CWS, interfaith coalition to Congress: Save Farm Bill food aid funding, reform U.S. policies

April 12, 2012

Editors: See full text of letter as sent to members of the Senate: www.churchworldservice.org/farmbill

Washington, D.C. — As U.S. lawmakers are set to resume deliberations of the 2012 Farm Bill, global humanitarian agency Church World Service and other members of a leading interfaith coalition called on lawmakers in Washington on Wednesday to fundamentally change U.S. food aid policies to lower costs, deliver disaster aid faster, and better help hungry people break out of poverty and aid dependence.

The heart of the call to Congress by Church World Service and other members of the Interfaith Working Group on Global Hunger and Food Security was to shift from donating and shipping food in-kind to providing funding for purchasing food locally and regionally.

In letters sent Wednesday afternoon to members of the House of Representatives and Senate, with a specific focus on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and key members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, the interfaith coalition told legislators that food aid money can be more effectively and efficiently used. The coalition urged the U.S. to shift its food aid policies to “respond to new realities,” so that “it does the most good possible” – at less cost to taxpayers.

However, the group said, “It is unconscionable to consider cuts in food aid funding” now, in the midst of high and volatile food prices.

Despite the fact that foreign assistance reflects less than one percent of the U.S. budget, the United States remains the world’s largest donor of food aid to countries in need. And nearly 90 percent of all U.S. food aid spending decisions falls within Title III of the Farm Bill (Agricultural Trade and Food Aid). The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to produce a markup of the Farm Bill the week of April 23.

“The way we administer food aid is in need of reform so that our aid funding does the most good possible. While U.S. food aid provides critical life support for millions of people, it can be improved so that it reaches more hungry people more quickly and better supports their efforts to strengthen local food systems,” the coalition said.

CWS and its fellow advocates are calling attention to the cost to the U.S. of shipping American-grown food around the globe, rather than providing funds to purchase locally-produced food from local and regional farmers. It’s an approach, said the group, that not only would save U.S. money but that would ensure faster delivery of disaster food aid for people facing famine and possible starvation from one day to the next.

Funding local food purchase, the faith coalition stressed in its communiqués to Congress, is a process that “helps local and regional farmers grow their production capacity, which supports the U.S. long-term agricultural development goals, including those in the Feed the Future initiative.

Such reforms also should establish parameters to ensure that local farmers abroad are not competing in their own markets with donated U.S. food. The change, they said, would help move countries closer to self-sustaining food security.

In 2008, Congress authorized a four-year, $60 million pilot program for local purchase of food aid to alleviate urgent food crises. Program reports show that the approach has resulted in food aid reaching recipients an average of 14 weeks faster than foreign-imported in-kind food aid – and at lower cost. Last year USAID adopted a similar approach, committing to purchase the majority of food aid to post-flood Pakistan locally.

The interfaith coalition stated that it hopes that such steps “demonstrate growing momentum to reform the current system and increased acceptance that local and regional purchase of food aid is the best and most efficient way to feed those in need.”

Along with Church World Service, signers of the letters included: ActionAid USA, American Jewish World Service, Bread for the World, Center of Concern, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Congregation of Holy Cross, Food and Water Watch, Lutheran World Relief, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Lutheran World Relief, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Medical Mission Sisters Alliance for Justice, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office, Presbyterian Church (USA), Office of Public Witness, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Justice and Peace Office, Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries and United Methodist Church, General Board of Church & Society.

Sources:

  • A program restriction of the Food for Peace Program (formally Public Law 480): http://www.fas.usda.gov/excredits/FoodAid/Title%201/pl480ofst.htm
  • Lentz, E.C., Passarelli, S., and Barrett, C.B., “The Timeliness and Cost Effectiveness of the Local and Regional Procurement of Food Aid.” Cornell University Working Paper, January 2012, cited in “The Time is Now for Food Aid Reform: Five Reasons Why U.S. Policies are Ripe for Reform in the Next Farm Bill,” American Jewish World Service, February 2012.
  • Ibid: p. 9.
  • Ibid: p. 2.

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