Congress met on Wednesday, June 12 to consider the Food Aid Reform Act, which would circumvent traditional aid channels by spending cash directly on locally produced food. Andrew Natsios, a professor at Texas A&M, called for the abolition of the “7,000 miles food chain” of aid from U.S. farms to emergency zones all over the world—which he argues would actually benefit U.S. industry.
“You have to order the food in the Midwest, it gets put on a ship, it can go 7,000 miles to the other side of the world, put on to trucks, and then moved into the famine or emergency zone,” he testified. “If the food is bought locally, you can avoid the 7,000-mile food chain.”
Avoiding that food chain would get food aid on the ground up to 14 weeks faster and reach 2-4 million more people, expert advocates say. Not only that, but it would cut food transportation costs completely, which currently eats up 50% of the foreign food aid budget. If those funds were reallocated as direct spending in foreign food markets, the same aid would be healthier, more efficient, and offer greater hope for a future sustainable economy. Cash inflow would empower local farmers and food manufacturers, rather than undermining their businesses the way traditional food aid does.
Yet the act is not a purely philanthropic one, Natsios suggested. The U.S. food industry would actually benefit from smarter aid. Currently, growing excess crops and dumping them overseas supports the farm subsidy framework that props up the food trade, but the burgeoning economies in the Middle East and Africa are actually raising up new hosts of consumers for U.S. farms and food commodities. Thus, helping to develop them by growing less, rather than undermine them by growing more, would be a great boon for U.S. companies.
– John Mahon