U.S. Food Aid Reform Opposed by Aid’s Intended Recipients: U.S. Special Interests
|Friday, 05 April 2013 16:09|
The New York Times reported yesterday that the Obama administration plans to change the way U.S. food assistance to other countries is conducted. The reforms, according to the Times’ Ron Nixon, would notably focus on local procurement of food rather than shipping U.S.-grown crops overseas. This is something we and other groups have proposed be done to both assist Haitian farmers and food insecure people in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Despite some interest from some congressional offices, the proposal never went anywhere.
Nixon notes that current U.S. food aid practices are unique: “The United States spends about $1.4 billion a year on food aid and is the only major donor country that continues to send food to humanitarian crisis spots, rather than buying food produced locally.” A recent op-ed by the Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny in Bloomberg Businessweek noted additionally that “The U.S. food aid program… spends roughly an additional $1 billion transporting the crops overseas, in most cases using U.S.-flagged ships.”
U.S. food aid to Haiti is emblematic of the program as a whole. As we have previously noted, in roughly the first year after the 2010 earthquake, USAID signed nine contracts with three shipping companies to send 73,000 metric tons of rice and other commodities in Title II emergency food aid to Haiti, at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of over $18 million dollars.
The Associated Press’ Mary Clare Jalonick reports on other controversial aspects of the U.S. food aid regime:
Nixon noted that “A 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative arm, also concluded that the system of supplying food to charities to sell for cash was “inherently inefficient.” The G.A.O found that nearly $300 million was lost because of inefficiencies in the program.”
The Obama administration’s proposed changes, however, could greatly increase the number of people helped by U.S. food assistance overseas, while also supporting local farmers in recipient countries. Jalonick reports that “Gawain Kripke of Oxfam says his group estimates that by spending the same amount of money [as the U.S. currently spends on food aid], the United States could provide assistance for 17 million more poor people by changing the way the aid is distributed.”
Food insecurity in Haiti is currently a significant and growing concern. The U.N. reported this week that “that more than more than 1.5 million of Haiti’s people are at risk of malnutrition because of crops lost in [Hurricane Sandy,” AP noted. This means that “At least one in five households faces a serious food deficit and acute malnutrition despite efforts to reduce hunger.”
But as with past efforts to reform U.S. food assistance, the proposed changes are strongly opposed by vested interests. Nixon writes:
AP describes the opposition to food aid reform within the U.S. Senate:
Some farmers’ organizations were candid about other goals currently served by traditional U.S. food aid practices. As Jalonick reported:
But it is questionable what sort of positive PR is achieved when Haitian farmers lose their livelihoods because they are undermined by cheap imported rice “bearing the U.S. flag.”