Since World War I, the United States has delivered food aid around the world to hundreds of millions of people impoverished or uprooted by natural disaster, wars and civil conflict. These supplies have saved lives and helped countless families to survive and recover from crisis.
Food aid contributed by the U.S. government, authorized by legislation included in the Farm Bill, has totaled over $73 billion since 1946.1 Over the last decade, the U.S. has been the single largest donor of international food aid. The U.S. contributed more than 52 million tons of food aid between 1996 and 2005, more than half of the nearly 100 million tons of food aid delivered worldwide in this period. Despite these efforts, chronic hunger and food insecurity continue to affect more than 850 million people worldwide. This figure has changed little since 1996, when world leaders at the World Food Summit pledged to cut hunger in half by 2015.
Defining the U.S. Role for the Coming Decades
Upcoming debates on the 2007 Farm Bill provide an important opportunity for the U.S. to review its food aid program in light of continuing world food insecurity, changes in world grain supply and demand, and domestic and foreign policy commitments. Many proposals for reconsidering the U.S. food aid program have already been put forward, and many more remain under active discussion.
On March 15-16, 2006, the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa2 convened a special workshop in Washington, D.C. to generate a broader dialogue on the future of U.S. food aid.3 The workshop gathered policymakers, practitioners and recipients around a neutral “big table” to objectively consider the issues currently facing U.S. food aid programs, build consensus, and chart a path forward. The workshop laid the foundation for further dialogue among groups that do not regularly work together, but it was evident that more needed to be done.
To continue these constructive discussions, participants requested the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa to provide additional information, analysis and potential reform options in four key areas on which participants could not reach agreement during the workshop. This paper responds to that request, exploring various facets of issues which appear to be particularly contentious. Drawing on a wider range of data, knowledge and experience than was available at the time of the workshop, it attempts to describe the range of possible solutions to key issues and suggests where further debate or analysis
might usefully inform changes which could improve the effectiveness and impact of the U.S. food aid program.
Starting from Common Ground….
Workshop participants agreed that:
…And Further Exploring Differences
The dominant goal for U.S. food aid programs is—and must be—the reduction of hunger and poverty.
American contributions are critical to effective international food aid programs and support for these contributions must be preserved and enhanced.
Current resource levels are inadequate in the face of growing needs. Increased U.S. food aid levels would help to address these needs and would create a more positive environment for introducing new food aid methods.
Changes have been made in U.S. food aid policy and practice to make programs more accountable and effective. There are many ideas for additional or new approaches.
There is a growing awareness of the link between the attributes of a food aid ration and improving nutrition, i.e., is the ration delivering the right nutrients for improved health?
In addition to meeting short-term emergencies, U.S. food aid and other resources should address underlying causes of hunger by supporting multiyear efforts to address agricultural productivity, technology, market development, health, education, and employment creation in those countries currently receiving food aid.
Increasing stability and predictability of food aid resources is desirable.
Beyond these areas of agreement, however, there were many issues on which the participants differed. Some believed, for example, that the U.S. food aid system as it currently operates has widespread public and congressional support, and so urged considerable caution in introducing changes, lest these result in a smaller and/or less effective program. Others saw the current approach as less efficient and effective than it could be, serving some interests at the expense of others and not realizing the benefits of synergies with other assistance programs. Still others suggested that deeper changes were imperative at all levels—
legislative, policy, and practice—if the United States is to maintain its leadership in efforts to reduce global hunger.
This paper is framed around four questions, each of which encompasses issues on which views widely differ:
Are food aid policy goals, objectives and funding levels appropriate to the needs and opportunities associated with food aid?
Is the food aid toolkit well suited to the challenge of reducing hunger and poverty?
Is information being used effectively to increase the impact of food aid and to avoid potential negative outcomes?
Does the American public understand and endorse the need for more efforts to address global hunger and poverty?