ALBANY, N.Y. — Recently, Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced legislation to overhaul the U.S. food aid program, which will create more efficient channels for distributing aid and “free up as much as $440 million annually through greater efficiencies in developing aid.”
Over the past couple of decades, the needs for food distribution have changed, leaving the U.S. aid system inefficient and not reaching as many people as it could. Chris Coons, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, noted the need for change stating, “Our current system for acquiring and distributing food aid is inefficient and often hurts the very communities it is trying to help.”
Here are five reasons why food aid reform is important:
1. The U.S. is a major player in providing food aid around the world.
In 2009 at the G8 Summit in Italy, President Obama pledged to provide at least $3.5 billion toward global food security projects. Since that time, the U.S. has invested $5 billion in the initiative that is fighting hunger in 19 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. And in 2012, the U.S. donated 1.5 metric tons of food aid and $2 billion in emergency and development food assistance to the poorest countries in the world.
The most recent food aid legislation would change the law in order to increase the efficiency of the distribution channels and allow for more flexibility in the way the funds are used to purchase locally or regionally procured commodities.
2. Food aid distribution from the U.S. is slow.
For many U.S. bulk commodities, it can take up to four months to reach those who need the food most. In contrast, food that is distributed from local farmers reduces the time to reach people by two months and is 50 percent cheaper.
3. Changing food aid processes empowers local farmers.
Buying locally is both cheaper and more efficient for addressing the food needs of some of the most vulnerable populations. Furthermore, it not only decreases the distribution time, but also gives local farmers a chance to develop their farm practices and sell what they grow in local markets. Empowering local farmers to earn their living and become self-sufficient strengthens local economies and creates more stable political environments.
4. Local economies are strengthened when local people are given the tools to manage food distribution.
Farmers in Ethiopia have benefited from training programs in warehouse management and distribution practices to increase efficiencies in their food aid distribution.
In developing countries that rely on locally produced and distributed food, local people are able to take ownership of the processes and develop their business skills. This not only empowers local people and helps develop local economies, but also decreases distribution inefficiencies that arise from relying solely on U.S.-grown food distribution.
5. Food aid reform is critical to continuing Goal One of the Millennium Development Goals – the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.
Although poverty rates were cut in half between 1990 and 2010, 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty and one in eight people still go to bed hungry.
Speaking about the recent food aid legislation, Senator Coons stated, “More than anything else, the mission of America’s food aid program is to save lives.”
While U.S. food aid still plays an important role in helping to address global poverty, the needs and channels by which it is received have evolved. As countries develop, the U.S. should empower them to address their problems – becoming partners in the issue rather than just benefactors and receivers of aid.