Attempt to improve U.S. food-aid efficiency going about as well as you’d expect

posted at 7:21 pm on May 2, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

President Obama included a small but very reasonable suggestion for reforming and bettering the way the United States delivers food aid in his (very late) budget proposal, but sadly, the response from the all-too-interested parties has been all too predictable.

As the U.S. food aid program functions now, the government is required to buy most of the food from American farmers and then ship it overseas to poverty-stricken areas — but dumping subsidized food into these areas can have some pretty awful unintended (or is it, overlooked?) consequences on local market stability and these regions’ abilities to consistently produce their own food (not to mention, some of our money then goes toward shipping costs instead of actual food). For years, certain lawmakers (and now President Obama) have been trying to revamp the program to allow for flexibility in where and how the U.S. can spend its allotted food-aid dollars; namely, from wherever the food is most cheaply and efficiently available, whether that might mean the United States or somewhere closer to where the food is actually needed.

If the true aim of the food aid program is really about getting the most bang for our buck in delivering relief to impoverished areas, and not about protecting an assured subsidy for American producers, then President Obama’s proposal is a good one. It means that more money would be spent directly and food, and that food would then reach an even greater number of people. Unfortunately, plenty of farm-state interests don’t happen to see it that way. Via the NYT:

During hearings last week, Representative Robert B. Aderholt, Republican of Alabama, the chairman of the House agriculture subcommittee, said he was concerned that removing food aid from the agriculture budget would hurt American farmers.

Representative Sam Farr of California, the committee’s ranking Democrat, also questioned the transfer, raising concerns about the subcommittee losing oversight of the program.

“I’m not endorsing the transfer — the realignment — until there are assurances that the program will remain intact and not be raided by other foreign ops interest,” Mr. Farr said at the hearing.

Mr. Farr expressed doubts about the proposal’s chances of success. “I don’t think it will happen this year,” he said. “That’s the politics.”

There has been a similar response from members of the Senate agriculture subcommittee. Senator Mark Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, the chairman of the subcommittee, along with Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the ranking Republican, both said that they were opposed to transferring food aid dollars out of the agriculture budget.

The power of the agricultural lobby to unite both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the defense of special interests never ceases to amaze.


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“Even if we do everything perfectly, there will still be glitches and bumps. That’s pretty much true of every government program that’s ever been set up.”

Electrongod on May 2, 2013 at 7:26 PM

So, in order to change the program, you need U.S. representatives to vote to take subsidy dollars away from their constituents.

Naga… naga… nagonnahappen!

Marcola on May 2, 2013 at 7:26 PM

WOMP !!!

ExpressoBold on May 2, 2013 at 7:32 PM

Is Pigford factored into the net result?

Odie1941 on May 2, 2013 at 7:43 PM

I also understand that there are many instances where food meant for impoverished and hungry people ends up being diverted by the local government or war lord, either used to feed his military and thereby make the suppression of the people more complete, or sold outright for cash to buy weapons and other materials to further that goal.

We need to be certain that the food actually reaches those for whom it was intended.

I’m all for getting the food there as cheaply and quickly as possible, but I also want to be certain that those from whom we make these purchases aren’t using the revenues to suppress their own people, too, or to finance the activities of those who do try to subjugate and suppress others. I’m also all for making sure that those whom we are feeding really need the aid and aren’t just making the very most of a good thing.

thatsafactjack on May 2, 2013 at 7:43 PM

Long term food aid can have no other impact than completely screwing over any local farmer at the destination. What could possibly come from that except losing local farmers at the one place that needs it most? The road to hell is paved…

There should not be food aid except for outright famine relief.

WitchDoctor on May 2, 2013 at 7:50 PM

Easy solution… Soylent Green!

Polish Rifle on May 2, 2013 at 7:55 PM

Meanwhile, was it 250,000 Somalians starved to death last year, or was it more? Great going guys!

Allahs vulva on May 2, 2013 at 8:05 PM

for how many decades are we supposed to “help” these people?

dmacleo on May 2, 2013 at 8:13 PM

I’m all for getting the food there as cheaply and quickly as possible, but I also want to be certain that those from whom we make these purchases aren’t using the revenues to suppress their own people, too, or to finance the activities of those who do try to subjugate and suppress others. I’m also all for making sure that those whom we are feeding really need the aid and aren’t just making the very most of a good thing.

thatsafactjack on May 2, 2013 at 7:43 PM

The problem there is that to guarantee the food actually reaches those in need, we would have to set up entire distribution networks in these countries, and protect the aid workers from the inevitable raids by the local warlords who try to steal the food, or prevent the passing out of food to tribes and groups they don’t want receiving it.

And then what happens when the troops we put in to protect these people have to do their jobs and kill a few attackers?

Gator Country on May 2, 2013 at 8:13 PM

for how many decades are we supposed to “help” these people?

dmacleo on May 2, 2013 at 8:13 PM

It’s for placating liberals here in America. They get to feel all warm and squishy about our international outreach, while they drive their Prius by homeless people in their own neighborhoods.

Outpost has a sale on organic marmalade honey!

Polish Rifle on May 2, 2013 at 8:24 PM

It’s for placating liberals here in America. They get to feel all warm and squishy about our international outreach, while they drive their Prius by homeless people in their own neighborhoods.

Outpost has a sale on organic marmalade honey!

Polish Rifle on May 2, 2013 at 8:24 PM

One minor quibble – no liberal is going to tolerate homeless people hanging around his/her gated neighborhood. That’s what our neighborhoods are for.

