Bill Gates and Food Aid
Earlier this month, Bill Gates offered his opinions regarding the Obama Administration’s reform to the federal government’s food aid program. The administration’s plan is to purchase local food and use it for emergency assistance rather than buy food from the US and ship it over. Although he did not provide a clear response expressing his support, it is safe to assume that Gates does agree with the proposal because he did express the necessity to reform foreign aid programs.

In regards to the administration’s proposal to reform the Food for Peace program, Gates expressed that agricultural issues are extremely important because responding to them impacts lives. He also expressed the effectiveness of cash-based aid which is not only “less disruptive to emerging economies,” but can also respond to needs faster. When it comes to food issues, such as hunger/starvation, receiving the food late can cause significant damage to children. Gates asserts that cash-based aid sustains markets to buy locally, and it makes it easier for aid to halt once it is no longer needed.

When asked about his involvement with AGRA, the Africa Green Revolution Association, and their goals, Gates said that the association, led by Kofi Annan, helps with forming appropriate agricultural policies. In regards to Africa, different soil conditions can impose problems on crops and growth; and thus, AGRA focuses agricultural policies on soil quality and improve understanding of soil nutrients. There’s also a focus on a seed program because varieties of crops are important when it comes to nutrition and meeting economic goals. Some African countries tried to put regulatory barriers on seed variety in hopes of monopolizing production, and so, the implementation of a seed program seems necessary for further development.

– Leen Abdallah
Source: AG Web
Photo: Google


Bill Gates has long been known for his wealth and his philanthropy within the US, but many may not know of his support for Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and foreign aid in general. Gates was asked about foreign aid reform after attending the recent world hunger briefing.

When asked to comment on the Obama Administration’s changing food aid reforms, Gates replied that his foundation (The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) “puts lots of money into these agricultural issues” because they are highly impactful. He goes on to say that the biggest attack on foreign aid tends to be the fact that foreign aid is often not efficiently used, and that it’s most important to take any opportunity that comes along to improve the efficiency of our foreign aid processes.

“The thing that’s really understated in terms of having some portion (of aid) move to a cash-based approach,” says Gates, “is not just the effectiveness in terms of dollars per person served. But when you are dealing with acute food issues, getting the food there late is extremely damaging to young children.” Without proper nutrition, brain development is slowed permanently and any investment in further education will not be used to its full potential.

Cash based aid also negates the damage that can be done by farmers bringing new quantities of food goods into their markets that already have set stable pricing. As Gates explained, “if farmers come back in and try to sell at market prices, you are actually doing damage to those markets. And it’s always a very tough thing, but if you have a 50-week lead time (for food aid delivery), it’s very hard to tune these things to not actually damage some of these markets”.

While the Obama administration is currently working toward localized food aid in the form of supplies itself, it seems that perhaps cash-based aid would be a more efficient and less disruptive form of aid. With influential members of society like Gates and others rallying behind this type of aid, it may become the dominant form of foreign aid coming from US policy.

– Sarah Rybak

Source: AG Web
Photo: Snippits

Effects of Food Aid Reform

Since the proposed changes to the US system of food aid, many have voiced concerns about the shift away from domestic agriculture and towards local food supplies in developing countries. But how will food aid reform affect US shipping and agriculture?

Devex journalist, John Alliage Morales, reports after the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations held May 7, 2013. Shah defended President Obama’s proposal to reform the $1.5 million US Food Aid Program: it would only affect about 300 employees in the shipping industry and 0.2 percent of American agricultural exports.

The six-decade old food aid program was designed primarily to help American farmers by purchasing their surplus, and American shipping companies by requiring at least 75 percent of the goods to be transported to countries in need on U.S.-flagged vessels.

Under Obama’s proposal for fiscal year 2014, the government would still buy food from farmers, but only up to 55 percent of the total, allowing the USAID to source the remaining 45 percent from local or regional markets closer to the crisis areas. USAID estimates that the $1.8-billion new program could reach an additional four million people simply by freeing up money spent on shipping and other costs.

Responding to queries from senators on the reform’s impact to local agriculture, Shah said: “We think the net change would be close to 0.2 percent of total value of U.S. agriculture export.”

“There are other sources of market demand,” added the USAID chief, who stressed that it is “inaccurate” to say that no one will buy the agricultural produce that would no longer be purchased by the government.

Ten years ago, USAID bought and shipped 5.5 million metric tons of food, but today this figure is down to 1.8 million metric tons. In addition, shipping costs have tripled over the same period of time, eating away about 25 percent of the budget, which could have been used to buy more food.

Shah noted that if the reform is approved by Congress, only about eight to ten ships or about 300 employees of the shipping industry will no longer benefit from the food aid program. That accounts for 0.2 percent of the total 15,000 workers in the American maritime shipping sector, he added.

“Of course, we expect that those ships will have other business activities, some of which will come from Department of Defense, some of which will come from elsewhere that they can pursue,” the official said.

– Maria Caluag

Source: Devex
Photo: US News

Are US farmers hurt by food aid reform? The short answer: No.

President Obama’s proposal to allow the food aid supplied by the United States to be purchased more locally has obvious benefits: less travel time and expense to feed those in the greatest danger, bolstering local economies, investing in local agriculture to create a sustainable supply, and the potential of feeding 2-4 million more people.

These are obvious benefits unless you are an American farmer, packer or shipper, the three main interested parties (other than the millions of hungry around the world). These minders are not without questions of their own.

