SHAFAQNA -Â More than 60 years after the US Food for Peace program was launched, vested interests continue to hinder reforms to allow for more local sourcing of food aid.
The owners of US ships responsible for delivering food aid are now in line toÂ receiveÂ millionsÂ of dollarsÂ inÂ new subsidies as a result of proposed reform,Â news reports say.Â Under current law, almost all AmericanÂ food aid â€“Â worth around $1.8 billion in 2014 â€“Â must be purchased in the UnitedÂ States,Â and at least half of it must be transported on US-flagged vessels, a combination that costs 25-50 percent more than on the open market.
USÂ shipownersÂ are seeking compensation for a decline in revenue dueÂ to the proposed changes, according to a trade publication,Â American Shipper.Â The USÂ governmentâ€™s â€¯Maritime Security ProgramÂ (MSP) pays $186 million annually toÂ shipownersÂ to ensure a viable sea transport capacity in time of war. According to the report,Â shipownersÂ are looking for an increase in the MSP â€œstipendâ€ to $300 million.
US shipping and agribusiness have for a long timeÂ been theÂ beneficiaries of US food aid policy, and, not to be left out,Â the congressional agriculture committee hasÂ demanded to know whatâ€™s going onÂ behind closed doors between industry leadersÂ and aid officials.
The latest revelations illustrate how hard it is to reform aÂ food aid system thatÂ criticsÂ say is not only inefficient,Â but also counterproductive.
â€œWe need to support local (agricultural) producers and markets, or at a minimum, not undermine them,â€Â explained Daniel Maxwell, professor and research director at the Feinstein InternationalÂ CenterÂ at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
â€œPeople need markets to recover from disaster,Â and if the (aid) response to the disaster undermines markets, it takes that much longer to recover,” he told IRIN.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID), which manages American aid programmes, supports reform, but has not yet managed to push through all theÂ changes that wouldÂ free it to deliverÂ its assistanceÂ more effectively.
“In USAID’s experience, implementing food assistance programmes using locally and regionally purchased food (LRP) has shown both cost and time savings, compared to programmes using US-purchased food aid, and research from a variety of institutions, both public and private, supports this experience,” USAID told IRIN in a written statement.
In spite of this, USAID only has access to what itÂ callsÂ a “modest” amount of resources for LRP, food vouchers and cash transfers under its so-called Title II programme, which mostly covers emergency assistance.
WHAT DO REFORMERS WANT?
Senators Bob Corker and Chris Coons,Â who are sponsoringÂ pendingÂ USÂ legislation, have estimated that reforming food aid could allow the UnitedÂ StatesÂ to reach up to 12 million more people annually with the same amount of money, and more quickly, by freeing up as much as $440 million through greater efficiencies.
“At a time when almost 60 million people around the world are displaced by conflict â€“Â the largest amount ever recorded â€“Â rising costs have dramatically decreased the amount of food that a dollar of Title II funding buys. These reforms are needed more than ever,” said USAID.
Between 2004 and 2013, at least 88 percent of funding for Title II was spent on the procurement and transport of US-procuredÂ foodÂ (see graph).Â The high cost of shipping commodities from the UnitedÂ StatesÂ meansÂ the amount of food aid shipped by USAID has decreased by 64 percent over the last decade.
â€œThere have been reforms, yes, but really they have been too small to have had any major impact,â€ said SolomonÂ MuchinaÂ Munyua, acting director of the Nairobi-based Centre for Pastoral and LivestockÂ Development, part of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a grouping of East African states.
â€œThe US is supporting basic production, agriculture and livestock, but when you have a sudden injection of food from outside, that works against those efforts and interests,â€ he said.Â â€œItâ€™s a total contradiction.â€
ForÂ Munyua, such reforms would have other significant benefits.
â€œIf you were to inject the resources that you spend on sending food aid into (local) food production it means you can create gainful employment of young people,â€ he told IRIN.
Sources – IRIN