Stakeholders Say Foreign Aid Cuts Can Damage Global Food Security As FAO Food Price Index Reaches New High

Republicans’ proposed foreign aid cuts could damage food security programs in the developing world and create social instability requiring U.S. military intervention, advocates and government officials said on Thursday at a Capitol Hill event addressing hunger and rising food prices, Agence France-Presse reports (Zeitvogel, 3/3).

Their comments came just as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) global food price index “climbed to a fresh record high in February, above 2008 peaks when high food prices sparked riots in several countries,” Reuters reports (Kovalyova, 3/3).

The FAO index “rose by 2.2% – the eighth consecutive rise since June – to an average of 236 points last month, the highest record in real and nominal terms since the agency started monitoring prices in 1990,” according to the Wall Street Journal (Henshaw, 3/4). “The Cereal Price Index, which includes prices of main food staples such as wheat, rice and maize, rose by 3.7 percent in February to 254 points – the highest level since July 2008,” U.N. News Centre writes. The agency is concerned about possible oil price spikes. “Unexpected oil price spikes could further exacerbate an already precarious situation in food markets,” David Hallam, the director of FAO’s Trade and Market Division, said. “This adds even more uncertainty concerning the price outlook just as plantings for crops in some of the major growing regions are about to start,” he added (3/3).

Ritu Sharma, president of the advocacy group Women Thrive Worldwide, which sponsored the Washington, D.C., event – Seven Billion To Feed: Can We Do It – to commemorate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, told AFP there are “very real consequences to cutting aid.” Members of Congress “may be able to go back to their constituents in the short term and say ‘I cut foreign aid’ but they’re going to have to go back to those same districts three years from now and say, ‘Oh, we have to send troops to Africa because those countries that we didn’t help with food security are now having riots and wars,'” she said.  

At the event, Daniel Steinberg, deputy administrator of USAID, said acute hunger “threatens the stability of governments, societies and borders around the world.” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) highlighted the links between poverty, food insecurity and the social unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. “You only have to turn on your television to see that there is an interrelationship between poverty, being able to afford food and having food in so many parts of the world that is contributing to a lot of tragedy, death and turmoil,” she said. “As a point of compassion, but also as a point of national security and our own economic stability, we can’t let this go unchecked,” Klobuchar added.

Liberian Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth highlighted the success of U.S. aid in her country, noting that it helped revive Liberia after 25 years of civil war and violence. “To quit now would be the wrong time because we are on our way, we won’t always need assistance and we’re making so much good use of it,” Chenoweth said. AFP notes: “Since the west African nation’s 14-year civil war ended in 2003 after claiming some 200,000 lives, Liberia has slashed the rate of food insecurity from more than half the population to around 40 percent, with help from the United States and other donor nations” (3/3).

Also on Thursday at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner noted his concerns about reducing foreign aid, according to a second AFP article.

“With Republicans in Congress threatening to cut foreign aid budgets in a determined attack on government spending, Geithner told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee it was a matter of U.S. national interest to keep supporting the World Bank and other multilateral development institutions. ‘We have a very strong national security interest, national economic interest in supporting growth and development in emerging markets and developing economies,’ he said” (3/3).