We can’t gamble with lives for so-called food aid reform

As we near President Obama’s budget submission, many in the international aid community are concerned about reports that U.S. food aid to the most vulnerable is at risk.

Ethiopia Grain Distribution

Specifically the program called Food for Peace is reported as being cut from the president’s budget. The changes proposed are being called “reforms” however the result is a complete elimination of the program and a transition to radically different programs which are untested at the scale proposed and could put vulnerable people at acute risk. Listen to a full interview on the topic here.

FH is an implementer of Food for Peace and has seen the significant difference this program makes in the lives of the poor who are living in under-resourced, hard-to-reach communities in the developing world. Since 2008, FH has served more than 675,000 people living in extreme poverty in D.R. Congo, Sudan, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Bolivia through U.S. food aid programs.

During the recent Horn of Africa food crisis, the FH-implemented Food for Peace program was a part of helping 7.6 million avoid severe hunger, thereby reducing emergency food aid requests by $100 million.

Through the Food for Peace program, food (primarily grains and cooking oil) is shipped from the U.S. to countries in need. Those who would like to eliminate these programs say that only cash is needed to provide assistance and food can be purchased locally or regionally to serve those in need. On the surface, it seems reasonable, but as in many situations, digging deeper shows us another reality.

Is this just about shipping food and dumping it off for the most vulnerable?
If you have heard food aid being discussed in recent days, it’s possible that you’ve seen a portrayal of large quantities of food being shipped from the U.S.to developing countries in an inefficient manner and being distributed in a way that creates dependency and disrupts local markets.

In reality, U.S.food aid is delivered through a well-developed infrastructure. It takes place in a strategic manner, serving communities that are experiencing long-term sustained crises and food is not simply given to people.

It’s more helpful to think of the food as one tool that is used in an overall strategy to strengthen the abilities for poor communities to get out of crisis mode and become self-sufficient. The food is often used in “food for work” programs through which participants are “paid” with food to do work that moves whole communities toward providing for themselves—such as building roads and improving fields for farming.

While those who want Food for Peace eliminated say that this food could be bought more cheaply in local regions, this is a theory that has not been tested at the scale proposed. And it’s a very risky proposition which could lead to lost lives. In places like Ethiopia and D.R. Congo, the food is simply not available in country. It could actually be more expensive to acquire food regionally, and the quality of food will likely go down.

Do we really want to disconnect America’s breadbasket from the needy globally?
Here’s something else to consider. For more than 60 years, U.S.food aid programs have given Americans a real and physical way to respond to hunger worldwide. These are programs that have remained intact for decades. Ending Food for Peace would further detach the American people from foreign assistance, which has been a hallmark of our country for decades.

What can you do?
Take action. Let your elected officials know that we need to help the world’s poorest people hardest hit by the global food crisis. You can find the appropriate contact information here. Tweet or share this blog post to let others become more informed. Thanks for “listening” and speaking out on behalf of the most vulnerable.


About Dave Evans

Dave Evans served with Food for the Hungry (FH) from 1991 until 2013, most recently as the U.S. President and a member of the Global Executive Office. Previously, he served as Country Director in Chad and then Bolivia.

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