SEATTLE, Washington — Picture this: The United States sends cornmeal to help alleviate hunger in South Africa. During a typical hungry season in the country, the food aid can feed over 37,000 people in need and radically change their lives. Yet, when the food finally arrives it is heavily infected with live and dead insects and must be thrown away.
Sound like a bad dream? This scenario was reality in 2006 when 1,925 metric tons of heavily infested cornmeal arrived late to Durban, South Africa. The food remained on container ships for as long as 78 days, after it was erroneously shipped to the wrong country. As people faced starvation, the food expected to save their lives was out of reach, only to be deemed contaminated when it did finally arrive at the correct destination.
The United State’s methods of providing international food aid are extremely ineffective, and despite a yearly budget of $1.5 billion to send critical aid to the worlds’ poor, 65 percent of these funds are instead spent on shipping and business costs.
“It actually takes us about three months to buy food here, and ship it, and get it to, say, the Philippines after a disaster,” said Dr. Rajiv Shah of the U.S. Agency for International Development. “In the last 10 years, our capacity to reach people has been cut in half.”
Shah said the U.S’s inability to provide food aid abroad is due to higher food costs, shipping costs and the program’s overall structure.
A flexible budget with the ability to buy food as close to disaster areas as possible, to more effectively get it to those in need, could feed an additional 8-10 million people. However, more than 65 maritime and agricultural organizations are urging Congress to uphold the current system to benefit their own interests.
“Rather than limiting the United States to a tied, commodities-only approach, we can enact reforms that will enable experts to select the right tool to most efficiently meet the needs of hungry and vulnerable people,” Shah said. “This would mean pairing in-kind food aid procurements from the United States with a more expansive use of interventions such as local and regional procurement from developing countries near crisis areas and food vouchers.”
What are the organizations and companies advocating for starvation? Meet five of the companies that would rather use aid money to promote their own jobs and interests, instead of allowing it to be used for what it was created for: helping victims abroad.
1. Maersk Line, Ltd.- Maersk is a Danish business conglomerate and one of the biggest shipping companies in the world. The company gained global recognition after pirates kidnapped Captain Richard Phillips in 2009 while he was bringing nearly 5,000 metric tons of food aid to Africa. If aid were sent directly to Africa, instead of across the world on ships, the pirates may never have kidnapped Captain Phillips.
2. USA Maritime- USA Maritime is a coalition of carriers and maritime unions associated with the U.S. Merchant Marine. It is a strong advocate of the Food for Peace program, which sends aid directly from the U.S., because it generates thousands of American jobs and increases economic output for their members.
3. Transportation Institute- The Transportation Institute advocates for a strong national maritime policy, and on its website claims to “help maintain America’s political and economic strength and national security.” The Institute closely monitors Congressional decisions that would affect waterborne transportation, such as Shah’s attempts to create a more flexible budget to more adequately use food aid funds. So far, Shah only has control over 20 percent of the funds, mostly because of groups like the Transportation Institute that pressure for a continued American presence in food aid.
4. Land O’Lakes- Land O’Lakes, known for their dairy products and signature logo of the Indian maiden holding a butter box, is a member-owned agricultural cooperative based in Minnesota. The second-largest cooperative in the nation with around 9,000 employees, the company is also a strong supporter of growing and transporting food from the U.S. to bolster domestic economic activity.
5. Feed the Children- While Feed the Children claims to have a “vision of a world without hungry kids” the organization is a supporter of the current food aid system. Since many of these organizations receive some of the aid, not backing this program could result in a loss of free aid and funding. Other nonprofit organizations that claim to want to end world hunger, but also support a program that largely benefits maritime interests, include ACDI/VOCA, the Alliance for Global Food Security, the Adventist Development & Relief Agency International, the Congressional Hunger Center, Counterpart International, Food for the Hungry, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Winrock International and World Vision.
These are only a few of the many companies and organizations that promote policies that deprive millions of hungry people throughout the world of essential food aid.
37,000 people in South Africa were deprived of crucial food aid because of ineffective policies that give priority to large corporations, as opposed to the starving people who desperately need the aid. These policies must be exposed to the public, so that the budget can be used in a more cost-effective way with all of the funds going towards food, not shipping.
“We just want to reach as many people as we can,” Shah said. “As efficiently as possible.”
For a complete list, check out this link: http://www.acdivoca.org/site/lookup/support-for-us-food-aid-letter-to-the-president/$file/support-for-us-food-aid-letter-to-the-president.pdf
– Nicole Einbinder
Sources: GAO, Heifer International, The Lead, Transportation Institute, Land O’Lakes, Wikipedia, Feed the Children
Photo: Fiji Sun