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US farming policy: implications for aid

US aid programmes will begin to source food from local sources
US aid programmes will begin to source food from local sources

Reforms to farming policy in the USA could have a major positive impact on how the country provides food aid to countries in crisis.

Every year the USA gives around $2billion worth of food aid, making it one of the world's largest donors. It is, therefore, important that this aid is distributed as effectively as possible, since it will affect so many people in so many places. However, some experts have been critical of the existing system and would like to see changes that would offer better support to people in need.

Currently food aid is shipped from the USA and is often given as part of a process called monetisation, where NGOs sell donated food in order to fund aid activities. This influx of cheap or free food can very quickly depress regional markets and harm food security in the long term. The Agriculture Act of 2014 begins to change this process and creates increased provision for sourcing food from regional markets, rather than from US farms.

Sourcing food locally a better option

Most aid agencies in other countries have already stopped using monetisation and focus primarily on local and regional procurement of food for aid. Equally, the last two US presidents have both pushed for reform in the past, but were blocked by the country's Congress. Though change was often opposed on the grounds that it was better to give people food directly, many activists and insiders believe the real reasoning was very different.

Andrew Natsios, administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), tells Irin news that only groups who had a financial stake in the current system, thought it actually worked.

Frederic Mousseau, policy director of the Oakland Institute, agrees, stating that opposition in the past has been because of pressure from US agribusiness and shipping firms. Even now campaigners are sceptical about the impact that this legislation will actually have on food aid distribution.

Modest change to US food aid programmes

Some commentators view the current changes as too small to have the required effect. For example, Chris Barrett, a leading food analyst at Cornell University, believes that the US food aid programme will remain largely restricted to buying in the US and shipping overseas. Broadly, campaigners are adamant that reform cannot end here, and that this modest change must be followed by more progress in the future. However, this new legislation does at least offer a starting point.

Eric Munoz, policy adviser for Oxfam America, has been working on the issue of food 10 years, and tells Irin that this is the first time that he has seen it seriously debated. Most importantly, he does not think the debate is over and plans to continue pressing for further reforms that would more effectively get food to the people who need it. No doubt all parties will now be looking towards the future of this new piece of legislation and what it will mean for people inside and outside the USA.

Through our community outreach programmes, we support families to ensure they can provide their children with food, shelter, and everything they need for a happy and healthy childhood.

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