WASHINGTON — “I think people know that since 1954, U.S. food aid programs have helped feed over three billion people and promote food security in over 150 countries,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
To make the current food aid system even more effective, the Committee held a hearing about food aid reform. It invited speakers to discuss ways to make food aid more cost-effective, faster to deliver and available to a greater number of recipients.
The discussion revolved around maximizing the Food for Peace’s funding and limiting the effects of U.S. business interests that have enriched themselves at the expense of people in need.
This is what the Committee and the speakers had to say:
“There has been enduring bipartisan support for United States leadership in combating hunger not only because it is the right thing to do, but because the response is also part of our arsenal to advance the security and prosperity of the United States … Lack of access to food can trigger conflict and civil unrest as it did in 48 countries around the world during the price crisis in 2008. Hunger can drive competition for water and land (food production resources) as we have seen in parts of Africa, and a vicious cycle of food insecurity driving conflict, which in turn deepens food insecurity.”
— Dina Esposito, the Office of Food for Peace in USAID
“Yesterday, this committee dealt with a very visible issue of national security, and that is preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state. Today, we’re dealing with another issue of national security, but it isn’t quite as visible as the possibility of a nuclear Iran. I think we all understand that extremists get their strength from people who are desperate and have little hope. And when you’re hungry, you’re desperate. So this is an issue, as I see it, of national security. It also, of course, is an issue of what this country stands for—the values of America—and this country has been worldwide a promoter of the right values.”
— Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)
“Shipping food from the United States to developing countries is slow, expensive, and sometimes unpredictable. The cost of using U.S. commodities has shown to be significantly higher, in many cases 30-50 percent higher than alternative untied food aid purchased locally or regionally, and it can take as much as three times longer to get food to the people who need it most…Moreover, U.S. commodities are often simply not enough to effectively address acute and chronic hunger. Practitioners need flexibility in food aid funding so they can use a variety of tools to provide appropriate emergency and non-emergency responses that contribute to recovery, enhance resilience and long-term development[:]…whether it is cash transfers, vouchers, local/regional purchase, and/or efficiently transported U.S. commodities.”
— David Ray, CARE USA
“The other major milestone of the 2008 farm bill was the establishment of a pilot program [Local and Regional Procurement] intended to test in a rigorous way what gains in efficiency might be available from allowing U.S. resources to be used to purchase food closer to where the beneficiaries are actually located…Independent studies of the LRP pilot found that buying locally was less expensive for most categories of commodities. Local purchases of unprocessed grain were on average 35 percent less costly, and averaged 31 percent less for unprocessed pulse crops such as peas and lentils…The emergency projects under the pilot program had an average response time of 56 days, as opposed to the 130[ii]days needed for comparable U.S.-sourced commodities to arrive at their destinations.”
— Dr. Stephanie Mercier, Farm Journal Foundation
“The evidence on the impact of cargo preference on the delivery costs of US food is unambiguous and large and is derived from multiple analyses by different sources. Perhaps the most careful academic study to date, by Bageant, Barrett and Lentz (2010) … estimates that food shipped on US flagged cargo preference vessels costs 46 percent more than shipping the same aid at competitive rates.”
— Dr. Vincent Smith, American Enterprise Institute
“I think we have an opportunity to work together to solve [the]problem [of cargo preference]. I will say that I wish every American could have seen this testimony today. What’s happening in food aid today in our nation for a few special interests [that]benefit only marginally, is a national disgrace—a national disgrace. And I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure every American I come in contact with is aware that a few special interests…have this nation in their grip. People are dying and starving—dying and starving because of this national disgrace of corporate welfare that is totally unnecessary—totally unnecessary to the beneficiaries.”
— Sen. Bob Corker
“[Food aid] has made enormous impacts around the world. It has fed billions of people over decades. But the twin challenges we face are [the following]: how to make this program more efficient so that it reaches more people, so that it does the best we can with taxpayer dollars; yet how do we sustain food aid, so we don’t, by making changes that pursue efficiency, suddenly wake up and realize we’ve lost half—or two-thirds—of the funding, and in [attempting to]feed to eight to twelve million more people[iii], we end up ultimately feeding fewer [people].”
— Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.)
“I share the sentiments that have already been expressed that it’s very important for us to look at the budget for food aid and to try and increase [it], but that we also need to be as efficient as possible, and that there are a lot of things about the program that currently don’t work in a way that is understandable for the American people. And I share your point, Mr. Ray, that people want what [the U.S.]government does to be effective and efficient. And if we make that case [for food aid], it would be much easier to get support for the programs that [the U.S.] government provides.”
— Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-Mass.)
– Dean Delasalas