Lean Just a Little: Food Aid Reform in the Farm Bill
Bread for the World continues to urge Congress to make simple reforms to food aid, and our efforts are apparent in farm bill negotiations. Over the years, U.S. generosity and compassion have saved billions of lives, and right now we have an opportunity to make this valuable assistance even better.
A conference committee began negotiations this week to merge House and Senate versions of the farm bill. The Senate version includes common-sense reforms that include allowing food to be purchased in or near the community in need. Language in the bill also grants more flexibility to purchase food aid products with better nutritional quality, which will help target the most vulnerable populations, such as women and children. Locally purchased food builds economies and helps farmers, which in turn helps stabilize regions and allows them to build defenses against future emergencies. These reforms function as a hand up, not a hand out, and are an essential part of a long-term solution to ending hunger.
Currently, the majority of food aid products provided by the United States must come from this country and be shipped on U.S. vessels. As Bread for the World notes in a new fact sheet on international food aid reform, this practice can add to program costs and delay arrival of food aid, when compared to local purchases. Another current practice, monetization–purchasing U.S. commodities for resale in local markets to fund development projects–meant 800,000 people could have, but did not, receive aid in 2012.
Two lawmakers in the House are leading the charge to modernize U.S. food aid: Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.-39) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.-16), and both are on the conference committee. An amendment they authored was narrowly defeated in a House farm bill, but they continue to work toward inclusion of food aid reform in the final bill.
In a statement submitted to the conference committee, Royce encouraged policy change that includes the flexibility to address each unique situation and eliminate monetization. “In fact, “ he wrote, “if we eliminated the requirement to monetize and provided just 20 percent in flexible funding, we could generate over $500 million in efficiency savings, reduce mandatory spending by $50 million, and reach millions more people in need during the life of this bill.”
In a guest contribution to Politico yesterday, Engel pointed out that food aid policies have stagnated since 1954, and must to catch up to modern needs. He saw firsthand the effect our current law has had on Haiti, and his experience supports the need for reform. “I’ve seen how the well-intentioned sale of American rice has driven local rice farmers out of business, making it harder for Haitians to feed themselves," he wrote.
It’s time for international food aid to respond to the realities of today’s world. Call or email your member of Congress today and tell them to protect hungry people in the farm bill.
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