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Anita Powell/AP
Ethiopian men and woman sit with their goats in the market.

US Food Aid to Africa Still Too Slow

December 10, 2008 07:31 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
The U.S. food aid policy hasn’t helped starving African nations; influential figures like Bill Clinton and Bill Gates are pushing for change.

Africans Waiting for US Food

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In some African countries, people are dying of starvation while waiting for U.S. food aid to arrive. The problem is U.S. policy, which was intended partly to reduce domestic surplus in the 1950s, and requires that nearly all of Africa’s U.S. food aid come from American farmers instead of from local African sources. Although Congress has refused to budge on changing the policy, other prominent entrepreneurs and former policy-makers are speaking and acting out in hopes of creating change.

According to Bloomberg, the deaths of Ethiopian children who waited longer than six months for green peas to arrive were due partly to conflict in Congress, particularly its time spent “fighting off a proposal … to speed deliveries by buying more from foreign producers near trouble spots.” Last January, President George W. Bush proposed that the U.S. follow the lead of Canada and Europe by purchasing 25 percent of  “food closer to starving people rather than shipping American produce.” Large U.S. agricultural companies profit from the system in place, however.

In April 2007, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released the results of a yearlong food aid investigation, which said that increased costs had cut in half American food aid to Africa, Asia and Latin America. According to The New York Times, the GAO “was especially critical of the practice known as monetization, which involves shipping food at great expense across oceans to the developing countries.”

In August 2007, one of the world’s biggest aid organizations, CARE International, turned down its $46 million share of food subsidies from the U.S. government. CARE would have profited from sales of the food to African countries, but according to CommonDreams.org, CARE was dissatisfied with the U.S. government’s method of food distribution, which harms small farmers in communities receiving aid.

Former President Bill Clinton and Microsoft entrepreneur Bill Gates have also taken measures to create change.

In October, Clinton spoke at World Food Day, praising President George W. Bush for his efforts to change U.S. policy on food aid, efforts that have only met with opposition in Congress. Clinton also derided decades-old policies that have required African nations not to subsidize their own farmers in order to receive foreign aid. “Africa's food self-sufficiency subsequently declined and food imports rose,” according to The New Zealand Herald.

Clinton told the crowd, “Food is not a commodity like others. We should go back to a policy of maximum food self-sufficiency."

Bill Gates and Howard Buffett are addressing just that. The team’s foundations have undertaken a five-year program called Purchase for Progress that intends to help “small farmers in Africa and Latin America to sell their crops as food aid,” according to a Time magazine article.

Background: Food in Africa

East Africa is in the midst of its worst hunger crisis in years, due largely to spiking food prices. Oxfam International reported that cases of acute malnutrition had reached the highest level since 2000, when a severe drought affected the region. High food prices are a huge factor in the current crisis, but African farmers’ inability to deal with difficult climatic conditions also plays a role.

Gates’ and Buffett’s program, Purchase for Progress, is addressing that issue by putting funding toward agricultural education, helping African farmers with crop storage, the planting of more effective seeds and transportation of produce to market, rather than just buying farmers’ crops.

Related Link: Bush policy in Africa

Bush has made great efforts to improve aid to Africa. "He should be known for increasing—doubling development assistance and tripling it to Africa after a period in which U.S. development assistance was essentially flat for decades," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an Associated Press interview, according to a 2006 Washington Post article.

Opinion and Analysis: U.S. policy holds Africa back

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