Tag Archives: International Development

Education and Violent Extremism in Africa: The Importance of Evidence-based Interventions for National Security

The international development sector, especially in the United States, is facing an uncertain future. Long considered to be both a virtuous endeavor and a crucial mechanism for achieving US foreign policy aims, development assistance is struggling to remain relevant. Both politicians and citizens are skeptical of development aid and are increasingly focused on more traditional strategies to ensure national security, particularly in the face of the growing threats of terrorism and violent extremism. Shifts in spending priorities call into question the longevity of US investments in education and women’s empowerment, as well as the continued existence of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and State Department in their current forms.

Education, Workforce Development, and Violent Extremism in Africa

However, as US military leaders have argued, development assistance can be just as important as defense spending to ensuring our national security. Clear connections can be drawn between expanding access to education and workforce development—areas in which USAID has built expertise—and countering violent extremism (CVE), a top foreign policy priority of the Trump administration. Violent extremist groups often recruit from the young, poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized populations of a society, which include many of the same individuals targeted by education and workforce development programs.

These connections are especially clear in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa’s youth population is growing far more quickly than the number of jobs available, leading to high rates of youth unemployment across the continent. Ten to twelve million African youth enter the workforce each year, but governments struggle to create opportunities for them in economies that are often still largely agricultural. Between 2000 and 2007, the working-age population in Africa grew by 96 million; only 63 million jobs were created during the same period.

In the absence of quality education and gainful employment, African youth may be more susceptible to recruitment by the extremist organizations gaining influence on the continent. Helping African governments figure out how to break the link between unemployed youth and extremist organizations will be a crucial policy issue for the US government as Africa’s power and population grow.

A  constructed classroom by USAID.
Abdulaziz Bashir, USAID (2017)

Education and Violent Extremism: The Evidence

 It is easy to imagine increased US support for education and workforce development programs in Africa as one solution to this problem – if African youth have access to education and jobs, courtesy of USAID-funded programs, they will be less susceptible to recruitment by extremist groups. However, reliable evidence on the relationship between education and violent extremism is actually quite scarce.  An evaluation published last year by US-based NGO MercyCorps of the impact of access to education and civic engagement programs on political violence in Somalia suggests the story is more complicated than it might seem.

The MercyCorps-led impact evaluation, which examined the effects of a USAID-funded program in Somaliland called the Somali Youth Leaders Initiative (SYLI), suggested that education can make youth either more or less likely to become involved in political violence, depending on both education quality and the larger context. It found that while increased access to secondary education reduced youth participation in political violence by 16%, it increased youth support for political violence by 11%. However, when access to education was combined with opportunities for youth to become more civically engaged in their community, participation and support for political violence dropped by 14% and 20%, respectively.

Impact of Youth Leader Initiative on Stability
Mercy Corps (2016)

While additional evaluations are necessary to confirm these results, the story they tell makes sense. Educated youth living under repressive or inept governments with no access to meaningful work opportunities may become increasingly frustrated with their situations. They may then be more likely to turn to political violence as a way to affect change. However, if youth are given positive strategies for changing their lives and communities along with access to education, and see their education as linked to a better future, they may become less likely to resort to violence than their uneducated peers.

The Impact of Education Quality

 Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the relationship between education and violence is further complicated by the question of the quality of education youth can access. Over the past decade African governments (with support from funders like USAID) have successfully increased the percentage of African children enrolled in school. However, in many cases this increased access has come with lower quality; children are now attending school, but are not learning.

MercyCorps’ study shows evidence of this trend. It found that youth with access to education had a much less favorable view of government performance in providing education – probably because they were receiving low-quality education. African governments, and their international partners like USAID, need to be worried not just about whether youth are in school and engaged in their communities, but also about whether poor-quality education is adding fuel to the fire.

Implications for Funding and Policy

As MercyCorps’ research illustrates, US policymakers concerned about the rise of extremism in Africa should think twice before abandoning US investments in education on the continent. While proposed budget cuts to USAID have yet to be approved by Congress, general consensus within the Agency is that education, environment, and gender programs are likely to be scaled back, while spending on health is likely to be maintained. Advocates for education within USAID, the State Department, and their partner organizations need to focus their message to ensure elected officials and the public understand the links between education and extremism and continue funding education interventions.

More research is needed to fully understand the relationship among education, civic engagement, and violence. However, evidence from the MercyCorps study suggests that even if funding for education is cut, prioritizing education quality, workforce development, and civic engagement will maximize the effect of US education spending on violent extremism. USAID and its partners should prioritize these strategies now, but especially if anticipated budget cuts come to pass. While the international education sector needs to tailor its advocacy message to align with the US government focus on CVE to minimize budgetary impacts on its work, it should also focus on incorporating empirical evidence like MercyCorps’ study into project design to improve learning outcomes and decrease violence.

Increasing access to quality education in Africa should be a central component of the US government’s CVE efforts on the continent. However, evidence also suggests that USAID must consider the larger context in which education takes place to ensure their programs actually increase the opportunities available for youth, rather than just their frustrations.

