An international aid group has turned away US$46 million (€34.32 million) in funding from the U.S. government, arguing the way American food aid is distributed hurts poor farmers.
CARE said wheat donated by the U.S. government and sold by charities to fund anti-poverty programs destroys local agriculture by dumping low priced crops on the market and local farmers cannot compete. Other experts said they share CARE’s concerns, but say different kinds of help suit different situations.
“We are not against emergency food aid for things like drought and famine,” CARE’s Atlanta-based spokeswoman Alina Labrada, said Thursday, adding the process did not help those who consistently went hungry. “They are being hurt instead of helped by this mechanism.”
The United States Agency for International Development said Thursday that its experts carry out detailed assessments to try to ensure that commodities do not disrupt local production.
“The choice we are facing is not between having the 280 million that goes into development programs in cash or food,” said Jim Kunder, USAID’s acting deputy adminstrator. “The choice is: we have 280 million in food, can we translate it into cash?”
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Kunder said €280 million ($375 million) is the approximate average cash value of commodities that are donated for sale.
Labrada said it was critical to push through policy reforms while the U.S. legislature was debating the Farm Bill, which is reauthorized every five years. CARE decided to phase out grain donations in 2005 but the current debate over the bill has focused attention on their decision.
CARE has said it will totally phase out the program by 2009, and seek to replace the lost funds by seeking more cash donors.
“This is a crucial time, it will set policy for the next five years,” Labrada said. She argued that agribusiness and the maritime industry, which has lucrative contracts transporting the grain for sale, were lobbying to preserve an inefficient and unfair system.
An investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office published in April found U.S. emergency food aid takes an average of 4.5 months to arrive, and legal requirements mean two-thirds of the money spent by government on food aid goes on packing and shipping in the U.S.
The U.S. has spent an average of US$2 billion (€1.49 billion) on food aid programs per year, mostly delivered through the United Nations World Food Program. According to some aid organizations, if the aid was in cash, rather than food, it could support about twice as many people.
In the last two farm bills, the U.S. administration called for a partial shift to cash instead of grain, but that was voted down by farm supporters.
According to the International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development, the U.S. administration’s proposals for future farm spending call for 25 percent of the food aid budget to be in cash.
The EU has spoken out strongly against US food aid policy in the Word Trade Organization, accusing the U.S. of skirting agriculture subsidy rules.
Christian Rasmussen, of the European Commission’s agriculture directorate in Brussels, said the EU had replaced food aid with cash to ensure help gets to poor countries more quickly.
“It ensures a correct diet, because you also try to buy the proper products. It’s also very cost-effective because you can buy the food close to the market, unlike in the US case,” he said.
Like many aid groups, African farmers are divided. Ousmane Ndiaye, the director of Senegal’s farmer and rural worker group, said dumping cheap products inhibited local agriculture.
“We have the resources that we need to nourish our population. We have land. We have men and women with the capacity to do it,” he said. “We have millet here. But instead of buying the millet that comes from the middle of Senegal, some people prefer to buy sorghum from foreign countries.”
The secretary general of Mali’s farmers’ association said that some aid helps Malians get crops they can’t produce locally.
“We farm wheat in the north of Mali, around Timbuktu. But that’s not enough for all the flour we need for bread,” said Fousseyni Traore. He said the country could never produce enough wheat because southern areas are too wet and tropical.
The main U.S. aid groups that sell grain to fund projects include CARE, World Vision and the Catholic Relief Service. Smaller groups include Adventist Development, Relief Agency International, Africair, Project Concern International, Technoserve, Food for the Hungry International, and Mercycorps.
Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy said that in 2001, the sale of donated American grain provided 30 percent of those aid organizations’ gross revenues, totaling US$1.5 billion (€1.12 billion).
Tom Getman, World Vision’s executive director for international relations, said he shared CARE’s concerns but didn’t want to turn down any kind of aid.
“We’re all … pushing very hard for less shipment of food … because we’ve all gotten more and more anxious about how much it costs to do the shipping and the mixed results on the ground.”
“But there is going to be a continuing need, like in Korea right now, where we’ve got to have food available for emergency situations. So it’s just finding the balance that is so tough.”
International Herald Tribune