Friday, August 17, 2007

Explosive, Exciting News in Food Security

Unloading sacks of flour in Cubal

(Or, “With this title, could I possibly be nerdier?”)

CARE has announced that it will no longer accept US government (USG) food aid! This is major news for those of us in international development. If CARE is successful, it could possibly change the way international development organizations provide food aid.

Basically, it works like this: the USG sells subsidized, surplus US agricultural products to NGOs overseas. These NGOs usually sell the goods in local markets, in turn using profits to fund projects- a process called monetization. The goods must be transported on US flag bearing ships. (This is common with USG funds; if I, as a project manager whose salary and benefits are paid for by a USG funded-project fly home with project funds, I am obligated to fly on a US carrier if one is available, no matter what the cost.) There are a lot of politics that go into this policy, having to do with US agricultural subsidies designed to help US farmers. CARE’s argument is that these imported commodities distort local markets and unfairly disadvantage local farmers.

The IHT article linked above lays out both sides’ argument well. In my personal opinion, the policy is inherently flawed. However, it does provide millions of aid dollars that would not otherwise be available. Sadly, most development NGOs are desperate for funding and will take it in whatever form it appears.

The big question for me is how exactly CARE plans to continue to provide food security aid in the countries where it works without accepting USG money. They’ve talked about doing local, sustainable projects that will provide money. This may work, but I doubt it will work on a scale that will provide millions of dollars. They speak specifically about Kenya, but what about other countries, like Niger? I don’t know much about Kenya, but it seems to be somewhat stable and have more infrastructure when compared to other countries. I’m pretty sure Niger wouldn’t provide sufficient aid dollars.

It should be noted also that CARE is one of the powerhouse development NGOs- well-known with lots of donations rolling in. (Donations which I’m sure will rise significantly when people read articles about their decision.) I doubt that smaller NGOs without CARE’s resources would be able to take such a decision.

Our program in Angola does not have any monetization projects, although our programs in other countries rely heavily on monetization projects for funding. During the war I know we received significant USG food aid, but I believe it was not monetized but given directly to people suffering. Joint Aid Management (JAM), another NGO here in Benguela, does accept it and is one of the organizations that actively support the USG policy. For Angola, their decision makes sense- to an extent. They provide food to local governments, schools and hospitals. With the exit of the World Food Programme, JAM is the main provider of food to schools and hospitals (NOT the government). Without that USG aid, how would they get their food? Most of the agricultural sector was completely destroyed in the war and has not recovered. Angola continues to import just about everything when it comes to foodstuffs. I’ve never even seen locally produced milk- it comes from South Africa or the EU! There is no market to destroy in Angola!

Having said that, is food aid stunting the growth of the Angolan agricultural sector? If USG food aid was absent and Angola forced to produce on its own, would Angolan agriculture grow more quickly? It’s not clear to me what the answer is. In any case, I’ll be looking for information on the results of CARE’s decision.

2 comments:

Lynette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynette said...

Time mag also reported on the decision.
time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1653360,00.html