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Debate About Food Aid Reform Missing Long-Term Focus

“There’s been a lot of debate recently in the U.S. about food aid reform, especially since [the Obama administration] proposed a shift toward more cash programs and increased local and regional purchase of food aid,” Paul Guenette, senior vice president at ACDI/VOCA, writes in The Guardian’s “Global Development Professionals Network” blog. “But what’s lost in the lively discussion on the hows and whys of food aid is a sense of long-term focus,” he states, adding, “While emergency intervention is all too often necessary, focusing on building capacity at the farm level offers long-term sustainability in addressing the root causes of food insecurity.” He continues, “[B]uilding the capacity of smallholders and strengthening markets to sustain them is pivotal and sustainable, and can render food aid unnecessary in many, if not most, cases.”

Guenette discusses a drought in the Horn of Africa in 2011, noting “the drought didn’t create famine in Ethiopia that year, nor in Kenya.” He examines what it took to build such resilience in these two countries and writes, “Necessary food aid and deliberate long-term agricultural development aren’t an either-or proposition.” He concludes, “We’ll always have another food crisis, and responding effectively will save lives. But the much more serious job, the most important and too often out-of-the-headlines job, is building the ability of those small African farmers to produce nutritious food in a sustained manner — so that when the next drought hits, and we know it will, they don’t become the next food aid emergency” (6/17).