Failing to Address the Complexity of US International Food Aid Policy

Part I

by Hannah Laufer-Rottman

The Obama administration has announced earlier this year it intends to change the way the U.S. distributes international food aid by buying food in developing countries instead of shipping it from the U.S. Such measure will allow the United States to feed about 17 million more people each year and help farmers in poor countries. This will have the added benefit of saving millions in shipping costs and getting the food more quickly to areas in need.
But in order to succeed, the new U.S. food aid policy must address a number of complex issues.
Currently the U.S. maintains a short term perspective about food security, and often pits the interests of large U.S.-based agricultural concerns against the needs of food-insecure nations and the recipients of food aid.
In the developing world and in countries that are food-insecure and rely on imports to feed their people, in case of emergency international food aid is the only answer. But the new food aid policy should also take into account situations where there is food in a country neighboring the one where an emergency occurs. In that case, cash aid allows food to be bought and shipped more quickly (and probably more cheaply, too). But, what about a food crisis in a country near equally poor and food-insecure countries? Then, only rich nations with established, sophisticated infrastructure for food reserves can provide the necessary food aid. U.S. food aid policy should address all these possibilities.
In addition, U.S. policy should also include guidelines for developing countries which produce enough staple foods to feed their own poor, but that don’t take responsibility for distributing the food. U.S. policy might require these countries to redistribute the food to their people; in another case, lack of local infrastructure—markets, warehouses, and especially roads—would indicate that the U.S. should assist in food shipment and distribution.

The author is CEO of Palms for Life Fund. She is a former long-term employee of the UN World Food Programme.

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