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Agweek Examines USAID’s Food Aid Purchases

Agweek examines USAID’s approach to purchasing food aid. The piece notes USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah’s comments from his Oct. 15 remarks at the World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, when he explained that USAID has used $250 million to purchase foodstuffs in developing countries this year.

“Shah said the amount was ‘up from nothing’ a few years ago. Shah did not say in what countries the U.S. government has bought food for food aid, but he said the administration had been careful about where it bought the food because its wants ‘to create markets for vulnerable farmers,'” the publication writes. In addition, “Shah also said the administration has moved ‘responsibly’ away from monetization, the practice of selling U.S. food aid to raise money for development purposes.”

Agweek outlines the debate over U.S.-purchased food aid: “Some development advocates have charged that buying food aid in the U.S. and monetization are inefficient and interfere with local markets, but the coalition of humanitarian, farm and shipping groups that support aid have said moving away from the traditional system of purchases and monetization may reduce political support for food aid.”

Ellen Levinson of the Alliance for Global Food Security says a combination of approaches is needed. “Buying commodities closer to where an emergency occurs or, if markets are functioning, giving vouchers to people hit by crises so they can buy food are important options, and USAID disaster assistance money is used for those purposes,” she said. “However, those activities should not be considered a substitute for maintaining a reliable and significant pipeline of food aid, which is what the U.S. Food for Peace Program does,” according to Levinson.  

“In countries where domestic production does not supply enough food to meet people’s nutritional needs and the country relies heavily on imports, monetization of commodities that are not competitive with local production can be very helpful. In other countries, monetization does not work and therefore, funds should be available to support food aid distribution and to fund integrated nutrition, agricultural and rural development programs that directly benefit the poor,” said Levinson, whose organization uses food aid sales profits for agricultural development (Hagstrom, 10/26).

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