Less Food Aid Money in Next Farm Bill?

Panel discussion in Des Moines hears about likely cutbacks in new U.S. farm legislation.

Federal budget deficits will mean the next U.S. farm bill could have less money for food assistance programs for Africa, says Peter McPherson, co-chair of the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa. "There's a need for more money, but unless we look at the efficiencies of how it is spent, it will be difficult to get that money from the U.S. government," he adds.

McPherson made those comments in a panel discussion on hunger and poverty in Africa that was held in Des Moines in October in conjunction with World Food Prize activities.

There hasn't yet been much discussion about the amount of food aid needed in the farm bill, but the debate will begin next year when the 2007 farm law is written. It has long been a goal of U.S. food assistance to reduce poverty and hunger, but the program also has a goal of reducing U.S. crop surpluses.

Food aid affects Iowa farmers

"Iowa farmers have an interest in the debate because it will concern how their commodities are used for food assistance," says McPherson. "Farmers have always been proud of their contribution to reducing world hunger. Farmers feel they have an occupation, but also feel they have a mission to feed the world."

Spending on food assistance programs in the current farm bill has been stagnant or declining, says Emmy Simmons, co-chair of the partnership. The 2002 Farm Bill's food assistance and development section has spent $1.6 to $1.9 billion a year, about the same as what is spent on USDA's breakfast program for children.

The U.S. shipped food aid to Europe after World War II using surplus U.S. crops. After Europe got back on its feet, U.S. food aid surplus was directed to Asia and South America. In recent years, more assistance has been sent to poor African countries where drought, poor soils and political strife have hurt food production.
"In the 1950s, food aid represented 20% of U.S. exports. Today it makes up about 4%," says Simmons.

African food production lags

African food production has increased in recent years but still lags. More food production is needed, said Ousmane Badiane, of the International Food Policy Research Institute. Badiane, a native of Senegal, says 30% of the children in sub-Saharan Africa remain malnourished.

Food aid should be used to boost economic growth, he said, so African countries can have the same type of economic development that made food aid to Europe, Asia and South America unnecessary.

Pedro Sanchez, who won the World Food Prize in 2002 for his work in African agriculture, says more money needs to be spent on ag development in Africa. It costs $400 to import food to sustain a poor African farmer and his family. But it costs only $40 to give that farmer the basic inputs he needs to produce enough food to feed himself and his family. "Our job is to see that the need for food aid is made obsolete," says Sanchez.

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