On June 20th, an amendment designed to reform US food aid was narrowly defeated in the House of Representatives.
The amendment would have removed certain restrictions that require food destined for global aid be bought from US farmers and transported on US carriers. The stipulations were originally in place to benefit American farmers and corporations, but today are in direct conflict with the ultimate goal of food aid. By requiring food to be bought in the US and shipped by US carriers, aid costs are increased by up to a third, and delayed by as many as 14 weeks. Three months in a time of drought or famine is beyond significant, and “better late than never” is hardly applicable.
By easing restrictions on purchasing, USAID would be allowed to instead procure food from regions more local to the crisis area. This food could be purchased at better rates, and also result in shipping costs drastically reduced from those required to transport from the United States around the globe. Further, the current model of importing the entirety of aid has had drastic consequences for local markets. Following the earthquake in Haiti, many local rice farmers were put out of business when the market was flooded by cheap American rice imported to help in the time of crisis. This short-term fix, with long-term consequences for agriculture in the region, is not a point to be taken lightly. And yet the current model perpetuates this situation, in various iterations around the globe.
Ultimately what’s at stake for Americans, and what makes this a debate at all, is the effect this would have on US agriculture. However, food aid accounts for less than one percent of food exports from the US. The loss of a portion of this would have only minimal effect on US agricultural income.
Global relief provided by the United States is an important endeavor, but the photo ops provided by bags of grain stamped with US flags are becoming less and less relevant. Should we be so concerned about being recognized for the charitable work we do and the benefits as they relate to us? Or ultimately, should we be more concerned about the effect that charitable work has?
David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.