May 29, 2013

CWS to Congress: Reform Food Aid to Feed More People

Food Aid
Community members of the Kalimbui rock catchment assist with the emergency food distribution. Photo: Amelia Vogler

WASHINGTON, DC -- The nearly $1.5 billion  that the government provides each year for food aid helps stave off malnutrition, starvation, and even death for millions of people around the world who live in food insecure communities.  But if new Congressional legislation-- with a Senate amendment expected to come up for a vote next week-- is approved, even more of this funding could be used for actually feeding people rather than on the high costs of purchasing and shipping food from the U.S., said global relief and development agency CWS.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-CA) have introduced the Food Aid Reform Act (HR 1983), which would allow for more U.S. food aid funds to purchase emergency food aid in or near the areas of need. This reform and its key provision, called Local and Regional Procurement, is similar to what was included in the Obama administration’s FY2014 budget submission to Congress.

If enacted, the reform would get food aid to more people, more efficiently and more quickly with the same taxpayer resources, according to CWS and other leading advocacy organizations.  It would allow a much larger amount of food aid to be purchased in or near the areas of need, resulting in much lower shipping costs than the approximately $140 million a year the government now spends; faster delivery of the food to hungry people; and support for the local farm economies in the areas receiving aid.  CWS and other humanitarian groups have called that a triple win, and much of the humanitarian community supports the change.

Like most innovative legislative proposals, this one is unlikely to pass Congress in its initial effort this year, but with the administration’s support and that of some key members of Congress, CWS is hopeful of its eventual success.

In the meantime, in the Senate, the bipartisan Coons-Johanns Amendment #1079 to the Farm Bill -- while not including the far-reaching changes of the House bill -- would increase the authorization for the existing Local and Regional Procurement (LRP) program from $40 million per year to $60 million per year from 2014 through 2018.

 “It is vital that we get food supplies to hungry people and it is just as important that we feed as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, and in the most efficient and cost effective manner,” said the Rev. John McCullough, president and CEO of CWS.  “There is no question that this approach works.”

A U.S. Department of Agriculture pilot program in the 2008 Farm Bill demonstrated that under favorable market conditions local and regional procurement not only saves time and money in getting life-saving assistance to hungry people, but it also helps bolster the capacity of farmers in developing countries to feed their own communities.

McCullough said, “At a time of strained budgets and ongoing belt tightening it is imperative that our lawmakers in Congress use every means available to them to spend taxpayer dollars in the most efficient way possible as we fulfill our responsibility to provide life-saving assistance for millions of people around the world.”

Church World Service urges lawmakers to put reforming food aid and increasing Local and Regional Procurement at the top of the list as they take up amendments to the Farm Bill in the coming week.

“Food aid is lifesaving,” McCullough said.  “Getting it to people faster, cheaper and in a manner that provides local farmers with the building blocks of sustainability is both desirable and easily doable if Congress will make the choice to act.”