The Obama administration announced last month its intention to restructure U.S. international food aid. Currently, the government purchases food from American farmers and ships the food overseas. The food is shipped through American shipping companies, and distributed through American charities or through local governments. This system of distribution has been in operation for almost 60 years.
But the system is inefficient and slow, and often food doesn't make it to target populations. The administration proposes purchasing food from farmers in the countries where aid is needed. Administration insiders say that the new practices could help feed 17 million more people annually.
A challenging aspect of current food aid policy is that the government often hands off American-bought food commodities to American charities for sale overseas. Charities then sell food in local markets and often compete with local growers. The U.S. is the only country that sends food overseas rather than working with local growers to increase food access in hungry populations.
The proposed change has irked many members of Congress who represent agricultural states, as well as shipping companies and some charitable groups who are concerned the administration might cut food aid funding as a result of these changes. But the Government Accountability Office had already deemed the current system of food aid "inherently inefficient." And Oxfam America, one of the largest charities in the country, released a report discussing the merits of putting more control and influence of food aid policy into the hands of local residents, rather than American farmers.
Food aid is part of the Farm Bill, so any changes would have to be approved by Congress. Given the difficulties that Congress had in passing the most recent farm bill, this change might prove too politically challenging for the administration to accomplish. At the very least, this proposal sparks an interesting conversation around the U.S.'s role in the international food trade and how best to serve hungry populations worldwide.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her other work can be found at her website.