Gator Country on May 2, 2013 at 8:30 PM

Get on the crazy train!

Sherman1864 on May 2, 2013 at 10:05 PM

Gator Country on May 2, 2013 at 8:13 PM

That is the difference between great strategies and executable logistics. There are any number of ideas that sound great in the abstract, but the details of execution kill any perceived benefit and create a hornets nest of unintended consequences.

Food aid, like any aid to poor countries, almost always serves as a means to prop up bad governments while preventing corrective actions being taken by affected peoples.

More broadly, NGOs prolong the same kind of problem by the “sponsor a child” nonsense that so many of them do: they make beggars of populations even as cronies are allowed to continue oppressing them and ripping them off. I realise that’s a hard thing to say, but I believe it to be borne out by the lack of improvement in third world countries over many decades of “work” by those groups.

If we really wanted to help a famine-stricken government, we would offer to sell them food at a fair price, instead of giving them food for free (except in situations involving sudden events, such as storms, flash floods, tornadoes, hailstorms, etc.). The problem with giving them free food in general is, we unwittingly reward the bad behaviour and poor planning that brought them to famine to begin with, while preventing them from placing value on taking meaningful corrective actions to prevent it from happening again in the future.

Wanderlust on May 2, 2013 at 10:59 PM

How is this idea even an improvement? instead of dumping product and making food dirt cheap they will be bidding up the price in the very localities that need the food.

Then only the 1% will eat.

Lonetown on May 3, 2013 at 5:41 AM

Here is a better idea: How about we take the money we currently give to the farm industry for food and instead pay them to go to poverty-stricken areas to develop a self-sustaining farming industry there? Then, they get their precious subsidy and we teach these poor people how to live on their own.

“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”

- Jesus

Odysseus on May 3, 2013 at 6:58 AM

Here is a better idea: How about we take the money we currently give to the farm industry for food and instead pay them to go to poverty-stricken areas to develop a self-sustaining farming industry there? Then, they get their precious subsidy and we teach these poor people how to live on their own.

“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”

- Jesus

Odysseus on May 3, 2013 at 6:58 AM

Fabulous idea! Though, as Sam Kinison said, we might be better off taking them UHaul trucks in a lot of cases. (You live in a DESERT! The reason you’re starving is because FOOD DOESN’T GROW THERE! You want to eat? MOVE!)

Oh, and Jesus didn’t say that. It is a Chinese proverb.

As to this idea, it is fraught with problems (more than just the bad idea of food aid run by the government and the subsidy involved). If folks need food aid in an area – we certainly aren’t going to be able to buy the food locally – or they wouldn’t need food aid! If we buy it nearby, we risk problems related to intertribal/international grievances, buying it from the same groups of bad people who will intercept it upon delivery and then sell it to people we wanted to *give* it to, and massively multiplied corruption (like paying bribes to officials on both ends of the delivery chain).

GWB on May 3, 2013 at 10:15 AM

Long term food aid can have no other impact than completely screwing over any local farmer at the destination. What could possibly come from that except losing local farmers at the one place that needs it most? The road to hell is paved…

There should not be food aid except for outright famine relief.

WitchDoctor on May 2, 2013 at 7:50 PM

THIS.
And THIS:

You live in a DESERT! The reason you’re starving is because FOOD DOESN’T GROW THERE! You want to eat? MOVE!)

GWB on May 3, 2013 at 10:15 AM

I say the same thing to people who do things like live on a flood plain, fire zone, erosion zone (sea cliffs etc.). If you continually are having problems being able to live where you are living, do what humanity has always done. Move or die. It really is that simple.
You cannot expect people to keep carrying water for your a$$ bcs you are too stubborn &/or stupid to do anything about your situation.
Now I realize these people are very poor & literally probably have little to no options.
We cannot save the world from their problems. The US needs to stop being used as a police/humanitarian force in the world bcs when you feed the wildlife it gets dependent & soon cannot fend for itself.

Badger40 on May 3, 2013 at 10:53 AM

Long term food aid can have no other impact than completely screwing over any local farmer at the destination. What could possibly come from that except losing local farmers at the one place that needs it most? The road to hell is paved…

There should not be food aid except for outright famine relief.

WitchDoctor on May 2, 2013 at 7:50 PM

You live in a DESERT! The reason you’re starving is because FOOD DOESN’T GROW THERE! You want to eat? MOVE!)

GWB on May 3, 2013 at 10:15 AM

I say the same thing to people who do things like live on a flood plain, fire zone, erosion zone (sea cliffs etc.). If you continually are having problems being able to live where you are living, do what humanity has always done. Move or die. It really is that simple.

Badger40 on May 3, 2013 at 10:53 AM

Really heartened by the realistic responses here. The situation with US food aid is really beginning to mirror the one with our ‘foreign policy’: we are running out of resources to bail the world out from itself. And a good many of the problems cannot be solved by any amount of ‘aid’, and would require something we do not have the spine for.

There is very little we can do about the fact that Third-World nations reproduce to a degree that the Duggars would be alarmed, are hobbled by primitive superstitions have no clue how to govern themselves besides with tinpot strongmen, and often simply do not have enough resources to support the population they already have. (hence the “move out of the desert” sentiments)

Frankly, folks, outright colonialism is the only thing that would even have a HOPE for solving some of this stuff. And the last colonialist nation is a wreck.

MelonCollie on May 3, 2013 at 9:54 PM