Putting Tax Dollars to Better Use

By Amanda Stone

A study released in July by Cornell University researchers estimated that U.S. taxpayers spend about $140 million a year on food aid to Africa, and roughly the same amount just to ship food aid around the world on U.S. vessels, according to an article on IRIN.

This money could be used more effectively to invest in innovative agricultural development that will empower farmers to be more self-sufficient over the long term and enable them to feed themselves and their communities. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The aid is distributed under a little-known policy called the Agricultural Cargo Preference (ACP), which requires that 75 percent of U.S. food aid be shipped on privately owned, U.S.-.registered vessels, regardless of shipping rates. Unfortunately, the nation’s taxpayers end up paying a high price for inefficient shipping practices.

The cost of this preferential practice to U.S. taxpayers in 2006 was $140 million, which represents “the amount paid above the regular cost of ocean freight on the competitive market,” according to Christopher Barrett, a Cornell University professor and leading food aid expert.

The Cornell study supports a longstanding call for reform of policies that subsidize the U.S. shipping industry to the benefit of the “iron triangle,” comprising agribusiness, the shipping sector, and some NGOs. These subsidies can cost taxpayers as much as $2 to deliver $1 worth of food, according to a book that Barrett co-wrote with Daniel Maxwell, Food Aid After Fifty Years: Recasting Its Role.

At a time when funding is tight, this money could be spent more effectively on additional food aid for urgent, short-term needs or, better yet, invested in innovative agricultural development that will empower farmers to be more self-sufficient over the long term and enable them to feed themselves and their communities.

To read more about innovations that increase farmer self-sufficiency and investments in agriculture, see: Innovation of the Week: Farmers Learning From Farmers, Spreading the Wealth of Innovations, Nourishing the Planet in the Ethiopian News, and Investing in Agriculture Growth to Alleviate Global Hunger and Poverty.

Amanda Stone is a communications intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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