Effectively Easing Global Hunger
Bethany Christian Schools, Goshen, Indiana
Global hunger has always been a large problem, too big for any single organization or country to solve. About 842 million people suffer from chronic hunger, which kills more each year than malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS combined (USAID). A federally-run United States food aid program has been fighting hunger for over fifty years. Approximately 300 billion people have benefited from its assistence (USAID). Although U.S. food aid is a valuable program, it will never operate effectively enough to alleviate global hunger; therefore, we must use a supplementary program to eliminate hunger and promote peace around the world.
U.S. food aid started in 1954 under President Eisenhower. Its original goal was to get rid of excess American produce that had sprung up because of federal agricultural stimulus programs (Bovard). But the program quickly evolved to support a process by which poor countries could obtain the food they lacked. This is still done today. American-grown food is shipped overseas to countries with citizens suffering from hunger.
The results of U.S. food aid have been very encouraging. Currently, the program is the biggest provider of food aid in the world (USAID). It supports American agriculture through a competitive process that determines which farmers can sell their produce to support the program. American shipping companies also benefit because of the large amounts of food that must be sent overseas. So aside from fighting hunger, U.S. food aid has given a substantial boost to the U.S. economy.
Yet certain aspects of U.S. food aid prevent it from fully succeeding. Many inefficiencies exist. For example, it takes months for food to reach its destination because most of it is shipped from the U.S. (Stockman). This leads to the unnecessary deaths of many people who cannot survive long after their food supplies have run out. It also costs the U.S. government 150 million dollars more in shipping costs, money that could have been used to buy more food (Stockman). Another inefficiency lies in the structure of the U.S. federal government’s budgeting rules. If the money budgeted for U.S. food aid runs out before the end of a fiscal year, no more food aid can be provided until that fiscal year ends (Lavelle). As a result, the government often cannot respond fast enough to meet immediate needs.
In addition, U.S. food aid sometimes harms the economies of the countries it seeks to assist. Often, the influx of American-produced food depresses agricultural commodity prices (Bovard). According to the Government Accountability Office, this hurts local farmers who cannot turn a profit at the lowered prices (Chavkin). And if these farmers cannot produce food, domestic hunger will increase.
U.S. food aid also supports monetization, a process by which the U.S. government gives free, American-grown produce to international charities, who then sell them or give them away in the markets of poor countries. These charities use the money they raise to support their anti-poverty programs (Nixon). Many critics say that monetization hurts local economies and is inherently inefficient. This is because it brings a plentitude of American produce into the markets of impoverished countries (Lavelle). And this lowers prices, hindering local farmers from profitably producing crops. Monetization is also financially inefficient. In 2011, the Government Accountability office released a report which estimated that the U.S. government has lost 300 million dollars due to inefficiencies in the monetization program (Nixon).
During the summer of 2013, President Obama tried to fix some of these problems by proposing a food aid reform to Congress. This proposal would eliminate some inefficiencies of the current U.S. food aid program by allowing more purchases of foreign food. Specifically, Obama’s proposal called for the utilization of forty-five percent of the budget to do this. With more money buying foreign food, less transportation would be needed. This would give the program a twenty-five to fifty percent savings and enable food to reach its destination eleven to forteen weeks faster (USAID). The proposal would also end the inefficient process of monetization.
If passed, Obama’s reform would also change how the U.S. food aid budget is set up. Over one billion additional dollars would be shifted to an emergency aid fund. And another new fund would be created which President Obama could use to meet immediate and urgent food needs as they arise (USAID). These budget changes could certainly allow U.S. food aid to be more responsive to worldwide food emergencies. Their immediate results would most likely be a substantial improvement. It has been estimated that with these budget reforms, U.S. food aid will be able to help four million more people avoid starvation (USAID).
Despite the advantages of this proposal, Obama’s reform was defeated in the House of Representatives. This was due to economic concerns. Obama’s suggestion of purchasing food from foreign countries would no doubt harm America’s economy. About twelve shipping lines and four large agricultural corporations get millions of dollars in business from U.S. food aid (Stockman). The loss of this revenue would also mean the loss of many jobs. In addition, many congress members opposed the reform because U.S. food aid’s current method of buying American-grown food helps their constituents in the Farm Belt sell all their produce (Lavelle). Finally, many congress members want to reduce the federal deficit. Passing Obama’s reform would just affirm spending on U.S. food aid and make it politically more difficult to eliminate it in the future.
Even if President Obama’s reform bill had passed, U.S. food aid would still be partially inefficient and ineffective. Fifty-five percent of the program’s budget would go toward shipping food overseas (USAID). And very little would be done to help local economies and agriculture thrive. In order for U.S. food aid to operate at its potential, as much food as possible should be bought from markets close to the people in need. The remainder of the food required should be purchased from other countries nearby whose agricultural economic sectors need support. Another method which supports local economies would be to give people money to buy their food. This would have the added benefit of eliminating unhealthy competition for other resources that may be scarce (Loyn).
If U.S. food aid was changed to support local agriculture, peace would most likely result. People who have their daily needs met would not have to participate in dangerous activities that could harm their society. For example, Afghanistan wheat prices collapsed after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 because of the influx of cheap wheat imports (Loyn). As a consequence, farmers could no longer make a living growing wheat, so they began growing poppies to produce opium, which is a dangerous drug. This whole situation could have been averted if U.S. food aid had purchased Afghan wheat to give to the hungry (Loyn).
To be as effective as possible, U.S. food aid must be able to actively promote agricultural growth in the countries with chronic hunger problems. This could be done by giving farmers fertilizer and training them to use more advanced farming methods to increase production. The necessity for food aid would greatly decrease if this were done. Some farmers are already receiving this type of aid. For example, the Rockefeller Foundation is helping African farmers by giving them vouchers for fertilizer, and training them in more productive farming methods (Lavelle).
Sadly, U.S. food aid will never reach this level of effectiveness. Businesses that currently benefit from the program have ensured this. When Obama suggested reforming U.S. food aid, more than sixty organizations who would be affected by the reform wrote to his administration. They stated that his reform would eliminate many jobs that the program currently supported. The U.S. Merchant Marines were specifically cited as being especially dependent on the U.S. food aid for business (Nixon). Before the June vote, a group of maritime unions and shipping companies began to incessantly lobby congress (Chavkin). They argued that the reform would greatly damage their industry. And the majority of congressional representatives took heed and voted against the reform despite its massive political support (Chavkin). As a nation, it seems our allegiance to capitalism trumped our better judgement. There is nothing else that could easily explain the reform’s failure to pass. Yet the most discouraging part about this is that Obama’s reform was only a partial one. If congress will not pass a partial reform, they certainly will not pass a complete one. U.S. food aid will never be completely reformed, because our capitalist economy will always mandate that we profit from it.
Therefore, any organization able to efficiently fight global hunger must be independent from the U.S. government and economy. U.S. food aid does help a large number of people avoid starvation. It should be continued and reformed as much as possible. But a supplementary program should be created to cover its short-falls. To be effective, this program must not seek to raise money. It should selflessly meet the needs of people and countries who are not being helped enough by U.S. food aid. More specifically, the program would use funds raised in the U.S. to not only feed the hungry, but strengthen local economies and promote agricultural growth through local food purchases and educational programs for farmers. This would ease chronic poverty and hunger, as well as promote peace within countries and communities. And this is important, because fostering peace should be a major goal for every organization. So the ideal food aid program should provide for both the physical and social welfare of people worldwide.
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