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Corn-fed Congo?
May 5, 2013 9:30 PM   Subscribe

"I've run these operations, and I know that food aid often gets there after everyone's dead." The new proposal to transfer the food aid budget from the Dept of Agriculture to the Agency for International Development causes a ruckus in the U.S. Congress. Why? The new plan also proposes buying some of the food in the affected countries, closer to disaster areas, instead of only buying from American farmers as the current law requires. The chairman of the U.S. House agriculture subcommittee, Rep. Aderholt (R-Alabama), said he was concerned that removing food aid from the agriculture budget would hurt American farmers (NYT). Aid Watch bloggers have long criticized U.S. food aid policies for risking millions of lives around the world to keep a few hundred jobs in Kansas.

Researchers looked into whether international food aid harmed the poor in Ethiopia and found that depended on whether poor households were net buyers or net sellers of food.

Two economists found a direct correlation between U.S. food aid and civil conflict from a sample of developing countries between 1972 and 2006. The results also confirm anecdotal reports that food aid during conflicts is often stolen by armed groups, essentially making international donors part of the rebel logistics effort.

Deficit hawks see food aid as a natural place to cut the U.S. federal budget, especially when development experts like Bill Easterly criticize food aid programs generally as being “intrinsically not very effective” and “essentially a way for high-income countries to dump their excess agricultural production on markets in low-income countries.” 

Trade tariffs and food self-sufficiency previously
Food aid previously
Aid previously
posted by spamandkimchi (19 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Since we'd save money by doing this, there is no reason to not use some part of that saved money to pay fair prices for that food.
posted by aniola at 10:03 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not that I saw how much we'd be paying the local farmers, I just made the assumption that it wouldn't be a fair trade sort of price.
posted by aniola at 10:05 PM on May 5, 2013


P.S. Bill Easterly kind of blew my mind when I first read about how international aid can end up just being a global version of "government cheese." I assume his criticisms of aid ineffectiveness were not intended to provide fuel to the American politicians/public who imagine that foreign aid is a giant fiscal suck on the federal budget.

Here's a good primer on his work (PDF link from his site): Rhetoric versus Reality: The Best and Worst of Aid Agency Practices - William Easterly & Claudia R. Williamson
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:26 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Since we'd save money by doing this

Who's 'we'?

The point of these aid programs is to funnel money to US suppliers. If the US govt started buying food locally (to the destination) someone will need to make up the pork deficit.
posted by pompomtom at 10:36 PM on May 5, 2013


Since we'd save money by doing this, there is no reason to not use some part of that saved money to pay fair prices for that food.

Not that I saw how much we'd be paying the local farmers, I just made the assumption that it wouldn't be a fair trade sort of price.

The idea that aid should be used to buy locally, at some kind of artificially inflated "fair trade" price, seems likely to be used as a justification to maintain the status quo, rather than seek supplies from the local farmers. This works not only for US suppliers scared of losing a food aid customer ("hey, if it's gonna cost that much, may as well buy our quality patriotic American crops"), but also for more well meaning folks who feel local farmers deserve to be paid beyond market rates, comparable to what might be paid in the US ("buying from the locals at those cheap prices is exploitation").

It's a situation where greed and good intentions can shake hands in accord, each side getting the thing it seeks most.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:03 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


When you give food aid to a country, it is crazy not to try to simultaneously improve that country's ability to feed itself by supporting that country's agricultural system or, if the food can't be had in that country, by supporting the regional agricultural system.

There are plenty of domestic aid programs for American farms and for individual farmers (welfare, medicaid, etc.). American farmers don't need to also get a cut of international disaster relief funds.
posted by pracowity at 1:09 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"World Food Security" will be the next big thing. Transforming the process of development aid fund allocation in order to better align Intent, Action and thus Impact is ongoing in many different institutions. A larger shift is that from the recipients being considered 'beneficiaries' to a more 'customer centric' orientation and offering trade, not aid.

All of this requires the groundwork of market creation at the last mile of the agricultural value chain, between subsistence farm and local produce buyer/market. Produce is perishable and time is of the essence for the farmer if she is to sell her tomatoes before they spoil.
posted by infini at 3:29 AM on May 6, 2013


... there is no reason to not use some part of that saved money to pay fair prices for that food.

