President Obama’s FY2014 budget request proposal to reform food aid has sparked renewed debate on whether the current system could provide food to those in need more effectively and efficiently. The President’s proposal aims to improve the Food for Peace program that distributes emergency food assistance by providing more flexibility to purchase food locally and regionally in addition to shipping commodities from the U.S. Moreover, the proposal would eliminate inefficient practices such as the “monetization” of food aid that occurs when NGOs are provided commodities to sell in local markets in order to fund development projects, rather than funding these projects directly. In the weeks and months to come, the many stakeholders in the agriculture, cargo shipping, and development communities will continue to debate how to strike an appropriate balance between reaching as many people in need as possible as quickly as possible and allowing traditional U.S. domestic interests that are proud to contribute to feeding hungry people around the world to continue to play a role in international food assistance.
As U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah explained in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “If we can bring efficiency and effectiveness to this work; if we can save more lives without asking for more money; if we can freely and flexibility harness the tools we’ve developed and the knowledge we’ve gained, then we can do just that.”
Since the proposal was released last month, Members of Congress have begun to weigh in. In a joint statement, Congressmen Ed Royce and Eliot Engel—Chair and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively—responded, “U.S. international food aid programs have long embodied the compassion of the American people. After nearly 60 years of experience, we are encouraged by the President’s proposal to fundamentally alter our food aid program to reach more people, more quickly, at less cost. Several recent studies have highlighted the need for reform. We look forward to working with the Administration and our colleagues in Congress to modernize US food aid programs while ensuring maximum impact and efficiency.” Representative Nita Lowey, Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, commented, “In a time of tight budgets, it is critical to get the best value possible for services and investments, including relieving hunger. This is an important proposal, and I look forward to working with the Administration and my colleagues to move toward more efficiency in food aid.”
Meanwhile, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen released a public letter to the President, saying, “While it is imperative that measures be taken to improve the program, your Administration should instead focus on greater coordination, transparency, and accountability among the agencies that administer this program. Eliminating in-kind food assistance will be disastrous for many US jobs and the domestic sealift capacity provided by the US Merchant Marine, on which our US military depends.”
MFAN is among a group of organizations that is supportive of the reform proposal. To ensure that those following this debate fully understand the broader issue and the proposed changes, below are important links to fact sheets and other documents created by USAID.
Key Resources on Food Aid Reform