the Foreign Service journal
Barry H. Hill, a retired USAID FSO, served as chief of
the agriculture and rural development divisions for US-
AID in Tanzania (Dar es Salaamand Arusha), Lesotho
and Tunisia. Previously he worked for the University
of Hawaii in aquaculture and international fisheries
development and education. His interest in interna-
tional agriculture was sparked during service as a Peace Corps Volunteer
in Sierra Leone.
ave we ever considered why
project assistance has yet to
become institutionalized in
many host countries? Are our
time frames too short for the
aid to take root and generate
sustainable progress? Have we
ignored key technical resources
in the United States that could
truly lead to success? Have we missed opportunities to increase
farmers’ skills, provide more structure and increase efficiency
in their operations? Have we neglected to help build up busi-
ness relationships among farmers and the supply chains neces-
sary for long-term success?
These questions arise from the uneven record of USAID
agricultural interventions over the years. In the following discus-
sion centered on three case studies, I offer some suggestions and
The record of U.S. agricultural development assistance in Africa over the years is
uneven. Here’s how involving agribusiness and trade associations can help.
By Barry H i l l
guidance for future programming based on my own experience
as a USAID Foreign Service officer, observer and evaluator.
A Look at the History
USAID has traditionally used three entities to carry out its
agricultural assistance programs: private-sector contractor
firms based in Washington (popularly known as the Beltway
Bandits), the U.S. Land Grant Colleges that conduct agricul-
ture research, and a covey of nongovernmental organiza-
tions (NGOs). Leading this amorphous group were the highly
trained, direct-hire USAID agricultural development officers.
Toward the end of the 1980s there was still a skilled and
qualified staff of agricultural specialists on USAID’s rosters. As
the 1990s opened, however, the administration decided to take
foreign aid in a different direction. “Democracy and gover-
nance” became the priority emphasis in foreign assistance.
Confusion reigned at USAID as the agency’s leadership
struggled to understand what was expected of it under this new
paradigm. Technical personnel began departing the agency as
their tasks were marginalized and funding for technical activi-
ties diminished. Policy wonks came to predominate. Within
five years, the agency had been cleared of the majority of its
technical staff. USAID’s credibility—especially overseas—took
a nose dive, and a lack of quality project tracking and serious
technical errors in judgment and planning came to the fore.
Today the powers that be seem to have realized that the