International food aid gets a lot of criticism from both sides of the political spectrum: the right saying we need to cut our foreign aid spending (even though it's less than one percent of the budget)—and predominantly from the left, people voicing concerns about the inefficiencies built into food aid delivery and larger concerns about the dependency that results from unsustainable handouts shipped in from across the world.
But what if the U.S. spent the same amount of money on food aid, but made it more efficient by doing things like sourcing food locally, rather than bringing in foreign products that cost more than their nutritional value warrants and that wreak havoc on local markets?
That's the focus of a study—and the "infographic" below—just released by Oxfam and American Jewish World Service.
It found that with two key areas of reform—changing the food sourcing requirements (currently, food aid is required to be sourced in the U.S.) and the monetization of in-kind food aid sent to help finance development projects—U.S. food aid programs could have reached up to 17.1 million additional people with life-saving aid, at no additional cost to taxpayers.
The report lays out the methodology for how it arrived at these figures, which are based on a Cornell University and a U.S. Government Accountability Office report, but the major findings include:
• Current regulations and red-tape on U.S. Food Aid programs addressed in this paper cost taxpayers (and reduce the purchasing power of food aid programs by) up to $491 million per year.
• If inefficient monetization activities were replaced by cash payments, 2.5 million more hungry people could have been reached by U.S. food aid programs in 2010.
• The U.S lags far behind other food aid donor nations in the extent to which its food aid is sourced locally and in the region of need.
• If 100% of the excess costs associated with sourcing from U.S. suppliers had been eliminated by the increased use of LRP [locally- and regionally-produced food], 14.6 million more hungry people could have been reached by U.S. food aid than were actually reached in 2010. If losses due to monetization were also captured and redirected into food aid programs, the number increases to 17.1million people.
Farm Bill Negotiations = Opportunity
"Our one-size-fits-all food aid system is outdated, but Congress has the opportunity to fix it with this year's farm bill reauthorization," said Timi Gerson, director of advocacy at AJWS.
“How often do we have the chance to reach millions more people with life-saving assistance without asking taxpayers for a dime?” said Paul O’Brien, vice president for policy and campaigns at Oxfam America. “Save lives. Save tax dollars. This is a no-brainer.”