Proposed Changes To U.S. Food Aid Would Feed More People, Help Prevent Local Market Distortion

Discussing local agricultural market distortions in the U.S. and Haiti following hurricanes in each country, Alexandra Gordon, an environmental horticulturist with a family farm and nursery and a district chair with CARE USA, writes in a Miami Herald opinion piece, “It is estimated that [President Obama’s proposed] changes to the current food aid system” — which include purchasing food in local markets — “could feed as many as four million more people without costing taxpayers a dime if we adopt these simple and smart reforms. The food would also arrive more than 2 1/2 months faster, which could mean life or death for a person who is starving.” Purchasing food in or near countries in need “is a way of supporting local agriculture, and nowhere is that more important than in poor developing countries,” she writes, adding, “When we ship food to developing nations or provide it to relief organizations to ‘monetize’ by selling cheaply in local markets, we distort those markets and damage local production of agricultural commodities … and waste most of our food-aid dollar on subsidies and shipping.”

“There are agriculture groups that oppose such changes to the way food aid is delivered abroad. They say the current system works and the food aid system is OK the way it is,” Gordon notes, adding, “Of course, there is still an important role for U.S. commodities in places where food is not available or where local purchases are not beneficial to the market. Under Obama’s reforms, groups can still purchase commodities from U.S.-based producers where and when it is appropriate.” However, “[i]t’s clear that a more modern food aid system can be a part of lifting more people out of extreme poverty. It can stabilize developing nations. It can lead to strong local markets and permanent economic growth. It saves lives and is the right thing to do,” she continues. “As a small farmer in America, I encourage our policymakers to take this common sense stand and modernize our food aid system,” she concludes (6/16).

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