Sarah Maniates is a second year MPP student at Sanford concentrating in international development and education policy. She spent the summer interning with USAID’s Bureau for Africa.

Harvesting the Agricultural Potential of Drones

Source: MIT Technology Review, 2016

The world’s food system sits at a precarious intersection. Rising temperatures and erratic rainfall, political instability and conflict throughout the developing world, and rapid movement of people to urban hotspots are just some of the global trends threatening global agricultural production today. Experts predict the global population will increase to 9.7 billion people by 2050, greatly increasing the demand for food and pressure on an already constrained global food supply.

At the same time, biological advancement has enabled the production of genetically engineered crops resistant to pests and droughts, promising future resilience from climate change. And governments around the world have committed to increasing agricultural production through legislation and agricultural investment plans.

Today, scientists, agricultural experts, government officials, and farmers are preoccupied with tackling one of the biggest questions: how can we maximize global agricultural production to feed a growing world?

Solutions to this problem were presented at the ICT4Ag conference in Washington, DC where technology geeks and agricultural experts had some truly innovative answers: mobile phone apps, Uber for tractors, and drones. Yep, you read that right: the same technology used in military strikes and modern warfare is being applied to Rwanda’s maize fields and Benin’s cashew farms.

At first it might be difficult to make the connection between drones and agriculture. Established 12,000 years ago, agriculture is literally one of the oldest practices of humankind. Drones, on the other hand, emerged only in the last century, with commercial drones gaining popularity over the past ten years. Growing food requires basics inputs – good soil, water, and the sun. Drone technology draws from new advancements like remote sensing, high-optic cameras, and gyro-stabilization (the technology behind how drones are able to smoothly fly through the air).

However, agriculture and drones are not as distinct as one might think. Rather, the two concepts are important complements to each other. With strained natural resources and a growing global population, we can no longer afford for agriculture to be a practice of the past. Could drones be a missing piece in the global yield gap puzzle by maximizing effective agricultural practices and empowering farmers?

The Perks of Drones in the Sky

Drones have the potential to transform the ways smallholder and low-resourced farmers in developing countries make key decisions with better data.

Drones can pinpoint areas where crops are damaged faster and more efficiently than a farmer or extension agent could do through field monitoring or random sampling. Farmers are able to identify areas of concern earlier and more accurately, which in turn increases the likelihood of success from efforts like additional fertilizer or pesticides. Identifying problem areas in a field early is critical in ensuring a good crop yield.

Drones can help farmers save significant costs by targeting an intervention on areas that need it most. Instead of applying pesticides or fertilizer to an entire field, farmers can reduce costs (and health risks) by focusing on one problematic part. Farmers also save money by knowing exactly where they should plant certain crops in their field. Differences in slope or soil quality even within a field can produce different yields, so farmers can maximize their investment by planting more effectively. Some estimates find drones can reduce planting costs by 85 percent.

What’s even more effective is that when layered with weather and climatic information, drones can help low resourced farmers anticipate rainy or dry periods and make better decisions regarding pesticides, watering, and fertilizer use. Not only is that great for the pocketbook but also for the environment.

Drones can also help farmers secure land rights over their fields, by providing clear images of field boundaries. This benefit is especially important for female farmers who face a higher risk of land grabbing by male family members or the community.

Drones help empower smallholder farmers with more information about their fields. When farmers can see the images and maps captured from drones, they gain a new perspective of their livelihoods. Farmers gain power when they have more information and can make more informed decisions.

Current Challenges

Using drones to increase agricultural productivity for low resourced farmers is not without its challenges.

One challenge is, unsurprisingly, cost. Although the price has decreased substantially over the past few years, drone services still prove prohibitively expensive for most smallholder farmers in developing countries to afford. In some emerging economies, medium to large scale farmers are currently helping facilitate demand for drone services. Elsewhere, groups of smallholder firms are banding together to create aggregate demand for these services.

Government drone regulations can also restrict the use of drones for agricultural purposes. Approximately 77% of African countries lack drone regulations. This can make it very difficult for organizations promoting drone use in agriculture.

Progress Towards a Drone-Friendly Future in Agriculture

So what does a world with drones look like? Turns out, we already have a pretty good idea. The agricultural drone market is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2024 as governmental policies become more favorable and services expand.

Development organizations like We Robotics and RTI International currently provide drone services to low resourced farmers around the world. Investors are already taking notice of drone entrepreneurs like Ranveer Chandra, a former Microsoft researcher, who is developing a system using drones and soil sensors to improve soil quality of smallholder farmers. And attention is also focusing on startups like Kenya’s SunCulture, an agro-solar organization that sells drip irrigation systems and uses drones to determine the placement of their systems.

A future of drones and shrinking yield gaps in agricultural fields around the world is on the horizon. Now we just need to ensure that these services are accessible and affordable for the smallholder farmer to use.

Emily is a second year Masters of Public Policy candidate studying agriculture policy and international development.