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the Foreign Service journal


may 2016


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

Delivering Foreign

Agricultural Aid

to Africa:

What Works?

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