Flexibility in US food aid to Syria should be the rule – not the exception
In Syria, the US has been able to deliver food aid using a flexible approach to needs on the ground. Yet such flexibility is the exception in US aid. President Obama's proposed reforms would allow for more efficient practices, such as using local food supplies.
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America's generosity has saved hundreds of millions of people from starvation, but the system is broken and in desperate need of reform. Policymakers from both parties have known this for years. Several years ago, former President Bill Clinton apologized for exporting cheap American rice to Haiti: "It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked.”Skip to next paragraph
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A more prudent approach, as allowed by Mr. Obama’s proposed reforms, would allow aid agencies to buy food from local farmers, or the closest supplier who offers the best price. Direct purchase from local farmers would not only get the food to those in need more quickly, it would also help spur economic growth where it is needed most, allowing poor farmers to break their cycle of dependence on outside aid.
While the president’s budget does not completely eliminate every outdated restriction that slows the delivery of US food aid and inflates its cost, the reforms represent an important step in the right direction.
Some agriculture and maritime interest groups have argued that there is no need to change the status quo. They say there is already an effective and dependable program in place for producing and shipping food. It is true that there is still a vital role for US commodities in places where food is not available or where local purchases won't work. This is why, under Obama’s reforms, aid agencies will still be able to purchase commodities from US-based producers where and when it is appropriate.
But the US can do better. It needs a flexible response when addressing emergencies and chronic hunger. Its tools and programs must put first the needs of the farmers and hungry populations that America seeks to help.
US farming communities are rightfully proud of the role they play in feeding the world’s most vulnerable and hungry people. These reforms will enable the program to reach even more people and make an even larger impact.
Let’s take a stand and make sure US citizens encourage their members of Congress to support modernizing America's food aid system to provide maximum value for taxpayers while feeding as many hungry people as possible.
Helene D. Gayle is president and CEO of CARE USA, one of the premier international humanitarian organizations, with programs in more than 70 countries to end poverty. Dr. Gayle spent 20 years with the Centers for Disease Control and then directed the HIV, TB and Reproductive Health Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Raymond C. Offenheiser is the president of Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization that creates lasting solutions to poverty and injustice in more than 30 countries, and is the US affiliate of Oxfam International, which works in 120 countries