Oxfam calls for major shake-up of food aid

By Oxfam

Washington, DC. – As the UN Food and Agriculture Organization announced a third consecutive month of record high food prices, international relief organization Oxfam today called for a major shakeup of the Food Aid Convention, being negotiated in London this week.  To ensure the growing number of hungry people in the world get the predictable, timely and appropriate aid they need, the new treaty should broaden traditional donor approaches to addressing food emergencies, a move that could help to modernize our inefficient system of food aid and help deal with the effects of widely-fluctuating food prices.

The Convention, which in its current form expires this year, is a binding international treaty that holds major food aid donors – the US, EU, Japan, Canada, Australia and others – to a minimum level of food aid for addressing emergency needs. Oxfam is calling for substantial reforms to this treaty to help address increased need and highly volatile prices.

“In the vast majority of emergency food crises the problem is not a scarcity of food but people’s ability to buy the food that is available,” said Eric Munoz, policy advisor for Oxfam America. “In most cases hungry people need money to buy food and cannot afford to wait for the arrival of a ship to travel halfway around the world.”

“The Food Aid Convention needs to ensure our aid dollars provide a bigger bang for the buck.  It must be brought up to date with modern approaches to deal with food crises and strip the inefficiencies that cost time, money and lives,” said Munoz.

Far too much emergency aid to address hunger is too slow, and much is wasted on the shipping costs of food stocks, particularly from the US and Japan. On average, more than 50 percent of the cost of food aid shipped from the United States goes to pay shipping and procurement costs. Reforms to the Convention, especially those that encourage the local and regional purchase of food aid, can help to cut inefficiencies and provide taxpayers with a much greater return on their investments.

A reformed Convention would broaden its approach to addressing emergencies including by providing cash to purchase food locally and providing agricultural inputs to farmers to recover from disasters. This assistance should be “need-based”, driven by the levels of aid necessary to meet humanitarian requirements.  Instead of focusing purely on the amount of food pledged, the Convention should focus on the number of people it needs to reach.

A new approach would improve people’s means of obtaining enough food to eat during and immediately after a crisis.   The Convention must also be integrated into the emerging global food security mechanisms such as the UN’s Committee on World Food Security, which will help create a more coherent strategy between emergency and longer-term efforts to tackle global hunger.

“Negotiators should work to bring greater transparency and accountability to food aid. The current Convention is shrouded in secrecy making it extremely difficult to know if and how members are meeting their commitments. This information is not publicly available. Increasing transparency will help to determine how effective food aid programs are and what changes must be made to reduce hunger,” said Munoz.

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