“…I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, but those who garner it shall eat and praise the Lord.” – Isaiah 62:8-9
In February this year, Congress passed a new farm bill which included two major provisions that will make international food aid programs more efficient. The legislation, which Congress is required to re-authorize every five years, is the main instrument through which the U.S. government directs its international food aid programs.
The U.S. has a rich history of providing food assistance to countries experiencing severe food shortages. This history dates back to 1954, when Congress passed the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act. At the time, the U.S. was enjoying big surpluses in agricultural commodities. Therefore, the law enabled the U.S. to send these food surpluses to countries in need.
While U.S. food aid has saved millions of lives around the world, many more lives can be saved with relatively minor changes to the food aid system.
The new farm bill authorized up to $80 million per year for purchases of food closer to countries in need. This means that food aid will: (1) cost less to transport because of the shorter distance; (2) arrive sooner; and (3) promote investments in local farmers and economies. In addition, the bill directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a permanent program for local and regional procurement of food.
Furthermore, the bill begins to phase out monetization, a practice in which the U.S. government donates food commodities from the U.S. to non-governmental organizations who then sell the food in-country to raise funds for their development programs. This practice is damaging to local economies because it forces local farmers to compete with food aid commodities that are often cheaper. As a result, local farmers are sometimes discouraged from producing food, creating a cycle of food aid dependency instead of sustainable food production.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) works with small scale farmers around the world to improve their food production. MCC also provides emergency food aid in countries experiencing food crises. Visit food.mcc.org to learn more about this work.
Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.