In an era of tight budgets, U.S. foreign assistance programs aim to maximize the impact of limited funds. The U.S. Agency for International Development is curtailing initiatives in Latin America and Eastern Europe to boost efforts elsewhere, including Africa, where American-funded projects are spurring food production and improving healthcare.
Villagers near Senegal’s River Delta plan a year-long rotation of crops to supplement their diets and incomes. USAID provides technical guidance and has constructed wells for irrigation, helping to turn fertile soil into flourishing gardens. Ngara Diatta tends an onion patch that will later produce tomatoes, eggplants, and cabbage.
"Before, goats and cows would trample our garden and eat the vegetables," said the gardener. "It was upsetting to work so hard and have it all ruined. Now thanks to this project, we have fences to protect our crops and I can sleep peacefully. This project has changed our lives. We can sell these vegetables to help our families."
USAID also helped to construct an earthen dike and concrete retention basin to keep out saltwater and retain freshwater, allowing hundreds of hectares of land to be reclaimed for farming.
"The groundwater used to be so deep that gardening was difficult. Thanks to the dike, we can find water easily. Now when the rice harvest is over, people plant vegetables. We can work year round," said community leader Abdoulaye Ndiaye.
The Senegal project is part of a global U.S. anti-hunger campaign called Feed the Future.
“Food aid costs eight-to-10 times more than investing in helping people produce and sustain their own futures through agriculture," said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. "We are starting to see real results in our Feed the Future partnership, with countries in that program experiencing a rate of agricultural productivity growth nearly eight times the global average.”
Foreign assistance accounts for one percent of U.S. government expenditures - a share considered too high by some lawmakers at a time of massive U.S. indebtedness.
“You are going to have to convince me why it is necessary to borrow more money from communist China in order to give money to some other country or some other group of people,” said Congressman Dana Rorhabacher.
Other legislators say fighting hunger, poverty and disease abroad is in America’s national interest.
“It is infinitely cheaper to address these problems with economic and technical assistance now than to wait until fragile states collapse or conflicts erupt in wide-scale violence and we have to resort to costly emergency aid or even military action,” Congressman Howard Berman.
In rural Senegal, USAID’s impact is plain to see.
"We hear of rice shortages in Dakar but here, we do not have that problem," said Abdoulaye Ndiaye, Toubacouta Council president. "We are eating rice that we grow. We prepare it with oil from peanuts we farmed, and serve it with onions, eggplant, and cabbage. We thank the Americans for their continued support."
Correspondents Anne Look and Nick Loomis in Dakar contributed to this story.