For example, one might wonder how purchasing a larger percentage of the food aid from non-US farmers is reconciled with USAID’s mission of expanding external markets for US goods?

The food crises require immediate response. According to the World Food Program, hunger kills more people than AIDs, Malaria, and TB combined. Preventable deaths per year due to malnutrition are measured in the millions. A shipment from the United States can take many weeks — time the vulnerable simply do not have. Purchasing local produce reduces the time from farm to mouth by 11-14 weeks and feeds an extra 2-4 million people.

Preventing deaths by malnutrition and all the suffering, humiliation, and diseases that go along with it allows for medium and long-term development. Medium to long-term development expands peace and US markets of goods, services, travel and tourism.

How, one may also wonder, do American farmers benefit when their jobs are outsourced and market share displaced?

US farm exports are worth around $145 billion. The US government spends $1 billion on food aid programs—a “drop in the market” compared to the enormous figure of US farm exports. Even an economist from the American Farm Bureau Federation admits, “Our concern is less about decreasing an important revenue stream for U.S. agriculture. It’s more about the loss of a sense of pride.” Despite the minimal impact, the reform proposal includes $25 million to ease the transition of US farmers affected.

Are US farmers hurt by food aid reform? With no significant job losses and no significant market share loss, US farmers’ pride cannot justify denying food to 4 million hungry people deserving of the same dignity and opportunities as them.

Katherine Zobre

Sources: USAID, The Economist, World Food Program, Reuters

Take a Quiz - Feed a Family in SyriaBy taking this short quiz, participants can literally feed a family in Syria. Sponsored and facilitated by the UN World Food Program (WFP), the five questions survey will help you learn more about the crisis in Syria and how the WFP is responding.

The questions range from the cost of living expenses to refugee status. One question asks, “Of all the refugees now living in Jordan how many are women & children?” Answer: of this particular Jordanian population of 60,000 refugees – 75% are women & children. The WFP provides nutritious ready-to-eat meals for anyone in need.

The UN has just counted the one-millionth refugee coming out of Syria. More than 70,000 people have died and two million have been internally displaced since the conflict began almost two years ago. Starting as demonstrations against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, the protests quickly turned violent as opponents of Mr. Assad took up arms against the brutal crackdown coming from the authorities. There is still no resolution in sight.

Find out more – and feed a family in Syria for a day.

– Mary Purcell

Source: WFP, BBC
Photo: unostamps

Dupont Invents Life Saving Packaging
DuPont, in collaboration with Simonalbag, recently launched “MixPack,” the first flexible package in Mexico capable of combining high-and-low resistance seals. This new technology is proving to be a life saving solution to malnutrition in rural communities.

Between 1,000 and 3,000 Tarahumaras indigenous people live in the remote caves of Chihuahua, Mexico. They are isolated and poor, when droughts come they have no access to drinkable water, and no water for farming – thus unable to feed themselves.

The MixPack product is a bag with two compartments, which are separated by an internal seal made of DuPont Surlyn®. This solution prevents the mixing of the milk powder with the purified water that is contained within the same packaging unit. Then, when needed, by squeezing the package, the inner seal breaks mixing the ingredients – resulting in a nutritious and healthy drink for children.

Dupont has started a program that provides milk for children living in these areas. CEO Alvaro Navarro states that MixPack was the result of a dream to help people nourish their children but have no way to refrigerate baby milk or do not have a source of drinking water. He projects MixPack will revolutionize flexible packaging around the world.

“I have a dream and a mission to alleviate hunger through science and innovation,” said Navarro

– Mary Purcell

Changes to the US Food Aid policy may be in the works for this fiscal year’s budget. President Obama recently proposed that the US shift its food aid policy from one of sending US-grown food products abroad to sending cash instead. This would be the largest change in the history of US food aid policy since programs were initiated in 1954.

Food aid groups, international development organizations, and US businesses are at odds over the proposed reform. Anti-hunger groups including Oxfam and Bread for the World, as well as the Modernizing Foreign Aid Network and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, issued a joint statement this week in support of reforming US food aid policy. US farm, shipping, and labor groups, members of Congress’s Agriculture Committee, and the Alliance for Global Food Security are against any proposed reform.

The proposed policy changes have both benefits and drawbacks. One benefit is that by sending cash instead of food, the money can be used to purchase food locally. This would save both time and energy, and support local agricultural economies. A 2012 Cornell University study on food aid found that local purchasing “can often afford valuable cost and time savings.”

Opponents of the proposed reform argue that the Obama administration intends to cut funding to programs across the board, which would hurt aid recipients and US food providers alike. Producing, shipping, and transporting US-grown food overseas creates jobs and supports the economy of the United States. Sending food abroad that is marked with the US flag also serves as a low-cost form of national security, by providing physical evidence of US good will and assistance.

Since the inception of programs such as Food for Peace, some international development experts have argued that the programs were more concerned with developing a market for American food products and providing benefits to US farmers and agribusinesses, than with feeding the hungry. The former executive director of the World Food Program, Catherine Bertini, stated in an email, “I am one who welcomes a 21st century proposal that is more responsive to the needs of the hungry and a more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”

The United States is the largest food aid donor in the world, providing over $2 billion a year in food aid. Conflicts over its role in international aid are nothing new. While the possibility exists for beneficial changes to US food aid policy, any proposed spending cuts to food aid programs should be considered with the 925 million people across the globe who suffer from hunger in mind.

Kat Henrichs

Sources: National Journal, Reuters
Photo: Stephen Raburn