Aid agencies to US: 'Go local for food'

There seems to be an increasing call for the United States to get more bang for its aid bucks — including money for food aid, says Megan Rowling of AlertNet.

The United States contributes about half of global food aid, but nongovernmental organizations argue the country’s policy of procuring cereals, pulses and vegetable oil from American corporations is not cost-effective. For one, the cost of transporting food overseas via U.S.-flagged ships eats up 60 percent of total U.S. assistance. And the time it takes for food to arrive? Three to six months.

Another problem with tied food aid is that not all of it goes to the hungry. As aid agencies need cash to fund their development programs, a “chunk” of the food is sold to local markets.

Aid groups are reportedly eyeing the extension of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Local and Regional Procurement project, a $60 million pilot project that allows aid agencies to buy food from recipient countries using U.S. aid money. An analysis of the five-year project showed local purchases, on average, arrived 60 percent faster than U.S. shipments. At least 50 percent in cost savings are achieved for cereals and some pulses.

But Rowling said if past attempts to untie food aid are anything to go by, this new effort is highly unlikely to materialize.

In 2005, the Bush administration tried to persuade Congress to let the U.S. Agency for International Development purchase a quarter of food aid locally. But as we now know, that attempt has come to naught.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.