Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Changing the Farm Bill to Make Emergency Food Aid More Efficient

In these days of economic crisis, it's all about stretching food dollars.  This is even the case when we're talking about emergency food aid.

This concept is the centerpiece of a letter that The ONE Campaign sent to two key senators this week as they consider food and agriculture policy for the next five years. The Senate will mark-up the Farm Bill today, and the House will soon write its own draft bill.

This massive piece of legislation covers mostly domestic agriculture (including farm subsidies, rural community development, and environmental conservation).  But emergency food aid is also contained in the Farm Bill, and this is where the request from ONE comes in. The concept is simple. The request asks the U.S. government to acquire food aid closer to the geographical location where it is needed. This saves on shipping and food costs and speeds up delivery.
Why buy food closer to the emergency? Purchasing locally and regionally has been proven to be more cost-effective and efficient than shipping US-grown food across the globe. It also benefits local developing country farmers and strengthening poor economies. In the 2008 Farm Bill, the US increased its support for local and regional procurement of food aid (LRP) in a pilot program. According to an evaluation by Cornell University of the pilot, buying cereals like wheat and corn locally can save taxpayers over 50 percent, shorten delivery time by 62 percent and help poor farmers significantly. With this in mind, ONE is asking Congress to allow the US government to purchase up to 25 percent of food aid closer to its destination. Read more
The letter also asks for a second important change: monetization. This a a process whereby organizations are granted food to ship overseas and sell in order to fund development projects.  Here's what ONE says about this practice:
It is a pretty inefficient way to fund development (not to mention the market distortions that result). According to a Government Accountability Office report, when organizations sell food aid to fund development projects, they typically recover between two-thirds and three-fourths of what it costs to buy and ship the food. As long as this practice exists, ONE advocates that organizations should recover at least 80 percent of the costs to taxpayers. Many organizations already achieve this and the US government used to require it.
Below is the letter from ONE to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, and to Sen. Pat Roberts from Kansas, ranking Republican on the same committee. 

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