By Alison Blackmore
Debates regarding the reauthorization of the 2012 United States Farm Bill are well underway in the U.S. House and Senate. This bill is widely known for dictating U.S. national agricultural policy, but it also contains provisions that steer the U.S. government’s global food aid programs. More than 65 million people worldwide received U.S. food aid in 2010, but a recently released report and infographic from OxFam America and American Jewish World Service (AJWS), shows that simple changes in U.S. food aid policy would allow the U.S. to respond to crises up to 14 weeks faster and lifesaving food aid could reach more than 17 million people, at no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers.
Infographic explaining inefficiencies in U.S. Food Aid programs. (Image credit: American Jewish World Services)
Current provisions in the U.S. Farm Bill impede the government from buying food from the local and regional markets, mandating that, in most circumstances, the government must use U.S. produced commodities in its Food Aid programs. Unfortunately this system tends to highly inefficient and wasteful. Oxfam and AJWS cited a 2012 study conducted by Cornell University which found that if the U.S. sourced its food aid from local and regional markets, there would be a 23 percent reduction in costs because transportation would be great reduced and the aid would reach the people in need significantly faster. It would also mean recipients would receive familiar and culturally appropriate food and the aid would not drive down the food prices in local markets, helping these areas become self-sufficient and less dependent on food aid in the future.
The U.S. administers much of its food aid through a process called monetization, where the U.S. government purchases food from the U.S., sells it in developing countries’ markets, and gives the money to development projects managed by US nongovernment organizations, who may or may not be involved in food aid. Research from OxFam and AJWS showed that not only are tens of millions of dollars lost between the cost of purchasing and shipping U.S. goods abroad, but local farmers are often undermined and hurt by the influx of cheap goods in their markets. If the losses associated with this practice were eliminated, 2.4 million more hungry people could have benefitted from U.S. food aid in 2010.
These current regulations on U.S. Food Aid programs cost taxpayers up to $491 million per year, making reform of the Farm Bill both about helping millions of hungry people and spending American tax-payer dollars more wisely. But Congress can remove these unnecessary regulations in the Farm Bill, helping ensure food aid programs are cost effective, efficient, and help feed as many hungry people as possible.
Alison Blackmore is a research assistant with the Nourishing the Planet project.