As Congress moves forward to complete the Farm Bill, members of Congress have an opportunity to reform the way our country provides international food aid.
President Barack Obama and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Rajiv Shah have proposed a major—but controversial—reform of the food aid system. They deserve commendation for seeking to improve the way the U.S. delivers international food aid. American food aid has traditionally meant buying American food and shipping it to areas of need. But the Obama Administration realizes that it's better to have cash than to have stuff. American dollars could help more people and do more good if we had the flexibility to spend aid dollars in whatever way is most appropriate to a crisis.
But what works well in theory doesn't easily translate into new legislative success. The reason why our existing food aid policies have worked so well for 60 years is that they have broad political support and use American food to feed the hungry. Changing that program to cash is a difficult undertaking—even if for the right reasons. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and malnourished families on the other side of the world, after all, are not a formidable lobby group. We are concerned that in this era of tight budgets, a cash fund supporting the international poor will not long remain dedicated to that purpose and could easily be cut.
We support reform approaches that would lock in these changes within a new Farm Bill. There is wisdom in putting both international food aid and the domestic food stamp programs into the Farm Bill where American support for local farmers also supports nutritional needs at home and around the world.