Friday, 12 April 2013

Obama proposes food aid reforms

President Obama's budget proposal includes several sensible reforms to U.S. food aid to other countries.

As Eric Muňoz at Oxfam America explains, "The proposal would end the practice of 'monetization' which provides cash to NGOs doing food security programs in developing countries but is highly inefficient and wastes a lot of money."

Also, the administration's proposal appears to reduce, but not eliminate, requirements that a large portion of U.S. food aid be purchased in the United States.  These requirements increase the aid programs' support among U.S. farmers, but generally are inefficient for meeting humanitarian assistance and development objectives.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah this week explained why local purchases closer to the recipient countries make more sense:
The President’s proposal reflects the growing, bipartisan consensus that the traditional approach to development must be modernized to help us efficiently meet the economic and moral challenges of our time.

The truth is that for years our practice in food assistance has lagged behind our knowledge. In the last decade, more than 30 different studies—from Cornell University to Lancet medical journal to the Government Accountability Office—have revealed the inefficiencies of the current system.

They’ve shown that buying food locally—instead of in the United States costs—much less—as much as 50 percent for cereals and as much as 31 percent for pulses. That’s because the average prices of buying and delivering American food across an ocean has increased from $390 per metric ton in 2001 to $1,180 today.

These costs eat into precious resources designed to feed hungry people—causing more than 16 percent of Title II funds to be spent on ocean shipping.

Buying food locally can also speed the arrival of life-saving aid by as many as 14 weeks. Those 98 days take on an entirely new meaning when you consider that waiting every additional day—every additional hour—can mean the difference between life and death.

Buying food locally is not only faster. It can also be a more effective approach to achieving our ultimate goal of replacing aid with self-sufficiency. In Bangladesh, we worked with Land o’ Lakes to buy cereal bars locally, helping create a commercially viable and nutritious product for the local market, while supporting U.S. jobs at home.
Shah's speech also highlighted the work of my Friedman School colleagues, led by Patrick Webb and Bea Rogers, to improve the nutritional quality of food aid.  Shah said, "In 2011, we completed a two-year food aid quality review in partnership with Tufts University that resulted in the most far-reaching improvements to U.S. food aid since 1966."

Demonstration kitchen at a clinic in Burkina Faso, West Africa, where mothers combine food aid products with local ingredients to help treat child undernutrition. Source: Patrick Webb 2008.


Update (later the same day): Corrected a name spelling as suggested in the comments. Thanks!

1 comment:

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