Reform foreign aid
Our foreign aid program desperately needs reform. The recent rise in food prices might drive 100 million people deeper into poverty. The problem is not a lack of food, but a lack of political will to ensure people do not go hungry.
High prices not only impact the ability of the poorest to buy food, but also the ability of the World Food Program (WFP), the U.N. agency that is the single largest distributor of U.S. food aid, to purchase food.
In Bangkok, for example, the price of rice rose from $460 per metric ton on March 3 to $780 five weeks later. This crisis is not just a result of regional crop failure or political unrest. It is a consequence of policies that too often and too consistently prioritize the interests of rich countries over the social and economic needs of the poor. It is not a question of food production: We are struck daily by images of stacks of grain for sale that the poor desperately need but can no longer afford to buy because policies have driven up the cost of the staples of life.
The U.S. has publicly stated a commitment to helping poor countries, but our policies frequently conflict with the achievement of those goals. For example, we deliver hundreds of millions of dollars of food aid every year, but mandate that the food must be purchased from subsidized U.S. agribusiness and shipped on U.S. vessels. For every dollar we spend on food aid, 65 cents is spent on shipping and other processing costs. Local and regional purchases of food aid and direct cash transfers whenever possible would be cheaper and increase the impact of food-aid dollars.
There is an urgent need for Congress and the next president to undertake major foreign aid reform. I urge everyone to contact your representatives regarding this matter. We must alleviate chronic hunger in the world.
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