U.S. hopes to donate cash instead of food to anti-hunger efforts
International anti-hunger activists expect the Obama administration to propose major reforms to its food aid efforts in which the United States would donate cash instead of shipping U.S.-grown food to trouble spots around the world.
The White House declined to comment on Friday on its plans. But people who have heard the plans said the administration has discussed the strategy with interest groups and lawmakers and touted it as a way to save money while still keeping the United States the global leader in food aid.
Many anti-hunger groups back the new strategy, but other groups, including domestic producers who sell food to the program, oppose the change.
Several food aid groups said the switch to cash from food donations will be part of the administration's budget proposal next week. Such a switch would be the biggest change in U.S. food aid programs since they were created during the Cold War.
Funding for food aid would drop by roughly 25 percent under the proposal, said activists familiar with the plans. However, cash donations, coupled with purchase of food near the trouble spots, are a speedier and less costly way to deliver assistance, backers of the so-called local purchase approach said.
Up to 45 million people a year are helped through the Food for Peace program, funded at $1.4 billion this year. Food for Peace was created in 1954 to help fight poverty overseas while also unloading domestic farm surpluses. Nowadays, the government buys the food that it donates.
Aid groups say Food for Peace would be mothballed along with the $170 million-a-year Food for Progress program, designed to encourage free markets in agriculture in developing nations. Instead, $1.3 billion would go into State Department accounts for disaster relief and local development.
The State Department also runs Feed the Future, an Obama administration initiative for government and private sector work toward local food security. While most of the Food for Peace funding is spent on emergency hunger relief, up to $450 million a year is earmarked for projects to boost local food production, to reduce the need for ongoing hunger relief.
U.S. funding for food aid and international agricultural development has come under pressure in recent years as deficit reduction has became a paramount goal in Congress.
"We have to look for every efficiency we can," said Eric Munoz of Oxfam America, a prominent supporter of cash donation and local purchase. With lower delivery costs, local purchase "is a doubling of efficiency in our food aid programs," he said.