Ahead of a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Hearing on food aid reform today, Oxfam America called on Congress to take urgent action to increase the efficiency of the Food for Peace program.
Oxfam is supporting a bipartisan bill, the Food for Peace Reform Act, recently introduced by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) to seek common sense changes to food aid programs that would help save millions more lives with no additional costs to taxpayers.
“Hunger often reflects a lack of money, not a lack of food. People in crisis who cannot afford to buy enough food for themselves and their families,” said Gawain Kripke, policy director for Oxfam America. “Shipping food from the United States can be an important action, but often it’s the wrong thing to do: it takes months to deliver, it’s more expensive and can even be destructive to the livelihoods of local farmers.”
Although the US is the most generous donor of food aid in the world, American food aid is inefficient and often too slow to reach people in need. Obsolete rules require food aid to be purchased from American grain traders and processors, even when it is available closer to where it is needed. At least half of food aid must be shipped on US-flagged vessels, greatly adding to costs and sometimes causing delays in delivery. For every dollar taxpayers spend on international food aid, only 42 cents is actually spent on food.
“Despite the best of intentions, the US food aid program takes a one-size fits-all approach to addressing hunger that is inflexible, slow in reaching people in need, and an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars,” continued Kripke. “Increasing flexibilities will help modernize US assistance, moving from a one-size-fits-all food aid to a broader, more inclusive and more effective food assistance program.”
The stakes could not be higher. The latest studies estimate that one in nine people around the world are food insecure. Due to current crises in, Iraq and South Sudan among other places, almost 78 million people will need humanitarian assistance – including food – this year.
“It’s time to bring the Food for Peace Act into the 21st century by allowing humanitarians to utilize a broader set of tools in reaching hungry households and communities,” continued Kripke. “Not only will this help ensure that programs are tailored to the local context, it will also increase the number of beneficiaries that can be reached with US taxpayer dollars.”