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Foreign Aid Reform Increases Efficiency, Should Appeal To All Members Of Congress

“Since the Eisenhower administration, the United States generally has done food aid in a certain way: grow and pack it in this country, ship it across the world on U.S.-flagged ships, then deliver it through American charities, which sell a portion of the food to fund their other programs,” columnist Michael Gerson writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. “But for the last decade, aid reformers have asked: Why couldn’t a portion of food aid be purchased regionally — in Africa, say, rather than the American Midwest — or given directly to individuals in vouchers so they can buy in (and strengthen) local agriculture markets?” he notes. Now “the Obama administration has proposed a major reform of American food aid, which would free up nearly half the program for local and regional purchasing,” he continues, adding, “It would also end the selling, or ‘monetization,’ of food by charities — a practice that wastes about a quarter of every dollar and can depress food prices and crowd out local farmers.”

“The administration is not proposing to end commodity purchases, just scale them back,” Gerson writes, adding, “There will, no doubt, be considerable political resistance but perhaps less than there used to be. U.S. farmers — flush from strong agricultural prices and ethanol demand — are far less economically dependent on food aid exports than they once were.” He continues, “The only thing more difficult than reforming an unsuccessful program is reforming a relatively successful one. U.S.-grown food aid has saved countless lives. But it can’t be accused of efficiency.” Gerson concludes, “Efficiency in foreign aid should appeal to all members of Congress but to Republicans most of all. The current food aid system often undermines agricultural markets and encourages rent-seeking” (4/15).