April 20, 2012 | By Roger Thurow

Food Aid's Evolution: Landing a One-Two Punch against Hunger

As the rainy season arrived and the planting began in East Africa at the end of March, drought and hunger continued to creep across West Africa.  The African Paradox of feast and famine was forming again.

The U.S. response of food aid was quick off the mark, as it often is.  But this time there appeared to be a greater nimbleness, illustrating the evolving shift in the way the U.S. delivers its food aid.

The World Food Program announced that it had received more than $100 million through the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide urgent food assistance to some 9 million people across the Sahel, from Mauritania to Chad.  Of that contribution, $28 million was in cash to purchase food from African farmers and to support programs in which the impacted population receives vouchers to buy their food on local markets rather than getting handouts of food from a distant land.  The U.S. donation also included an initial consignment of nearly 7,500 metric tons of food allocated from stocks pre-positioned in strategic locations in or near Africa, which would reduce the delivery time from four months to four weeks.  Additional food supplies would be shipped from the U.S. to arrive in August when the hunger is expected to be at its peak.

Allan Jury, the WFP’s director of U.S. relations, hailed Washington’s “multi-pronged approach” to the crisis in the Sahel.

“The cash contributions and use of pre-positioned stocks enables us to deliver quick, life-saving assistance in the short-term with significant in-kind food assistance arriving just at the peak of the crisis when the needs are greatest,” he said.This combination punch against hunger is a departure from traditional U.S. food aid practice, and a welcome development.  For decades, the U.S. government mandated that all food aid be American-grown crops transported on American-flagged ships.  Even though these requirements added several months to the food aid deliveries and doubled the cost, any change to a more flexible system that included cash purchases of food nearer to the stricken areas was vehemently opposed by entrenched interest groups intent on making sure that American farmers, commodity processors and shippers – along with the hungry recipients — received maximum benefit of the aid.  It was just a couple of years ago, as budget pressures rose and evidence mounted that more lives could be saved with a more flexible approach to food aid, that the U.S. government began a pilot project to include cash purchases abroad in addition to the food shipments from home.

Much of that evidence was coming from the WFP’s own local purchase program called Purchase for Progress.  This program encouraged African farmers to grow more and better-quality crops and to practice better harvesting and storing methods.  As the WFP bought their maize and beans and peas and lentils, the farmers found incentive to further increase production and quality.  Purchase for Progress gained steam under WFP executive director Josette Sheeran and should continue to build under her successor, Ertharin Cousin.

The U.S. has for many years been the WFP’s largest donor, with the vast bulk of its contributions being in U.S. grown commodities.  Now the U.S. has also become one of the largest cash contributors to the WFP.  For 2012, the US contribution to the WFP has reached the equivalent of $365 million, with $36 million in cash.

But now the progress to a quicker, cheaper, more efficient, greater life-saving food aid program is under threat by the budget slashers who continue to see foreign aid, and particularly food aid, as a prime target.  The 2013 budget passed by the House would eliminate the one program, the President’s Feed the Future initiative, that is hastening food aid reform.

The explanation of the budget cutters is rife with misconceptions.  They insist it is better to reduce costs in the current food aid programs than to start new initiatives like Feed the Future.  Lowering the cost of food aid would mean more local purchase, which spares the huge expense of shipping.  In order for the WFP and other hunger relief groups to do more local purchase, African farmers need to be growing more food.  And that is a main aim of Feed the Future’s agricultural development goals.  It is a simple progression, a crisp one-two punch against the deficit: Grow more in Africa, ship less from America.

Speaking of the World Food Program, check out this video marking the WFP’s 50th anniversary:

http://www.wfp.org/50-takes-on-hunger?icn=homepage-50takes-on-hunger&ici...

It features an eclectic mix: Bill Gates, rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, and me…among others.

Archive

| By Roger Thurow

Lunchtime in Uganda

Senior Fellow Roger Thurow reports on nutrition in northern Uganda for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.




| By Roger Thurow

The Last Hunger Season, Part 4 – One Acre Fund’s Disruptive Thinking

It is Africa’s cruelest irony that her hungriest people are her smallholder farmers. For decades, development orthodoxy had prioritized feeding hungry farmers with emergency food aid rather than improving their farming with long-term agriculture development aid so they wouldn’t be hungry in the first place.


| By Roger Thurow

The Last Hunger Season, Part 2 – A Day in the Life of Africa’s Family Farmers

On her farm at the foot of the Lugulu Hills in western Kenya, Leonida Wanyama is up long before the sun. Her day begins by lighting a candle and a kerosene lamp, and then milking her one cow. She pours the milk in containers and balances them on the back of a rickety bicycle. Then her husband Peter peddles off into the pre-dawn darkness, in search of customers for the milk. Leonida picks up her hoe to prepare for a morning of tending her crops in the field.

| By Roger Thurow

The Last Hunger Season, Part 1 – The Expanding Possibilities of Family Farmers

Zipporah Biketi was living in a shrinking world when I first met her back in 2011. Her imagination rarely stretched beyond the boundaries of her small family farm in western Kenya. She could barely think beyond the next hour and the next meal, if there was to be one. She and her family were in the midst of the hunger season – the food from the previous meager harvest had run out and the next harvest was still months away. How could anyone have grand thoughts of thriving when struggling so mightily to merely survive?





| By Roger Thurow

How Guatemala Finally 'Woke up' to Its Malnutrition Crisis

In a hip Guatemala City restaurant, baristas created “Super Nutritious” drinks like the Sangre de Vampiro, a mixture of pineapple, celery, beets, lemon, orange juice and organic honey. Elsewhere in the restaurant, the subject of malnutrition was on the table.



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Digital Preview of The First 1,000 Days

In his new book, The First 1,000 Days, Council senior fellow Roger Thurow illuminates the 1,000 Days initiative to end early childhood malnutrition through the compelling stories of new mothers in Uganda, India, Guatemala, and Chicago. Get a first-look at photos and stories from the book in this new web interactive.

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» Order your copy of the book.

Books

The First 1,000 Days

Roger Thurow’s book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

The 1,000 days period is the crucial period of development, when malnutrition can have severe life-long impacts on the individual, the family and society as a whole. Nutritional deficiencies that occur during this time are often overlooked, resulting in a hidden hunger. It is a problem of great human and economic dimensions, impacting rich and poor countries alike.

Learn more »

The Last Hunger Season

In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?

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EnoughEnough

Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, award-winning writers on Africa, development, and agriculture, see famine as the result of bad policies spanning the political spectrum. In this compelling investigative narrative, they explain through vivid human stories how the agricultural revolutions that transformed Asia and Latin America stopped short in Africa, and how our sometimes well-intentioned strategies—alternating with ignorance and neglect—have conspired to keep the world’s poorest people hungry and unable to feed themselves.

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