatoxin, which is a common toxin that is found in corn throughout Africa, especially when the corn is not dried effectively and in a timely way.
SHAHAnd by bringing American scientist and business leaders and local researchers together to solve that problem, we're confident we can help improve the value of the east African corn crop quite significantly. It just makes the point that investments in agricultural research are extraordinarily important. And through Feed the Future, we've more than tripled those investment during what has otherwise been a difficult budget time.
NNAMDIOn now John in Great Falls, VA. John, you're on the air, go ahead please.
JOHNHi. I had a question in regards to I guess it's called monitoring and evaluation, like just making sure what the money that is donated and spent is going to a good cause. And I was reading about I think the seed fairs you were talking about, how they were using iPod, iPhone apps to prevent fraud, where they would scan barcodes and they would -- so my question was, you know, how often is technology being used to not only make sure that it prevents fraud, but to make sure that donors know that their money is going to something good.
SHAHWell, technology -- well, thanks for the question. I'd just say technology is opening up all kinds of new ways to make sure that our investments are delivering real, real outcomes and results. I was in Nepal and saw a young girl in second grade there experiencing one of our early grade reading assessments and using iPads and a newly developed 15-minute survey system. We're now able to conduct the first ever nationwide assessment of learning outcomes and literacy outcomes for second and third graders in Nepal.
SHAHThat kind of data is critical to knowing that we're actually -- our investments in education are actually helping kids learn and not just getting them in school. I was in Nigeria a few weeks ago, including meeting with the Northern Nigerian governors. And one of the things they're most excited about is the system we're helping to support that allows mothers to send SMS texts on their mobile phones into a central system to report on whether their teachers in school and whether their schools are accessible.
SHAHBecause too often, you send your kid to school and now teacher shows up. And having that data is critical to outcomes. In Feed to Future, we're really using great, new technology to assess performance. We use satellite imagery to do crop and yield assessments. We use on-the-ground mobile phone based reporting to get survey data on family incomes.
SHAHAnd it's that kind of data that allows us to say with confidence that President Obama's leadership in creating Feed the Future has resulted in 12.5 million kids no longer being hungry. Again, not by giving out food but by helping them move themselves out of poverty.
NNAMDIWe have only about a minute left, but this month the U.S. House passed the so-called Electrify Africa Act legislation designed to improve access to electricity throughout Africa. You said it supports USAID's new model for development. How so?
SHAHWell, Power Africa, Electrify Africa, like Feed the Future is a wonderful example of this new model of development. Countries set priorities, make important policy, reforms, fight corruption, try to attract private investment. And our aid and assistance is designed to be the glue that allows these new partnerships to deliver the kinds of results that can end extreme poverty in the next two decades.
NNAMDIAll right, that's all the time we have. Rajiv Shah is the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. Thank you so much for joining us.
SHAHThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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