food aid


WFP Struggles Under Financial Weight of Food Crises | 

Displaced families in CAR carry 25 kg bags of maize, distributed by WFP.
Displaced families in CAR carry 25 kg bags of maize, distributed by WFP.

Funding shortages have led the World Food Programme to announce cuts to food rations in countries including Haiti, Kenya, Mali and Niger. The UN organization says it needs an extra $1 billion to meet the food needs of people around the world.

The need for food aid has increased in Syria, the Central African Republic (CAR) and across the Sahel have increased over the past few months. However, the agency has struggled to gain access to and meet the demand for some of the most desperate people in Syria and the CAR.

A new appeal to assist an estimated 20 million people across the Sahel region of West Africa requires $2 billion. The arid belt is particularly vulnerable to drought, leading to higher rates of food insecurity and malnutrition.

More than half of the money, $1.115 billion, is intended to address food security and nutrition. The appeal estimated that 5 million children are affected by acute malnutrition, with 1.5 million of that number suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

The World Food Programme (WFP) will work alongside other UN agencies to address the problems faced by people living in the Sahel. More money is needed to ensure that the UN can undertake an appropriate response. Only 60% of the $1.72 billion UN appeal for the Sahel was fulfilled last year.

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Farm bill to preserve America’s self-serving, costly and unfair food aid system | 

Somali men carry food aid from a barge to shore.
Somali men carry food aid from a barge to shore.
AP, 2007

The word from the hollowed halls of Congress is that there’s bipartisan agreement on a new five-year Farm Bill that makes some cuts in food stamp payments and farmer subsidies, outraging both special interests in the agriculture industry along with advocates for the American poor.

Almost totally ignored is the fact that the proposed bill also means millions more of the poor overseas will not get American food aid.

CNN Farm bill ends subsidies, cuts food stamps

NY Times Farm bill compromise will change programs, cut spending

Washington Post Vote expected on farm bill next week

Humanosphere has reported extensively (such as here, here and here) on the U.S. government’s uniquely self-serving, incredibly inefficient and arguably immoral approach to delivering food assistance to the poor or those in a disaster overseas. In sum, we are the only nation to require that most of the food we give to the poor and suffering be grown in America and also be shipped and delivered by Americans.

Many humanitarian groups have supported the Obama Administration’s proposal to at least relax those requirements and allow organizations engaged in famine or disaster relief to buy food closer to the crisis area – getting more barley for the buck and also supporting local economies. That push appears to have faded away into oblivion. Shame. Continue reading

The Daily Show (hilariously) explores the food aid reform debate | 

Frequently, Jon Stewart and his minions at The Daily Show come closer to the truth than the ‘real’ media. Here they take on the contentious debate over how best we can help feed the hungry around the world.

As Humanosphere has explored ad nauseum (sometimes with our own attempt at humor) over the past few months, there have been proposals by the Obama Administration, the US Agency for International Development and many within the humanitarian community to reform our highly inefficient and self-serving methods of distributing food aid.

By law, we require that our food is bought in America and shipped by American vessels – even though we could feed a lot more starving people if we (like most other civilized wealthy nations) purchased crops from farmers in poor countries closer to the crisis du jour. Some experts have estimated simply eliminating this self-serving requirement could feed an additional 4 to 10 million people.

Here’s the Daily Show’s take on it:

Why did Seattle’s “Liberal Congressman for Life” vote against fixing food aid? | 

130604_usaid_food_boxes_reu_328Last month we reported on the strange and disapointing bipartisan vote in the House against common-sense reforms to America’s foreign food aid program.

Washington state’s congressional delegation vote on the proposal was as strange and disappointing as any: Only two of the state’s 11 representatives voted for an amendment to the Farm Bill that would have allowed for greater flexibility in the system and increased local purchase of food in developing countries.

Jim McDermottOne of those who voted against the reforms was Democratic stalwart Jim McDermott, who represents a district north of Seattle. I caught up with Rep. McDermott recently and asked him to explain his vote.

The question is the corruption and how the money gets taken away,” he said. “I wasn’t convinced by that amendment. It’s not that I think it’s a bad idea. It probably might work better to buy the crops over there, if you knew how you were going to do it.”

Many experts say that the current system of how the U.S. government does food aid is plenty corrupted – at least if you assume the goal is to feed the poor and hungry. The current system requires that we buy the food from American farmers and ship it on American-flagged vessels. No other country does food aid this way. It’s inefficient and blatantly self-serving. Continue reading

What explains the weird way Congress voted down food aid reform? | 

Food Farm Market
Flickr, pinehurst19475

The recent defeat in Congress of legislation aimed at improving the efficiencies of our foreign efforts to feed the hungry didn’t fall into the normal partisan divisions, or even expected special interest categories.

