by Patricia Kisare
This year’s farm bill presents an opportunity for Congress to strengthen and improve current global food programs. U.S. food policy must focus on creating and supporting sustainable food systems that empower local farmers. This includes halting harmful political and economic policies that hinder local food systems.
Purchase food locally. The United States is the world’s largest donor of food aid to countries suffering from natural disasters, famine, and conflict, reaching 65 million people worldwide in 2010 at a cost of $2.3 billion.
However, the way in which the U.S. currently administers food aid needs to be reformed. Federal regulations require that 75 percent of U.S. food aid to other countries must be purchased, processed and transported by U.S. companies. Such a policy makes the delivery of food aid slow, expensive and encourages aid dependency.
In the 2008 farm bill, Congress authorized a four-year, $60 million pilot program for local and regional procurement of food aid. The average cost of providing grains decreased by 54 percent, and the delivery time was cut by nearly 14 weeks.
As Congress debates the next farm bill, they should add more flexibility to allow for food purchases closer to areas of need. This will allow food to be distributed much more quickly and at lower cost. This would also help local and regional farmers bolster their production capability. Furthermore, buying food locally reduces greenhouse gas emissions associated with shipping food great distances.
Provide direct funding. One of the ways in which the U.S. government funds U.S. development organizations is called monetization. In monetization the U.S. government donates food to non-profit organizations who then sell the food in-country to raise money for their programs.
Monetization undermines local markets, as local farmers are forced to compete with food donations. The next farm bill should establish parameters to ensure that local farmers are not competing with food donations. This will help developing countries move closer to self-sustaining food security.
Invest in agriculture. Chronic under-investment in the agriculture sector is one of the underlying causes of global hunger. Globally, agriculture investments to developing countries have decreased from 18 percent in the 1980s to less than 4 percent in recent years.
The U.S. government must support developing countries to become self-reliant by increasing investment in local agriculture while ensuring that local farmers and farmer groups are involved in the decision-making process. Long-term food security in developing countries can only be realized when production, infrastructure and markets for local farmers are strong.
Reduce subsidies. For many years, the U.S. government has subsidized large, corporate farmers in the U.S. while leaving out small-scale farmers. These subsidies allow agribusiness corporations to sell their produce below the cost of production, making it difficult for small-scale farmers around the world to compete. The next farm bill should begin reducing subsidies to agribusiness corporations to allow for fair food market conditions.
One step forward, two steps back
An MCC program promotes sustainable farming methods in the Sibinal municipality of Guatemala, an area vulnerable to natural disasters and with one of the highest levels of malnutrition in the country.
The response to malnutrition in Sibinal has often been to offer food aid. We have made a concerted effort to encourage local authorities and other organizations working in the region to think about the challenges of food insecurity in new and creative ways.
With our program serving as a model, we have seen other groups working on “food security” issues begin exploring new responses that emphasize the value of local resources–both human and natural.
This past February we were able to convince the municipal authorities to invest a modest sum of their 2013 budget in the creation of two model “ecological agriculture” parcels in each of the municipality’s six micro-regions.
Sadly, this small investment pales in comparison to funds now pouring into the region from the U.S. government for “food for work” programs that essentially glorified food aid programs. The result has been that local actors compete amongst one another for those funds.
Sibinal is the most water-abundant municipality in all of Guatemala. There is no reason Sibinal should not be able to produce enough food to drastically reduce the malnutrition afflicting its population. But to do so will require a longer-term, sustainable vision for food security.
Juan Pablo Morales, Margarita Roblero and Nate Howard work with an MCC project in Sibinal funded by Foods Resource Bank.