Ship Food or Send Cash (Action Against Hunger)

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U.S. Food Aid: To Ship Food or Send Cash—the Obama Administration Weighs In

By James Phelan
Deputy Director, External Relations

Obama plans to overturn six decades of U.S. food aid policy. What’s it mean and will it survive a political dust-up?

Action Against Hunger welcomes the news that the Obama Administration may upend 60 years of U.S. food aid policy with proposed changes to the long-standing practice of purchasing U.S. commodities to ship overseas in the name of international food aid, opting for local and regional procurement instead.

The existing policy has long been criticized as wasteful. The New York Times recently reported that an estimated $300 million was squandered in 2010 alone to purchase and ship a half a million tons of foodstuffs overseas—funds that could have had far great impact if used for local or regional purchases.

“We are absolutely in support of the Administration’s proposed changes. If they make it through Congress, it’ll be good news for small farmers around the world, not to mention the health of local economies, which are so critical to recovering after a humanitarian crisis. Such a shift would ensure greater efficiencies, quicker interventions, and significant savings for U.S. taxpayers.”
–Silke Pietzsch, Technical Director, Action Against Hunger

But just as problematic are the well documented repercussions that traditional U.S. food aid can have on local economies: shipping U.S. food to emergency zones can flood local markets with free or cheap product, potentially increasing prices or “crowding out” local foodstuffs—punishing the very small farmers we’re seeking to support and exposing all households to greater price volatility.



Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.