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April 29, 2016

Responding To: Hunger: A Cause of Global Instability

Global Hunger and Food Aid Reform

Ashley Arostegui

In her remarks, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme Ertharin Cousin noted the links between food insecurity and conflict, calling for greater political engagement to address the issue. One area where positive change could be made is in U.S. food assistance policy. Reforming the delivery of food aid would save money, save time, and help food aid reach more of the world’s most vulnerable.

As U.S. law currently stands, much of the food assistance that we provide is grown in the United States and sent abroad. Half or more of that aid must be shipped on U.S. flag vessels—which are more costly to employ—in a practice called cargo preference. Once on the ground, governments and NGOs purchase the low-cost food from the United States—which undermines local markets—in a practice called ‘monetization.’ These rules protect U.S. economic interests at the expense of more efficient and impactful food assistance. These are complicated issues, but under current legislation, USAID lacks the flexibility to respond quickly and effectively to hunger crises around the world.

Since the law was created in 1954, the delivery of food assistance has evolved significantly. Best practices in food aid now include more support for local and regional purchases, cultivating the resilience and sustainability needed for communities to thrive in the long run. It also helps food reach crisis areas more quickly. Decreasing transportation and shipping costs where possible allows more food to reach people in dire need.

What can the United States do to increase the impact of its food assistance programs? Allowing for more local and regional purchases and cash transfers rather than the costly and inefficient shipping of food grown in the United States would make a big difference. Relaxing regulations requiring the use of U.S. flag vessels would greatly decrease transportation costs, freeing up those funds to help more food insecure people.

recent study also shows that decreasing monetization and relaxing cargo preference regulations would not perceptibly affect the shipping industry, agricultural exports, or the economy on a larger scale—eliminating the basis for most objections to these reforms. When we think about the ways to address food security, finding the political will to institute common sense policy changes that update out-of-date food assistance delivery methods should be at the top of the checklist.

Ashley Arostegui is a MSFS candidate at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service.

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