Conversations on Food Aid: Farm Bill Wrap-Up
After two years of bitter negotiations, the farm bill— a nearly $1 trillion piece of legislation that will govern U.S. food and farm policy for the next five years— is law. Faithful advocates made calls, met with members of Congress, and wrote thousands of letters and emails in support of reforming food aid in the farm bill. We asked Ryan Quinn, Bread for the World’s senior policy analyst, who tracks food aid, how we did.
“Even though other areas of the farm bill [i.e., harmful cuts to SNAP] were unacceptable, the food-aid provisions were a win,” says Quinn. “We ended up with something better than what was originally in the Senate version.”
Those provisions include an $80 million boost to local and regional purchases , or LRP, which allows the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to buy food close to the source of need rather than shipping life-saving resources, which can take weeks or months. “That was huge,” says Quinn. “LRP is permanent now. There was a pilot program for a modest amount in the last farm bill. Once tested, it was obvious that LRP doesn’t hurt the U.S. agriculture industry, helps more people, and most importantly, it is part of the 'hand up' we want to see with our programs.” By supporting farmers and local markets in distressed regions, LRP is consistent with Bread for the World’s mission to end hunger and poverty.
Asked if reforms included in the farm bill mean we are done reforming policy around U.S. food aid, Quinn emphasized that this was only a first step. “We are doing more with greater efficiency, but more changes are necessary, which is why we have made food-aid reform the focus of our 2014 Offering of Letters.“ (Order your 2014 Offering of Letters toolkit)
Other reforms include phasing out monetization, a practice in which aid organizations resell food-aid products in local markets to support development work, but can undercut local farmers in the process. “We have new ways to do development that weren’t there a few years ago,” says Quinn. Food for Peace will have the flexibility to broaden its scope and will receive a larger share of funding, decreasing the need for monetization. “Flexibility to meet the needs of each circumstance has really been the core of our modernizing efforts,” says Quinn.
Other improvements include increased program transparency and the expansion of the practice of prepositioning food aid in areas where disasters are likely—something that was critical in getting life-saving food aid to the Philippines. But the provision Quinn finds especially encouraging improves the nutritional quality of food. “We are talking about babies here,” he says. "It makes me feel happy that our work helps provide the nutrition they need in the first 1,000 days of life.” Providing proper nutrition to mothers and children during this period establishes a foundation for a better life as children grow.
Asked whether calls and letters from advocates made a difference, Quinn answers with an emphatic "yes."
“I met with Sen. Stabenow's (D-Mich.) staff on food aid, and they made it clear that they heard from Bread members and it made a difference,” he says. Congress may have the power to change polices that address hunger with the stroke of a pen, but “it’s constituent voices that can make them pick up the pen in the first place,” Quinn says.
Next week, learn what is next for food aid as we continue the conversation on the Bread Blog.
Photo: Lutheran Development Service distributes food to people affected by drought in Swaziland in 2004. Many distributions of U.S. food-aid items, which originate with USAID, are carried out by private relief and development organizations, many of them supported by U.S. churches. (Stephen H. Padre)
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