The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides assistance to African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) countries to help boost economic growth, spur development, and reduce poverty. With 70 percent of Africa’s population working in agriculture, USDA’s programs aim to build up Africa’s agricultural sector to increase local, regional, and global trade capacity.
What follows are stories of successes achieved by Africans with the support of targeted USDA programs.
USDA’s Cochran Fellowship Program provides technical training to assist participants develop agricultural systems to meet their food and fiber needs and strengthen trade ties with the United States. While success following training may take years to develop, many alumni credit the program as the foundation on which to make significant contributions to their countries. Here are some of their stories:
• Francois Knowles, a South African Cochran Fellow, is the operations manager at Tshwane Municipal Wholesale Produce Market. This is one of the largest fresh produce markets in South Africa with sales of $240 million annually. It contains a one-stop wholesale and distribution center for fresh produce, meat, fish, eggs, and flowers equipped with state-of-the-art cooling and ventilation systems.
Mr. Knowles credits the Cochran training he received in produce handling, marketing, grades, and standards in 2004 with enabling him to boost sales, increase employment, improve food safety, and manage the market.
• Ademola Olabyyi Samuel is the executive director of Tastee Fried Chicken in Nigeria. Since 2010, the restaurant has imported $600,000-worth of U.S. barbeque sauce, salad dressing, flour, mayonnaise, soup base, popcorn, and rice seasoning. Some of these products are produced exclusively for Tastee Fried Chicken, creating the distinctive taste for which the restaurant is known. Last year, the restaurant received a gold award for best quick-service restaurant (QSR) in Nigeria and an international platinum award for best QSR in West Africa. Mr. Samuel attributes these awards to the innovative Cochran restaurant management training he received in 2010. He said that the training impacted him more than any of the local and international programs he has participated in over the past 15 years.
The Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program provides collaborative research training for leading scientists and policy makers from developing and middle-income countries with an emphasis on female agricultural scientists. The story of one African woman follows:
• Eunice Mwongera, a graduate of Nairobi University and former finance officer at the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture, wanted to expand Hillside Green—her family-owned fruit and vegetable business. In 2009, she applied for, and received, a Borlaug fellowship to Southern University and Louisiana State University. She was paired with a mentor for six weeks to learn U.S. best practices in agribusiness development and management.
Within a year of completing her fellowship, Ms. Mwongera started her own poultry, rabbit, and fish farming operation. She modified her company’s strategic and export plans, aligned Hillside Green’s food safety standards with international industry standards, and adopted new technologies. Under Ms. Mwongera’s leadership, Hillside Green has raised production from more than 86 acres to 172 acres, expanded its farmer network from 100 to 500 farmers, and increased export markets from three to seven countries in the Middle East and Europe. Going forward, Ms. Mwongera aims to strengthen her company’s presence in Western Europe, introduce new products to local Kenyan and regional food supply chains, and support food security and sustainable agricultural systems.
The Faculty Exchange Program brings instructors from agricultural institutes of higher learning to the United States for four to five months to increase their technical knowledge and ability to teach agricultural science.
• Between 2008 and 2010, six Ethiopian university instructors from three universities participated in a U.S.-based training program. Over the course of a semester, they revised courses to update sanitary and phytosanitary standards and added new information on plant pathology, entomology, and post-harvest storage. A year after the training, one participant was promoted from the Dean of the College of Agriculture to the President of Jimma University. Another participant was promoted to Dean of the College of Agriculture at Jimma University.
The Scientific Cooperation Research Program helps U.S. scientists enter into long-term research projects with partners in other countries in areas such as animal and plant diseases and pests, food safety, and emerging technologies.
• A research project between the University of Dakar in Senegal and Alabama A&M University, an 1890 historically black land-grant university, is using biotechnology to help U.S. and Senegalese peanut producers regain market share lost due to consumer food allergies. It will also create nutritious, low-cost food products for disadvantaged families in the United States and Senegal.
Food Assistance. USDA provides food assistance to AGOA countries through two programs—Food for Progress (FFPr) and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition (McGovern-Dole) Programs.
Under FFPr, USDA works with private voluntary organizations and foreign governments to implement agricultural development activities. The following project has demonstrated sustainability and provided new opportunities to women and rural communities:
• In 2007, six women’s groups in Senegal received rice and fish from Counterpart International through a grant provided by USDA’s FFPr. Using water in their rice fields, the women harvested more
than 4,100 pounds of rice and more than 3,000 pounds of tilapia. The women sold the rice and used the revenue to finance their dry season gardening activities, purchasing tools and seeds. The women kept the fish, distributing it among each village family. During the dry season, the women grow vegetables, using a pump they installed with Counterpart’s help, to water the plants. Counterpart also provided business management and microfinance training to make these projects sustainable.
The McGovern-Dole Program helps promote education, child development, nutrition, and food security in low-income, food-deficit countries committed to universal education. The program provides donations of U.S. agricultural products, as well as financial and technical assistance, for school feeding, maternal and child nutrition projects. A program success follows:
• Since 2007, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), with the help of the McGovern-Dole program, has played a large role in improving the lives of children and their families in Mali, a country with a population of more than 12.5 million. The United Nations recently reported that 10 percent of the total population was undernourished and that 38 percent of pre-school aged children are physically stunted.
By the end of the 2010 fiscal year, the 2007 CRS/Mali program had directly impacted the lives of more than 45,000 individuals in Mali. In promoting the health of students, teachers, and school cooks, more than 5 million meals as well as vitamins and medications, were distributed among 120 schools.
Nearly 2,000 members of school management committees supported by the program participated in literacy sessions and radio broadcasts about the importance of education. Through these efforts, overall school enrollment in targeted communities increased from 26 percent to 32 percent for boys, and from 39 percent to 55 percent for girls.