Obama’s Revised Food Aid Program Will Benefit All

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President Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2014 aims to modernize and revise the $1.5 million US Food Aid Program.

The USA has a six decade long tradition of providing food aid to countries where hunger needs to be addressed urgently. In addition to being an altruistic move on a global scale, President Eisenhower, who initiated the program known as Food For Peace in 1954, clearly stated the domestic economic gains behind this program. Food aid in different parts of the world would and has increased sales for US farmers, has created employment for US seamen, and has generated business opportunities for US-flagged cargo ships. Like many other countries, USA has successfully utilized foreign assistance to increment domestic gains.

However, in recent times, the Food Aid Program has tended to focus more on domestic development (subsidies for related industries, for example) than on helping the global poor.

Obama’s proposed revisions will respond to this challenge. ‘Monetization,’ the inefficient system of buying US products, shipping them to local governments and NGOS in affected areas, which sell the products in local markets and use the proceeds for development work, will be terminated. Often, this ‘monetized’ food leads to subsidized competition for farmers in needy regions.

Under Obama’s revised Food Aid Program proposal, aid agencies will buy 45% of its food aid from local non-US sources. This will reduce costs of shipping from the USA and will make the food more easily available for the poor because local resources will provide the food much faster and at more efficient costs.

Luckily, Obama’s Food Aid Program proposal has garnered bipartisan support in Congress. Representatives Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), stated in a joint release, that they were “encouraged” by Obama’s proposal.

However, opposition is not too far away. Many merchant-marine unions insist that the absence of the role of US vessels will undermine their sea-lifting abilities whenever the need arises. Twenty-one senators from coastal and farm states, including a Democrat senator from Maryland, Barbara A. Mikulski, argue that the revised Food Aid Program will affect US agriculture adversely.

It is quite disturbing to realize that Marine unions are arguing for the condition of their ships even when troops are returning from Afghanistan. Similarly, 55% of food products will still be bought from USA and agriculture in USA is heavily subsidized; but some senators still think that the proposed changes will generate less income for the industry.

USA’s Food Aid Program benefits millions of people around the world in addition to generating income sources for several domestic industries. Being able to share one’s resources with the less fortunate informs Obama’s proposal in keeping with the tradition of USA’s aid history.

– Mantra Roy

Source:: The Washington post
Photo: Keck Journal

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