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Make Food Aid Work for All

This past fall, Congress allowed the U.S. Farm Bill — the legislation that governs the vast majority of our country’s food and agriculture policies, including international food aid — to expire.

If our elected leaders refuse to move the process forward, funding for emergency food aid will run out in 2013. This doesn’t only jeopardize tens of millions of men, women and children around the globe who rely on this aid in times of crisis; it also delays implementing meaningful changes that will help create long-term global food security.

The U.S. supplies half of all international food aid. According to U.S. law, the overwhelming majority of that aid must be purchased and processed stateside and 75 percent of it must be shipped on U.S.-flagged vessels. These requirements may please the shipping conglomerates and agribusiness giants that profit from them, but they come at the expense of hungry people.

Studies by government and university researchers show that purchasing food aid in recipient countries — or providing cash and vouchers to enable people there to do so — gets help to hungry communities an average of 14 weeks faster and at less cost, while also supporting local farmers in the developing world. Simply put, it’s faster, cheaper and more effective at reaching communities in crisis now and building communities free of hunger in the future.

Read the Forward’s package, Dear Mr. President, policy Prescriptions for the Second Term.

Yet, our existing food aid policies expressly forbid the consistent use of these successful interventions. Instead, our one-size-fits-all model wastes more than half of each food aid dollar for a staple commodity like wheat, subsidizing corporations here as opposed to supporting local food production abroad.

The U.S. gives less than 1% of its GDP for development and humanitarian assistance. Food aid is a tiny portion of the massive farm bill package. But reforms to this sliver of policy can mean the difference between life and death for millions of people worldwide.

Timi Gerson is the director of advocacy at American Jewish World Service.

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