by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food aid

Jul 2 2013

Question: What is the U.S. doing to help address world hunger?

Answer: plenty or not enough, depending on how you look at it.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has just released a report summarizing the present status of its activities: Feed the Future — Progress Report: Growing Innovation, Harvesting Results.

It also has released a scorecard for holding the agency accountable for what it does: Feed the Future — Progress Scorecard.

The report is written in government-speak and it’s hard to know what to make of it.

The government has met some of its promises, but not all.  One reason for the “not all” may be that only one-third of the nearly $4 billion pledged for reducing world hunger has actually been spent.

It’s not a coincidence that USAID released the report while President Obama is visiting countries in Africa, and while legislators are trying to figure out what to do about the fallout from not passing the farm bill.  The farm bill includes food aid programs.

Food aid, as I have discussed previously, is tied to domestic farm policy in a particularly inconvenient way: American surplus farm commodities have to be shipped on American carriers, something that takes time and benefits American producers and shippers perhaps more than it does recipient countries.

Can this situation be changed to increase the benefit to international partners?  Not likely with this Congress.

 

 

Apr 11 2013

Food aid reform is up against intense lobbying

International food aid has long been fraught with politics.

Since 1954, our system for donating food for emergencies and aid has worked like this:

  • The government buys U.S. farm commodities.
  • It requires at least 75% of these commodities to be transported on U.S. ships.
  • The commodities are given to governments for emergency relief, or
  • They are given to American charitable organizations to sell so the groups can use the money to finance development projects (this is called “monetization”).

Other countries that donate food buy it internationally so it doesn’t have to be shipped long distances.

The U.S. is the only major donor country that uses food aid to benefit U.S. farmers, U.S. shipping companies, and U.S. charitable groups, and does not buy food aid internationally.

This system has long been known to undermine local agriculture and food systems, and to fail to get to those who need it most.   It takes months to get food aid where it is needed, and the entire enterprise is inefficient and unnecessarily expensive, according to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office.

Now, says the New York Times, the Obama administration wants to fix these longstanding problems.

The Agency for International Development (USAID) wants the U.S. to:

  • Buy food in local countries (although 55% would still go to U.S. farmers)
  • End “monetization” to U.S. charitable organizations.

The mere suggestion of reform has elicited intense lobbying by—surprise!—shipping companies, agricultural trade organizations, and some, but by no means all, charitable groups.

Some aid groups, Oxfam, for example, strongly favor such changes.

But food aid is part of the farm bill (Title III).  This means that any changes to current programs would have to be passed by Congress.

Good luck with that in the present political environment.

Food aid, along with SNAP (food stamps), are key issues to watch as Congress tries again to write and pass a farm bill.  Stay tuned

Resources: The excellent discussion of this issue in the Hagstrom Report (April 10) provided links to relevant documents.

 

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