After years of delay, the US Senate has approved the 2014 Farm Bill and President Obama has signed it into law. The reforms to US international food aid, though not as far reaching as originally hoped, will help to create a more efficient system that can tackle global hunger and malnutrition more effectively. According to Save the Children, the reforms “will provide considerable cost savings, resulting in greater flexibility to use the most appropriate approach available to assist people in need, and faster humanitarian response times.”
The Farm Bill includes two major provisions that support the principles of reform to global food aid. First, the bill created a permanent local and regional procurement program under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that allows food to be sourced closer to where it is needed. Funding for the program was authorized up to $80 million per year. Although this is a small slice of $1.5 billion that the US spends on food aid annually, the removal of requirements that food must come from the donor country will allow for a far more flexible and effective response. This move will also give a platform for further action to continue to untie US food aid.
Secondly, the bill increased the allowance to use cash-based resources, such as food vouchers, cash transfers and local and regional procurement to 20%, up from 13%. The 7% increase means that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will now have more flexibility to choose the most efficient and appropriate approach to delivering food to children and families in need. This seemingly minor change means that hundreds of thousands more will have access to U.S. food aid than before, and at no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers.
The arguments that prevented these reforms from being more extensive are mostly unfounded – the fact that at least half of US food aid must be transported on US flag ships is certainly no longer supported by military goals, and America is no longer trying to offload vast surpluses to bolster grain prices to benefit its own farmers. Let’s hope that these initial reforms will be just the beginning of a long line of others that will untie US food aid and help to create a global system of food aid that is able to respond to emergencies as well as long-term development programmes in the most effective and efficient way possible.
After years of delay, the US Senate has approved the 2014 Farm Bill and President Obama has signed it into law. The reforms to US international food aid, though not as far reaching as originally hoped, will help to create a more efficient system that can tackle global hunger and malnutrition more effectively.