White House mulls new global food aid approach

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The White House may soon propose the biggest change in U.S. food aid since the programs were created during the Cold War - donating cash for hunger relief instead of shipping American-grown food thousands of miles to global trouble spots, say farm groups and charities.

Reformers have argued for years that cash donations, the method used by most nations, are more efficient and speedier. But food donation has been the favored U.S. approach since the Food for Peace program was enacted in 1954.

Groups on both sides of the issue said on Monday that the Obama administration, when it unveils its budget for the fiscal year opening Oct. 1, may endorse cash donations and propose fewer food donations.

"This is a very serious proposal," said Eric Munoz of Oxfam, the international development group. "We think the intent is there" for reform.

Oxfam and allies such as American Jewish World Service point to a 2012 Cornell University study as support for the idea that cash, used to buy local food near the recipients' area, is more efficient than sending bags of flour or rice, bottles of vegetable oil, dried milk and other aid.

The study said local purchase "can often afford valuable cost and times savings," as much as 50 percent in the cost of grain. Processed foods sometimes cost more locally or offered smaller savings.

As a rule, at least 75 percent of all U.S. food aid must travel on U.S.-flagged vessels, which also drives up the cost.

The White House and U.S. Agriculture Department declined to comment to Reuters about a possible cash proposal.

Farm groups and agribusinesses said they opposed dramatic cuts or the elimination of Food for Peace.

Steep cuts will undermine "one of our most effective, lowest-cost national security tools" that builds good will overseas, they said in a letter last week to senators who oversee food aid programs.

The United States is the world's largest food aid donor, providing nearly $2 billion a year in aid. Food for Peace, devoted to hunger relief and local food security, is the largest of the aid programs with $1.47 billion in funding this year.

Food donation also has strong support on Capitol Hill. The chairwomen of the Senate Appropriations and Agriculture committees were among the 21 signers of a Feb 20 letter calling for continued funding of Food for Peace.

The letter, first reported by The Hagstrom Report, an agricultural newsletter, opened the public scuffle over cash donation vs food donation.

Food aid groups planned to circulate on Tuesday a statement calling for the White House to support "bold reform" that includes local purchase of food and an end to the practice known as monetization. In it, the United States gives food to groups that sell it so they can operate programs to help poor people in targeted nations. (Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Ros Krasny and Bob Burgdorfer)

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Waukee, Iowa  |  February, 26, 2013 at 12:22 PM

This will be good, no corruption will ever take place with gov't cash involved, especially in third world countries.

Waukee  |  February, 26, 2013 at 12:24 PM

It will also push down US crop prices, making farmers more dependent on gov't "help" instead of selling our grain to the gov't. But since the goverment has an endless supply of cash from "Obama's stash" whereas we only have so much food here in the biggest ag producing country in the world this is a win-win. Now the world will see us as giving them in addition to Hollywood and war, now cash/corruption in place of any food aid.

CNY  |  February, 26, 2013 at 01:29 PM

Using government money to buy food from farmers and to ship it to other countries for "humanitarian food relief", (or whatever else it is used for, bribes, PR, etc.) has been going on since before Obama was in diapers. This idea proposes using the money in a different way, not new spending from "Obama's stash". In the long run it's better to encourage profitable, more local agriculture than to have poor nations dependent on handouts. They'll just get lazy like poor Americans on welfare. Anyway you can feel good about getting in your Obama zinger for the day. Rush and Bill would be proud of you.

Waukee  |  February, 26, 2013 at 02:56 PM

I agree, slicker. It IS better to encourage more local agriculture, than to have dependency on handouts. Give them a subscription to Mother Earth News and some Burpee coupons... I could even put some pamphlets together. But why is it the job of the US gov't when we can't get our own house in order? Nat'l security and goodwill? That helped us out on 9/11 after we'd given how much Food for Peace over the years. Yes, lets give them cash now! Maybe while we are at it we can give some more "assault weapons" to people known to traffic to the Mexican drug/smuggling cartels, then we can track them down and show the world how bad guns are (Good idea!) It did feel really good to get that zinger out there, too :) Ahhh! Who's Bill?

February, 26, 2013 at 04:50 PM

Well now, a person could get real comfortable with this cash socialism method. In fact, I'm feeling a little hungry right now -- how 'bout sending me a few thousand $$$, Barack? I promise I will spend some of it on pizza from right down the street. That should get the local economy buzzin'. I promise I won't steal more than, oh say 99% of it, more or less. Yes, this cash socialism program will be genius, sheer genius. Bring it on!!

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