The Obama Administration has proposed changes to our nation’s uniquely wasteful and self-serving system of food aid (which requires we buy only American food and ship only on American-flagged vessels, to be distributed by American humanitarian groups). Experts say we could feed anywhere from 4 to 10 million more hungry people a year for the same amount of money if we just bought some of the food overseas and cut transportation/distribution costs.

But this most reasonable (and arguably, morally superior) proposal is not going anywhere, with bleeding-heart liberals voting against the proposal to improve food aid while red-white-and-blue semi-isolationist conservatives voted for reforming food aid. What the heck is going on?

We’ve tried to dig into an apparent split (since healed?) on this within the humanitarian community, here and here. Below is a map of the way Congress voted on food aid reform. Can somebody explain this wackiness?


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Bipartisan support in Congress AGAINST feeding the hungry – what’s next for food aid reform | 

Congress has again preserved American exceptionalism, and in so doing ensured millions more people in poor countries will go hungry.

The Obama Administration has proposed changing our food aid system, which nearly all aid and development experts agree is inefficient and self-serving due to the uniquely American requirement that we buy food here from American farmers and ship it overseas on American ships. On Wednesday, the House had a chance to change this by voting on legislation to reform food aid – a bill regarded by many as a very modest step in the right direction.

The arguments against it were bipartisan and focused mostly on how the changes would affect us, as opposed to the needy overseas:

  • “[Food aid] is not broken. It is about humanitarian, economic and national security…We don’t need to destroy something that’s worked for fifty years,” claimed Rep. John Garamendi of California.
  • Rep. Nick Rahall, from West Virgina, argued, “The effect would be to undermine the integrity of our maritime fleet…Once these jobs are gone, they’re gone forever.”
  • And Rep. Rob Andrews from New Jersey worried the act would open the door to “corruption” of US food aid in poor countries. Another representative claimed that food aid would no longer be branded with the American flag.

Ed Royce, a Republican who represents California’s 39th district and co-authored the amendment aimd at reforming food aid, called those ideas “myths.” And they are. Royce chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee and knows what he’s talking about.

“We are not talking about sending bags of cash so they can spend it on whatever they want,” he explained. “US labels will still be prominent. The defense department has said this will not affect military readiness in any way.”

He made an impassioned plea for changes to our “archaic” food system: “Our food aid takes too long to arrive.” He cited a former official who testified, “I watched people die, waiting for food aid to arrive.”

But his pleas fell on largely deaf ears. The House voted down the amendment, 220 to 203. Continue reading

Last Ditch Effort for Food Aid Reform | 

Food aid in Sudan
Food aid in Sudan
Flickr, UNEP

The widely supported, bipartisan attempt to modernize and improve the U.S. government’s food aid system is not yet dead.

What’s at stake: Between 4 million and 10 million more hungry people overseas could be fed — for the same amount of money — if proposed changes are enacted, according to experts at a leading anti-poverty think tank, Center for Global Development.

Proponents argue that the proposed reforms would reach more hungry people faster, save money and save more lives. And it will knock $150 million off the federal deficit. The changes to food aid, initially proposed by the Obama Administration, are backed by a wide range of supporters from the conservative Heritage Foundation to the liberal opinion page of the New York Times.

Where we’re at: An amendment sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) will allow USAID to spend as much as 45% of its emergency food aid budget for non-American food purchases. The amendment more closely reflects the White House plan than the small sum included in the Senate version of the Farm Bill. Relaxation to food procurement laws will make a big difference. Engel and Royce estimate that the amendment will save the federal government $215 million every year. Continue reading

Why isn’t the humanitarian community united on reforming food aid? | 

Tom Paulson reported this week on a disagreement between aid groups on the Obama administration’s proposed common-sense reforms to the country’s food aid. The US is the largest food aid supplier in the world, routinely sending food overseas to humanitarian hotspots. But it does so in a remarkably outdated and inefficient way.

For this week’s podcast, we invited two humanitarian heavyweights to weigh in: World Vision (based in Federal Way, WA), which opposes the food aid reforms, and Oxfam, a supporter of the measures. World Vision told us they wanted to participate but reversed themselves at the last moment. So Tom spoke at length with Eric Munoz, a senior policy advisor based in Oxfam’s Washington D.C. office, and Jonathan Scanlon from the group’s Seattle office, about the issues.

We’re curious: What exactly is wrong with food aid right now? (Spoiler: the system was designed in the 1950s.) The harder question is, what should be changed? Who are the political constituencies involved and why are groups like World Vision opposed? And what are the prospects, realistically, for the reforms being encated? These questions have enormous implications for places like Haiti, Somalia, and so many others around the globe where American food aid is delivered.

But first we discuss the headlines, including China’s startling rates of cancer and the multi-trillion dollar economic cost of malnutrition. Tune in below.