And that is exactly the point. Like the "food stamp" program - ostensibly intended to help poor people - the real beneficiaries are American farmers. Why do you think "food aid" was in the agricultural committee to begin with?
posted by three blind mice at 5:09 AM on May 6, 2013


When you give food aid to a country, it is crazy not to try to simultaneously improve that country's ability

Indeed. There was an article in The Economist about this last week that said the current policy sometimes has the wonderful side effect of depressing prices for the foodstuffs in the "aided" country so much that it destroys the local supply. Awesome.
posted by yerfatma at 6:08 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


My issue is less about the food programs and more about USAID as a front for CIA operations. It sure looks like a really easy and convenient way to funnel money off the grid, doing business in a region with less transparency. It's also a tool we use to try to enforce our will politically. So yes, less USAID, not because of some jingoistic "USA FIRST" policy, but because I oppose US hegemony, whether really covert, or a bit more overt.
posted by symbioid at 6:33 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


In slightly related news: Evo Morales recently announced that he plans on expelling USAID from Bolivia, for the same concerns symbioid outlines.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:48 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


All of this blah blah blah is fine and dandy but when you are a refugee or an IDP and you get food then none of the above matters at the moment.
posted by tarvuz at 8:48 AM on May 6, 2013


You can also win the lottery.
posted by infini at 8:52 AM on May 6, 2013


All of this blah blah blah is fine and dandy but when you are a refugee or an IDP and you get food then none of the above matters at the moment.

So if we're using 'numbers of refugees or IDPs receiving food aid' then sourcing the food locally, at market rates, makes far more sense than using the funds to prop up US agribusinesses, and their lobbyist cohorts, whether or not the individual recipient stops to consider the sourcing.
posted by pompomtom at 10:37 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


All of this blah blah blah is fine and dandy but when you are a refugee or an IDP and you get food then none of the above matters at the moment.

That is true, and if food aid were needed only once in one place there would be no discussion of costs or sources of food. We would just feed the people and swallow the costs.

But this is an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed long-term so there is more food available to more people when they need it, and costs and corruption have to be kept down to keep people from burning out on this.
posted by pracowity at 11:07 PM on May 6, 2013


So if we're using 'numbers of refugees or IDPs receiving food aid' then sourcing the food locally, at market rates, makes far more sense than using the funds to prop up US agribusinesses, and their lobbyist cohorts, whether or not the individual recipient stops to consider the sourcing.

That's the whole point of this FPP isn't it? That the metrics for success seem to be unrelated to the real world logistics and supply chain challenge at the last mile - that also seems to the essence of Easterly's papers and analysis - the misalignment, whether deliberate or accidental.

If food aid were to truly be measured by number of mouths fed, efficiently, affordably and in a timely manner, it would lead back to what pracowity and pompomtom just concluded.
posted by infini at 12:00 AM on May 7, 2013


There may be valid reasons to question the wisdom of reforming U.S. food aid. But saving the Merchant Marine isn't one of them. (Foreign Policy)
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:35 PM on May 22, 2013


Why US Farmers Should Take “Pride” in Reforming Food Aid at Oxfam America.

A farmer writes to disagree with the American Farm Bureau Federation president's statement that “Shipping a cargo load of food, rather than the money to buy food (if it is available), is the best and most secure way to ensure that taxpayer-funded international food assistance actually makes it to hungry people overseas.”
Really?!? When the distance between the US and the country we are supporting means an average of 130 days between procurement and delivery, I find this hard to believe. When over half of those taxpayer dollars that could be helping to feed people are siphoned away into the pockets of middlemen before one hungry child is fed, I’m concerned that there are many a slip between the cup and the lip.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:30 PM on May 25, 2013


I swear I'm not even looking for food aid articles (but I am researching food sovereignty for an upcoming conference presentation).
On February 21st, 69 organizations submitted a letter to President Barack Obama in support of continued funding for Public Law 480 (also known as Food for Peace) and Food for Progress international food aid programs in the FY 2014 budget, and opposing rumored proposals to shift resources to local and regional commodity procurement. The signatory organizations were comprised almost exclusively by the iron triangle of US food aid spending recipients (agribusiness, shipping, and international development industries).
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:14 PM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


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