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Ronan Farrow’s “The World Unseen” Looks at U.S. Food-Aid Reform

MSNBC host Ronan Farrow looks at U.S. food-aid policies, and the need to reform them, in the latest installment of his "The World Unseen" series. Farrow pays particular attention to shipped food aid—current policies mandate most U.S. food aid is in this form. Commodities, which are subsidized in the United States with taxpayer dollars, saturate the markets of developing countries, and undercut the very people the aid is meant to assist. “Tax payer dollars sent to help often do the opposite” Farrow reports.

Irene, a farmer in Kenya who struggles to feed her children, tells Farrow that the greatest difficulty farmers face is competing with U.S. food—a problem that originates with policy set in Washington, D.C. Agriculture, Farrow says, is the key to Kenya’s economic independence. "Buy local," a term often used in America to support stimulating local economies, also makes a lot of sense in the context of development. Buying food near the source of a crises supports economic independence and strengthens regional agricultural systems. Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters campaign urges Congress to improve the efficiency of our food aid with more dollars available to purchase local food so we can reach millions more people

Highlighted in the MSNBC report are two of the congressional champions behind food-aid reform in the farm bill: Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.-39) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.-16). As we previously reported, the farm bill authorized and made permanent a provision to use some food aid funding to buy locally—a good first step. But for those provisions to be realized, Congress must also appropriate the funding.

Bread for the World will be examining the president’s fiscal year 2015 budget, expected to be released early next week, for proposals to increase funding for flexible approaches, like local and regional purchase and cash vouchers. We also want to see this flexibility reflected in appropriations bills, which the House and Senate will release later this year. Quality also matters, and supporting policy that increases nutrition will save more lives. The first step, however, will be encouraging our members of Congress to fund the authorized reforms in the farm bill. The farm bill was a start, but much more work needs to be done.

Building the political will to modernize U.S. food aid has human stakes. Irene deserves the opportunity to take care of her family, and if U.S. policies hinder that, we have a responsibility to act. It is, as Farrow says in his segment, about giving the underdog a fighting chance.

 

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