USA Rice Looks to Reshape Washington’s Food Aid Dialog

White rice inside red heart shape spilling onto wooden plank
Heart-shaped works
Mar 04, 2020
WASHINGTON, DC – USA Rice spent most of February working to reinvigorate the agriculture and food aid conversation in the Nation’s capital, starting out by hosting a meeting of Washington’s coalition of organizations that support U.S. commodity-based food aid.  The groups share a common interest of maintaining and strengthening what is referred to as “in-kind” food aid, overseas donations of U.S.-grown and produced commodities, primarily through U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs.

Front-and-center were discussions around President Trump’s recently released FY2021 budget request and the upcoming Congressional appropriations cycle where food aid programs are frequently under threat of budget cuts.  The Administration’s proposed budget called for the broad elimination of international food aid for the fourth straight time, but Congress is unlikely to take the bait, ultimately protecting the fate of the programs, for now.

While food aid shipments make up a small portion of total U.S. rice sales, USA Rice is a vocal leader within the coalition helping define the group’s goals and objectives, including strengthening ties with those private voluntary organizations (PVOs) that are chiefly responsible for implementing USAID and USDA’s aid programs.  USA Rice plans to continue working to educate and share information with those organizations that work overseas on both the cost effectiveness and nutritional benefits of rice.

Increases in transportation and oversight costs have caused a decrease in overall in-kind food aid shipments over the last couple of decades, however recent investments by the industry in rice fortification research and technology have ensured that U.S. exporters intend to be part of the food aid distribution process in the long term.  Fortified rice is increasingly specified by agencies participating in USDA’s McGovern-Dole School Feeding Programs as a delivery mechanism for vital nutrients through a familiar staple.

During the USA Rice Government Affairs Conference here last week, rice industry members met with USDA and USAID to review 2020 priorities.  USAID reported plans to publish a fact sheet outlining nutritional and cost benefits of fortified rice to help educate food aid implementers.  There also was a discussion about bags used to ship rice and a packaging redesign to help protect the nutritional value of fortified rice.

“While commodity-based food assistance continues to face an uphill battle, the coalition meeting confirms that there’s still a unified industry effort to protect the role U.S. farmers play in addressing global hunger,” said USA Rice Food Aid Subcommittee Chair Bobby Hanks.  “We’re confident our meetings with government agencies and our fellow commodity groups last week will help secure the important partnership between U.S. farmers, the private voluntary organizations, and the USDA and USAID that fund these food aid and development programs.”