WASHINGTON, DC -- In response to a request from House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conway, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) recently released a report analyzing the impact of U.S. global food aid programs. The report comes at a critical time for U.S. food assistance programs whose funding levels have been the subject of frequent debates as part of the annual budget process.
U.S. agricultural commodity groups, including USA Rice have been very vocal in advocating for the full funding of food assistance programs as they are critical in assisting countries from slipping into hunger and malnutrition and play a key role in maintaining stability as part of the United States’ soft diplomacy.
“While USA Rice opposes any cuts to U.S. food assistance programs, we support measures that improve their effectiveness and efficiency in the donation of U.S. commodities,” said USA Rice Food Aid Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Hanks.
The report leant a critical eye to the documentation of processes and procedures of food aid projects but also acknowledged the importance of these programs toward promoting diplomacy and global stability. Most of the concerns noted in the reported focused on improving the country and commodity selection process, in particular emphasizing the need to ensure that any commodity donated, does not distort local markets.
Under the current operating guidelines, USDA and USAID food aid programs are required to document their selection of countries receiving food aid, and monitor and evaluate the impact on local markets. In its report, the GAO noted that in several occurrences, USDA and USAID did not consistently document their processes and procedures, leading to concerns of negative market impacts.
USA rice has a long history as a leading participant in both USDA and USAID food assistance programs and has always been insistent and careful about having market analysis completed before any rice donations take place, particularly in the case of USDA's Food For Progress monetization programs.
“Recently our food aid participation has taken on a new enhanced dimension with the addition of fortified rice to global food assistance programs, complementing the milled rice already used in food rations,” said Hanks. “Fortified rice is a new product and not produced in any of the target countries.”
The report also established the importance of U.S. food aid programs, and why it is necessary for agencies to follow a prescribed set of procedures. This included a critique of USDA's process of recipient country selection for the McGovern Dole School Feeding program and Food For Progress, including the donation of commodities to non-priority countries. Hanks said, “We believe these programs should maintain some flexibility to respond to global dynamics and also to allow for commodities to be reprogrammed if a country's geopolitical situation changes.”
Hanks concluded, “Food aid programs are a critical element of our international diplomacy efforts. The GAO report takes a strong step toward highlighting these benefits along with providing us with a critical view of how we can improve these programs for the benefit of its recipients.”
to read the entire GAO report.