WASHINGTON, April 10, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- For 50 years ACDI/VOCA's stock-in-trade has been agricultural development and food security. In 2003 we were called "the premier agricultural development NGO in the world" by USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios. In line with our longstanding commitment to the toughest, most intractable development challenge, feeding the world while improving livelihoods of the vast majority of the poor, we support food aid.
In Uganda, where over 20 percent of households faced food insecurity in 2005, our Food for Peace program provided rations to a vulnerable population of almost 130,000 people living with HIV/AIDs. Beyond handouts, it trained 170,000 farmers in production and nutrition to foster food security, increased income and health.
Some are calling for widespread food aid reform, but we do not agree. Today's diverse system allows organizations like ours the flexibility to use appropriate tools. Abruptly cutting funds or unraveling established programs will deplete our toolbox and disrupt aid to those who need it most.
It's Not Just Food Food aid goes beyond providing staples to the hungry. Our activities target nutrition of pregnant and lactating women, train farmers to improve farm yields and build resilience to disasters.
Besides being effective, food aid is cheap and popular. It costs less than one-tenth of one percent of the U.S. budget, and over 90 percent of Americans think fighting world hunger is an important foreign policy goal, according to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Don't Limit Food Aid Methods Critics want to end sourcing food in the U.S. to distribute or monetize abroad. Instead, they'd like all food aid to be sourced locally or regionally overseas, e.g., buying food in Uganda to distribute in the Horn of Africa. When executed with care, local sourcing can multiply benefits, building lasting food security by supporting farmers and developing local markets. In fact ACDI/VOCA implements programs that help farmers in countries like Rwanda produce quality product at scale to sell to the World Food Program for local distribution.
However, local procurement is not necessarily the most effective or efficient approach. In 2012 the International Disaster Assistance's local purchase program spent $2,863 per metric ton while the price of PL 480 Title II U.S.-sourced food aid was only $1,188. Also, food aid sourced locally or regionally may be of subpar quality. In short, one method is not intrinsically better than the other. Effective food aid depends on well-designed, adequately funded programs of both kinds.
We're not the only ones who feel this way. In a letter to President Obama, 21 senators wrote: "Food aid programs have enjoyed strong bipartisan support for nearly 60 years because they work." The letter continued, "Our country has the largest and most diverse, reliable and effective food assistance programs in the world."
Five Myths of Food Aid
Myth 1: Food aid from the U.S. takes longer to get to its destination than when it's regionally sourced.
Fact: Regional shipping can be both expensive and arduous. Infrastructure, and particularly roads, in developing countries often hampers delivery of locally sourced food aid, according to a Department of Transportation study, and customs systems unaccustomed to processing large shipments of commodity can present bottlenecks.
Myth 2: It's cheaper and more efficient to buy food locally.
Fact: It can be cheaper to purchase in the U.S. because of the efficiency of American agriculture. Further sourcing locally can create market bubbles that raise the price of commodities. (Introducing a massive amount of commodity from the States can be disruptive too—see below.) However, if the right commodity is available and it is cheaper and faster, local procurement should be considered.
Myth 3: Food aid resources are fungible—they can either support U.S. or foreign purchase.
Fact: U.S. agriculture and shipping interests constitute a powerful lobby for the current food aid system. Given our political system, it is likely that funding for cash outlays for local purchase would diminish.
Myth 4: Food aid is wasteful.
Fact: Above all food aid should not be wasteful, but some food aid interventions are desperate measures and overhead costs are a reality. The diversity of food aid tools enables the selection of appropriate and efficient options for each scenario.
Myth 5: Monetization disrupts markets.
Fact: Monetization, or the sale of U.S. commodities in developing countries to fund programs, is designed to avoid market disruption. Rigorous Bellmon Analyses are conducted to preclude such market shocks. If necessary commodity is sold in a third country, gradually or in small lots. Monetization can improve food quality and quantity in a country and ease credit and price constraints in-country on that commodity while it funds development programs. It can also create markets for U.S. crops like prized hard red winter wheat unavailable locally.