Food aid showdown in US Congress

By Claire Luke 07 May 2015

Flood victims in Bujumbura, Burundi, receive food aid provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development. U.S. Sens. Robert Casey and John Isakson plan to reintroduce the Global Food Security Act of 2015. Photo by: USAID / CC BY-NC

The Global Food Security Act of 2015 is looking for another shot in the U.S. Senate, but some insiders have speculated the bill could get tangled with efforts to reform other long-embattled U.S. policies around food aid.

Sens. Robert Casey, Democrat from Pennsylvania, and John Isakson, Republican from Georgia, plan to reintroduce the bill any day. The bill has passed the House of Representatives twice, but has so far failed to pass the Senate, and is now up against a bill that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Republican from Tennessee, is currently drafting that will combine a host of food aid interests into one comprehensive bill.

If it passes, the bill would authorize Feed the Future — launched in 2010 — to continue beyond this administration’s tenure. The initiative is a hallmark of this administration and former U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah — a $1 billion program that fights hunger with agricultural programs in 19 countries.

It is unclear whether Feed the Future will specifically be included in Casey’s bill, but “I don’t see how it couldn’t be,” Connie Veillette, senior fellow on Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at the Lugar Center and one of the people responsible for writing the bill, told Devex.

Veillette says chances are low that the Global Food Security Act will pass given that Corker’s bill would likely attempt not only to authorize Feed the Future but also to tackle other long-sought changes to U.S. global food security programs.

“I don’t think the committee will report it out,” she told Devex.

Other insiders critical of Corker’s bill say it bites off more than it can chew: The bill takes on food aid reform and the controversial monetization of food aid. It tackles a decades-old restriction on food aid production and transport, which mandates that a certain amount must be produced in the U.S. and carried on U.S.-flagged vessels. Organizations like InterAction have long criticized these restrictions as outdated and for adding unnecessary cost and bureaucracy to a lifesaving system.

Feed the Future is designed to achieve a more locally-led approach, intended to accelerate inclusive growth in the agriculture sector and bolster nutrition of women, children and smallholder farmers. Considering how close Feed the Future came to authorization last year — passing the House unanimously and almost reaching the Senate before the session ended — many feel the bill could lose momentum if attached to decades’ worth of food aid reform baggage.

In an address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Tuesday, Casey said the U.S. must continue to finance Feed the Future, leverage private sector resources, and called on Congress to “step up” and pass the Global Food Security Act.

“This is an urgent matter with bipartisan support. You can’t say that about all issues that we come across in Washington,” he said, calling for a “legislative push” to authorize the initiative, instead of starting over with something new under the next administration.

When asked how he plans to galvanize support for the bill, Casey credited former USAID Administrator Shah as a “very effective lobbyist” who “really worked it” when soliciting support for Feed the Future’s authorization.

Some feel the USAID administrator, not the administration as put forward in the House bill, should oversee the U.S. government’s food security initiative. President Barack Obama nominated Gayle Smith to fill the vacant USAID administrator post last week.

“The USAID administrator as coordinator is important for US food security efforts for the level of attention paid to this,” Casey Dunning, senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development, told Devex. Dunning noted that with so many other issues competing for the president’s time, food security — under administration leadership — could risk “falling off” the agenda.

While the House bill authorized one year of Feed the Future, the forthcoming Senate comparison bill requests a five-year authorization, Dunning said.

Stay tuned to Devex for more news and analysis of U.S. aid, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive the latest from the world’s leading donors and decision-makers — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

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Claire Luke

Claire is a journalist passionate about all things development, with a particular interest in labor, having worked previously for the Indonesia-based International Labor Organization. She has experience reporting in Cambodia, Nicaragua and Burma, and is happy to be immersed in the action of D.C. Claire is a master's candidate in development economics at the George Washington Elliott School of International Affairs and received her bachelor's degree in political philosophy from the College of the Holy Cross.


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