WILLIAMSTOWN, Massachusetts — United States food aid provides millions of people with the crucial nutrients needed to end malnutrition and starvation each year. But the current food aid system, established under the Food For Peace Act in 2008, is outdated and inefficient in a number of ways.
According to today’s system, 100 percent of the food delivered by aid organizations must be produced in the U.S. As a result of this provision, fifty-three cents of every dollar spent on basic grains for food aid ends up in the pockets of middlemen.
Not only must the food come from solely American farmers, but at least 50 percent of food must be shipped on preferred U.S. vessels. This special interest rule costs taxpayers more than $491 million per year.
Buying food locally in developing countries means more money goes to actual food and local farmers earn income, thus decreasing the need for more aid in the long term.
Take, for example, the delivery of food aid to Ethiopia. Some 2,200 tons of wheat produced in the U.S. can be shipped overseas in four to six months. Or, for the exact same price, 5,400 tons of wheat could be purchased locally, supporting local farmers and eliminating costly shipping time.
Opponents of food aid reform include the USA Rice Federation and the American Maritime Congress.
In the words of these groups, “Growing, manufacturing, bagging, shipping and transportation of nutritious U.S. food creates jobs and economic activity at home, provides support for our U.S. Merchant Marine, essential to our national defense sealift capability, and sustains a robust domestic constituency for these programs not easily replicated in foreign aid programs.”
However, if we reform costly U.S. regulations, we can respond to crises up to 14 weeks faster and for the same price reach up to 17.1 million more people with life-saving food aid.
Organizations such as Oxfam and CARE support the push for reform because, in the words of Gawain Kripke, director of policy and research for Oxfam, “The current food aid program is not mission-driven or about poor people. It’s about moving product.”
CARE’s disapproval of the current aid system led them to decline taking food from the government. This decision caused CARE to lose about $45 million a year, but according to Blake Selzer, a senior policy advocate with CARE, “We decided it’s much more efficient to buy products locally and we could reach more people.”
The Food For Peace Reform Act was introduced in 2013 and seeks to change the expensive and inefficient provisions in the current aid system. Co-sponsored by Senator Christ Coons (D-Del.) and Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the act strives for major food aid reform and would free up as much as $440 million annually while bringing desperately-needed food to millions more people worldwide.
– Grace Flaherty
Sources: Gov Track, US Aid, Oxfam America, NY Times