merchant marines food aid
For some, the U.S. Merchant Marine represents an organization that shuttles American imports and exports around the world during peacetime while becoming a naval auxiliary during wartime. For others, they represent the largest obstacle to food aid reform.

Current food aid regulations stipulate that at least 80% of aid must be shipped by U.S. citizens on U.S. flagged vessels. Critics argue that needless money and time is spent hauling items around the world when food could be purchased locally in a much more timely fashion.

President Obama proposed a food aid overhaul in 2014’s fiscal budget that would reach an estimated 2 to 4 million more people within the year. Specifically, he wished to expand local and regional procurement procedures and food vouchers.

U.S. mariners were not amused by this proposal, however. When the food aid amendment attached to the farm bill reached the Congress floor, maritime lobbyists worked strenuously to ensure it wouldn’t pass, and succeeded.

The U.S. merchant marines provide a unique service for the United States. As they are not employed by United States military, they are able to service both the government and private sector.

The duality of their role in regard to the United States is significant for a number of reasons. The Navy League, a special interest group representing the U.S. maritime community, reports that they provide over 33,000 jobs for Americans, account for $1.9 million in economic output and $24 million in household earnings. Although food aid reformists argue that the shift in these numbers would be slight, by only a few hundred, Merchant Marine advocates contend that change would usher in the end of the merchant marines all together.

The Merchant Marine’s ability to transport troops and supplies during wartime, known as sealift, may be severely impacted if reform results in job loss. The U.S. Maritime Service was established by President Roosevelt in 1938 in anticipation of needed shipping vessels to both the European war front and Pacific Theater. The Merchant Marine provided invaluable service during the war, and current mariners argue that their services are still necessary.

Despite the mariners concerns, the Obama Administration has plans to counteract any negative effects the reform may usher in by providing aid directly to the U.S. Merchant Marine.

The administration proposes shifting $25 million of the efficiency savings that will be obtained through the food aid reform to the Department of Transportation’s Maritime administration. According to the White House International Food Aid Fact Sheet, this additional funding will provide a vehicle to support sustainment of militarily-useful vessels and a qualified pool of citizen merchant mariners.

Although this may not be the solution the merchant mariners were hoping for, the strong advocates for food aid reform may ensure that this is the best they can expect.

Emily Bajet

Sources: The Center for Public Integrity, U.S. Merchant Marine FAQ, The Maritime Executive, The White House: International Food Aid Fact Sheet

The House of Representatives is considering a bill that would reform the Food for Peace Act, which currently requires all agricultural commodities (i.e. food) in programs administered under the Act to be produced in the United States. The proposed Food Aid Reform Act amends the Food for Peace Act, but what does that mean for us here in the U.S.? Are we going to lose valuable American jobs by purchasing agricultural commodities abroad?

The Food for Peace Act is the bill that governs how we respond to emergency and nonemergency situations in other countries by providing food aid in times of need. Currently, the Act requires that all agricultural commodities be purchased in and exported from the United States to the target country, say, Country X. The reason this is a problem requiring a potential reform to this process is because of the high premium we pay for food in the U.S. versus the cost of the same food in Country X. That is, food may actually be much cheaper if purchased in Country X or a neighboring country.

Not only may food in Country X be cheaper, the cost of transporting food to Country X is astronomically higher as an international export than it potentially would be to transport it domestically. Especially if American food is being transported across oceans to arrive in Country X, the cost to both the taxpayer’s wallet and the environment are quite high in comparison to food being purchased a mere hundreds of miles or less away from the target area.

The Food Aid Reform Act changes the wording of the Food for Peace Act to allow agricultural commodities to be purchased in Country X or a neighbor of Country X to avoid the costs associated with purchase and export of American goods. Not only that, the Reform Act functions as an investment in the local economy of Country X, so that it may no longer need American food aid in the future. In that sense, this investment becomes an investment in our future.

Though there is an argument that we may lose a minimal number of jobs in the process of downsizing the rate at which we ship our food abroad for relief-type situations, the reform of our food aid system allows an investment in our future economy. By helping our friends across borders, we build future markets for American consumer goods. By the numbers, most countries to which we have offered aid have since developed consumer markets which, in turn, purchase goods from us. So, if the ethical argument isn’t convincing enough, consider the future of the American economy in reaching out to your local congressperson on these important issues. Your voice matters.

 – Herman Watson
Sources: The Borgen Project, GovTrack.US, ONE,
Photo: The Telegraph

To Solve World Hunger, Ask the Ladies
Each year, World Hunger Day is celebrated to raise awareness around the issue of global hunger. The day is celebrated on May 28th and this year Women Thrive Worldwide called on lawmakers to ask women when considering the fight against global hunger. To successfully eradicate hunger, issues like women’s rights, economic empowerment, and access to resources must be addressed.

Women Thrive Worldwide is one of the leading organizations championing the cause of women in Washington. They are working to call leaders in Washington to realize the effects of hunger on women and see the opportunity available to reduce worldwide hunger through changing the resources available to women in developing countries. Elise Young, Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs at Women Thrive Worldwide called on leaders to support the reforms to food aid and to continue to recognize the impact and value of women in the fight against world hunger.

Women around the world get hit the hardest when food shortages arise or when food prices spike. 60 to 70% of all food grown in developing countries is farmed and grown by women. Yet when shortages happen, it is women who often eat last or eat less. The food aid reforms President Obama has proposed would enable women to become active players in the market where they can buy and sell their goods. The proposed changes will directly impact women, local economies, and the developing world and continue to reduce the global impact of hunger.

Almost half of food produced worldwide is done so by women and in developing countries those percentages reach up to 60-80%. When shocks hit, women will sacrifice their food quantity and quality to serve and provide for their families which leaves them vulnerable. Research shows that empowering women and providing them with adequate resources could reduce the number of hungry people by 100-150 million.  It is important today to support food aid reforms and the empowerment of women worldwide in order to continue towards the eradication of world hunger.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: Women Thrive Worldwide
Photo: Oxfam

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


Food for Peace Reform Act
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