May 23, 2013

Commentary - The Future of Food Aid

This post is part of a series produced by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, marking the occasion of its annual Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, D.C., which was held on May 21st. For more information on the symposium, click here. Follow @globalagdev and #globalag on twitter to join the conversation.

By Tom Hart
Tom Hart is the U.S. Executive Director of ONE.

Earlier this week, I attended the Chicago Council’s Symposium on Agriculture and Food Security, and for the second year in a row heard from experts in the fight against hunger. It’s is one of the most important issues we need to address in the fight against extreme poverty – and with the introduction of the Food Aid Reform Act early last week in Congress, I’m ecstatic that smart changes are being proposed in order to more efficiently help the world’s poor. The legislation, co-sponsored by bi-partisan leaders - Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Africa Subcommittee Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-CA) - will provide much needed flexibility and overdue reforms to the way the United States currently delivers its food aid.

The Act, encouragingly, mirrors President Obama’s proposed changes in his FY14 budget. They focus on three important provisions:

First, it allows the U.S. government the option to respond to food emergencies in a variety of ways. When appropriate, the government can choose to use traditional direct food assistance, similar to how we’ve done it the past 60 years. However, when time and money can be saved, local and regional purchase will be used to provide food for those in need.

Second, the legislation effectively eliminates the practice of “monetization,” by which the U.S. government buys agricultural and ships commodities to private voluntary organizations who then sell them to finance their development programs. The elimination of this grossly ineffective method is estimated to save more than $30 million per year.

Finally, this bill exempts food assistance from cargo preference, a practice that adds unnecessary costs to shipping commodities. Under current law, whenever the U.S. government procures commodities to be shipped overseas, at least 50% of overall tonnage needs to be shipped by U.S.-flagged vessels.  Exempting commodities from this policy will result in an estimated $50 million in savings per year. In this time of fiscal discipline, any opportunity to do more with the same amount of resources should be considered.

All of that is to say that the Food Aid Reform Act is a nimble response to the way we deliver assistance to people in need all around the world. Indeed, the development community was encouraged by these changes; notably in this timely piece in Politico by the Chicago Council’s Catherine Bertini and Dan Glickman. As they said, “By bringing more flexibility to the way we distribute food aid, our programs will save more lives, serve more hungry people and do more to advance America’s reputation and interests around the globe.”

Representatives Royce and Bass have submitted a timely and welcome proposal to address current inefficiencies in our nation’s food assistance program, and we urge Congress to enact these reforms. It’s a win-win. These smart policy reforms will not only save taxpayer money, but also ensure that when millions of lives are on line, the helping hands of the American people will reach an additional two to four million people who are in dire need of food deliveries that happen over the course of weeks, not months.

ONE is a global advocacy and campaigning organization, backed by more than 3 million people committed to fighting poverty and promoting development, particularly in Africa. Co-founded by Bono and other campaigners, ONE is nonpartisan and works closely with African policy makers and activists. Learn more at


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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| By Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet.