The US Food Aid Industry: Food for Peace or Food for Profit?

Republished from Food First: Institute for Food & Development Policy and written by Brock Hicks.

Posted March 26th, 2013 by kerssen

On February 21st, 69 organizations submitted a letter to President Barack Obama in support of continued funding for Public Law 480 (also known as Food for Peace) and Food for Progress international food aid programs in the FY 2014 budget, and opposing rumored proposals to shift resources to local and regional commodity procurement. The signatory organizations were comprised almost exclusively by the iron triangle of US food aid spending recipients (the US agribusiness, shipping, and international development industries). Funding, which is attached to the Farm Bill, has been reauthorized by President Obama under Title VII of the fiscal cliff legislation through this September. However, these food aid programs depend on congressional appropriations, which have only been approved through March 27th. Big changes, or more of the same, could be in store for food aid legislation in the near future[1].

Currently, US food aid is dominated by in-kind donations (direct gifts of food)-an infamously inefficient system-and monetization, a system in which US agricultural commodities are donated to development organizations so that they can sell them to fund projects. This approach to food aid has been widely criticized for decades, including by the Congress’ Government Accountability Office. The NGO Oxfam, once a beneficiary of PL 480, has been calling for food aid reform for years, putting an emphasis on the need for local commodity procurement. CARE, one of the three major NGO distributors of US food aid across the world, recently followed suit. Canada and Europe have shifted nearly all food aid resources away from in-kind distribution in favor of local procurement. The US, sticking to its M.O., is the loner; in 2007, 99.3% of US food aid was in-kind. Continue reading

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Peace, Food and our Future

Geoff Tansey will be in Toronto to present “Tinkering or Transformation: going beyond food and energy security for a well-fed world at peace” at the University of Toronto on Tuesday, April 16th.

2:00pm – 4:00pm
Anthropology Building, 19 Russell Street, AP246

He will discuss the range of innovations needed if we are to avoid food and farming becoming a source of conflict in the 21st century. He will outline a new project with the working title ‘Food is a key to avoiding World War Three.’  The following article is republished from Geoff Tansey’s website:

Peace, Food and our Future

A key challenge this century is to create sustainable ways in which everyone can feed themselves well, in communities that peacefully cooperate with each other. If we humans carry on in the way we have let our leaders manage our affairs to date, then we are likely to see even greater conflict and loss of life this century than before – because of not despite our technological wizardry.

How we meet everyone’s food needs will be a key factor in shaping the kind of world we have this century. It is part of a real security agenda I have been concerned with for decades. It goes back to the shocking sight for me, when I was working in Turkey in the early 1980s, of visiting a village where the people could run out of water for some time in the summer when their wells dried up. This in sight of a well-provisioned NATO installation, there as part of an early warning system. Far too much of human ingenuity, creativity, money, research and development activity focuses on better means of killing each other not supporting each other.

After returning from Turkey in the mid-1980s I supported the World Development Movement in the late 1980s / early 1990s in looking at real security. This resulted in a couple of publications – a briefing, Disarm or develop and a paper Real Security – East, West, North and South – and campaigning activities. It also lead to the work with Paul Rogers, prof of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, and the book A World Divided.

UNGVA

Giant chair with broken leg sculpture outside the United Nations in Geneva – a symbol of opposition to land mines and cluster bombsThese weapons have made farming very hazardous or impossible in many areas where conflicts have raged. Continue reading

Tunataka Amani kwa Kenya / We Wish Peace for Kenya

In the summer of 2007, I spent two months living and working in Kenya with a youth group in the Kibera slums of Nairobi that had self-organized as SHOFCO, or Shining Hope for Communities, an association of young people dedicated to improving their own lives and opportunities for the future. It was during this trip that I met Professor Ruth Oniang’o, Editor-in-Chief of the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development, who had worked extensively on issues of rural poverty, encouraging people to grow food gardens.  

As we remember the intense violence that occurred in January 2008 following the presidential elections, and look ahead to elections in March, we honour the work happening on the ground in Kenya to advocate for and promote peace.  This month, AJFAND has published an article devoted to Global Peace, while SHOFCO’s youth-run newsletter is devoted to the same subject.  Warm thanks to both organizations for their commitment to peace and to sharing their hopes and work through these written media.

AJFAND Volume 13, No. 1 Foreword (excerpt)

AJFAND online

The Year 2013 is already getting old. For us here in Kenya, it is our Jubilee year, marking 50 years since Kenya became independent from British colonialism after a hard fought war. People of my generation remember the celebrations, the hope that was exuded and the many promises our founding fathers made at the time, of better quality of life for all the citizens, who at the time were about 7 million.

Fifty years later, we are a population of approximately 44 million, with about 70% under the age of 35, many with a good education that was promised, but most of those educated now looking for jobs which are difficult to come by. I am aware unemployment is currently a problem world over, as economies struggle to survive; youth unemployment is even worse.

Exactly 5 years ago, around this time, Kenya was at the brink of disintegration, with vicious violence and burning, and massacres in a number of parts of the country, reason: The person that was expected to be announced as having won the election was relegated to the second slot. Prior to the elections, the polls were showing a close race, and in some cases, a tie. I see again now, the polls being used to sway the crowds, to say ”we are on the winning side and you better join us”. We need to sit back and keep reminding ourselves of what aspects were being set prior to the 2007 elections that might have contributed to the post-election violence then. I thought the US elections constituted TV drama for us; right now Kenyans are being treated to an even more intense drama right here at home. Why am I starting my Foreword for issue 56 of AJFAND with this? Well, I am aware most of my friends are aware of the political situation that is pertaining in Kenya now, and are worried about me and our country, given what happened in 2007/2008. Let me tell you that many Kenyans are also anxious and have resorted to prayer and fasting, and are hoping that all will be well. We are doing more than that though.

There are peace rallies, many of them spearheaded by young people. Everywhere people are preaching peace. Even as our government assures us of security, Kenyans are not sure because even in these “normal times”, there are many parts of the country like the Tana and northern Kenya which are not safe. This makes world news.

Editorial

Without Global Peace, we can never eradicate hunger or food insecurity, let alone enjoy the food we eat. Is it just me who is feeling it, or the world is truly seem more troubled? Are our leaders investing enough in trying to understand these trends? The world is now indeed a global village. The conflicts in different parts of the world, whether in Syria or in Mali or terrorist attacks in Nigeria or in my own country of Kenya, come to us direct on our media screens and more and more on our mobile phones.

We now live with these issues on a day-to-day basis. Strange occurrences are taking place all over the world; in addition to man precipitated events, there are also increased natural events, such as killer storms and floods. Then we have human tragedies such as child shootings in the USA and men exterminating their families for reasons not easy to understand. As we travel, we are made aware of the possible risks and threats out there that could manifest in different forms; it is the same when we enter buildings, when we walk in malls, and even when we live in our traditional homes in the villages. No one is spared.  I remember years back attending a seminar on bioterrorism and at the time, it sounded far-fetched; that is not the case anymore.

There are so many other situations which both you and I are aware of. In the past, we have worried about nuclear warfare; but just think about the many weapons that could be used to mass-kill? Are human minds being impacted differently by modern technology? Are we investing enough in forensic audits or in research on how the human mind is being affected by new events, new situations, new inventions? We talk of climate change as if it is an isolated event. What else is changing? Whatever we do, if we do not keep our eyes on the food situation, we may regret. There is so much going on that is diverting our thinking away from how we shall feed the world in the coming years, that it is about time this issue became our leaders’ priority. Even those in wars have to be fed, and those on the run from wars and disasters have to be fed too.

What we call climate change is being manifested in severe drought events where there have not been any, torrential rain for longer periods that could affect crop maturity and sun-drying of grain (for example in East Africa), new volcano eruptions, mudslides killing hundreds of people, and avalanches causing havoc. All these events disrupt lives and cause suffering for families, because there does not appear to be early warning signs in some of these areas, to enable mitigation arrangements. Lives are lost, property is destroyed and mothers, children and the elderly become more vulnerable. To fix all this requires money at a time when world economies are struggling. When people face financial challenges, or are uncertain about the future, their temperaments will clearly be affected. I know it happens to me. Whenever my mood changed when I was bringing up my children, they would ask me:  “Mummy, what has happened?” It is worse when you have others that depend on you. These “others” could be your parents who no longer have an income, your own children who have been used to a certain lifestyle or “others” such as orphans that you support as a charity function.  I recall during the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya, I had 67 orphans/vulnerable children I was supporting with my own salary, and my worry afterwards was more about these children, whose futures had been shattered for no fault of theirs, and less about my own personal and economic security.

Immediately following this violence, Kenya was short of food and in fact our development partners had to come to our aid. As I open my computer to access my yahoo account, I am confronted by news, mostly bad, and of very strange happenings. A former journalist friend of mine told me: “Ruth, bad news sells”. While it sells and we read it, how are our brains affected? How do you explain criminal actions of a seemingly intelligent, quiet and friendly person with no criminal history? Are we seeing more and more of these cases, or is it just that now I can be in a village in Kenya and read of such an event happening in Australia? And if I have a criminal mind, will I be influenced by certain actions? What then triggers such minds to go into negative action? I am not a psychiatrist but being a teacher, I better be able to understand a bit of human nature. Are we investing enough in understanding these emerging events? We can talk of ensuring food security for all, which for now appears a battle we are losing, but we need to understand these new unsettling events, and try to do something about them. Can we use our efforts in agriculture to preach peace? How do we engage everyone in some productive action, good action that is? In my own country, young people do not want to be told” you are leaders of tomorrow”. Not anymore. They want to be leaders now because they feel left behind and out by successive governments, and by adults.

Young people have degrees because we wanted to have education, but what do we do when there are no jobs? We spend far too much time on other things than ensuring peaceful co-existence. With peaceful co-existence, we can focus of the right things in life, especially according to what your own religion teaches. Otherwise, as we hull abuses at others on the internet because nobody can see us, nations fight against each other, and we discriminate against other as if it were a right, we shall wake up to a disaster that wipes out our ability to feed ourselves and our loved ones, and at that time, we shall have NO choice.

Leaders need to invest more in peace efforts. Almost everywhere in the world, people are either in the streets demonstrating or fighting, for different reasons. In some areas citizens have realized that their rights are being violated and are, therefore, demanding them; in others, citizens want a piece of the national cake; in others still certain groups feel it is their turn to ascend to power; in others more, citizens are protesting long standing dynasties as they do not consider these democratic. In all these situations, emergency food aid is called for. In these situations of personal safety threats, food production takes a back seat as people are forced to move from their own areas of food production. Personal safety is paramount for food and nutrition safety, for personal growth and for national development. These are issues for us all to ponder.

By Ruth Oniang’o

Ruth was educated in Kenya and in the USA . She has worked in Kenya throughout her professional life, gaining her international experience through meetings and conferences and through participation in multi-national dialogues. Beyond her academic training, she has spent a considerable amount of time researching talking about food security and hunger issues. Ruth K. Oniang’o is the executive director of the Rural Outreach Program, a non-profit development organization that empowers women through agriculture and entrepreneurial projects. Prof.(Dr.) Oniang’o was a nominated member of Kenya ’s ninth parliament from 2003-2007 and served as Shadow Minister for Education. As a parliamentarian, she was Vice-Chair of Kenya’s Women Parliamentary Association and worked on the Sexual Offences Bill with fellow women colleagues, a landmark bill regarding punishment for sexual violence in Kenya and championed the passing of the Kenya Biosafety Bill and the Nutritionists and Dietetics Bills. Before becoming a member of the Kenyan Parliament, she was Professor of Food Science and Nutrition at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology in Nairobi , Kenya. Her areas of research and consultation are household food and nutrition security, women’s nutrition, child health, and community-level agro-processing and related enterprises. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition, and Development ( AJFAND).She serves on a number of Boards (HarvestPlus, IRRI, IFDC until a year ago) to name a few.

Shining Hope for Communities Newspaper – Peace Edition

Click to read the Ghetto Mirror Peace Edition

Shining Hope for Communities combats intergenerational cycles of poverty and gender inequality by linking tuition-free schools for girls to essential social services for all through a holistic, community-driven approach. By concretely linking essential health and economic services to a school for girls, we demonstrate that benefiting women benefits the whole community, cultivating a community ethos that makes women respected members of society.

Mufaqarah Part 13: Exit

I came to this region of the world not knowing what to expect. I had very little knowledge of the area, rather on purpose. I came with an open mind as much as possible. I came to see.

There is a cartoon character whose name is Handala. The reader never sees his face because he is always watching, looking into the cartoon. He does other things sometimes but mostly he just watches, with his hands behind his back. In Palestine, mostly, I watched and listened to see what was happening.

A painting of Handala, on a wall in Nablus.
A painting of Handala, on a wall in Nablus. Continue reading

Mufaqarah Part 12: Paradise lost

The grain harvest continues in the South Hebron Hills. It meanders along week after week as people take their time, harvesting the grain by hand, grazing fields with sheep and pass around the threshing machine. There is no rain or cold coming soon so there is no hurry. The situation here is in sharp contrast to the Canadian harvest in which a chance bit of rain can cost a farmer a great deal of money and deadly cold of winter is approaching.

The neighbor across the valley is threshing square bales of grain. People in Canada don’t use square bales much anymore, and if they do then it is for hay, not for grain. It seems funny to me that you would make and transport bales of grain rather than threshing the grain immediately, shipping the seed and putting the chaff back in the field or feeding it to an animal nearby. But suppose you wanted to ship the straw somewhere as well? It makes sense to use a square bale. People here don’t seem to grow hay.

On this side of the valley we’ve purchased some wheat to eat. I mentioned earlier, way back in the 6th article of this series, that Mahmoud’s family purchases their wheat instead of growing it. It is purchased as animal feed, presumably because that is the cheapest way. The chopped straw, which is actually added after threshing because animals appreciate some straw in their grain, has to be removed by hand. The grain is submerged in a tub of water and the straw, which tends to float to the top, is taken off. There is a little bit of corn mixed in and I wonder where it comes from since I haven’t seen much corn growing here. After taking the straw out, the grain is dried and inspected by hand to look for rocks and other debris. This intimate and labour intensive process for preparing grain is almost unimaginable in Canada, where grain is planted and harvested by huge machines then purchased by most people with it’s germ and skin removed, pre-ground, preserved and bleached.

Drying the grain
Laying the grain out to dry. Continue reading

Mufaqara Part 9: Sheep

Middle of June, 2012

Every day in the afternoon someone takes the sheep out to graze. This job belongs to the boys, and today it’s an outing for 4 brothers to take about one hundred animals out to pasture. They split the herd into two so that it is more manageable. Each half can be led by a single person, but it’s nice to have more people to help.

Mahmoud owns several pieces of land, and today since we are going to an especially dangerous piece one of the boys made it a point to ask me to come along. We are going to graze the sheep near an outpost and are therefore at risk of settler attack as well as harassment by the military. The name of the outpost (a small settlement illegal even under Israeli law) is Avigail.

We leave Mufaqarah and cross a valley, stopping for a drink most of the way up on the other side. The water comes from a cistern built for this purpose. The cistern has recently been cleaned, all the silt being removed by hand, one bucket at a time, from the tank. A dry river of soil lay downstream of the tank provides a dramatic illustration of soil erosion in the catchment area. All of this soil emptied from the tank represents destroyed topsoil.
Soil emptied from the cistern
Soil emptied from the cistern

The flock takes a drink at the cistern
The flock takes a drink at the cistern Continue reading

Mufaqara Part 8: Susya Continued

The second time I visit Susya I’m exhausted and sick. I fall asleep in a tent and when I wake up I don’t know where anybody is. Eventually I get a call from the Operation Dove team who tend to be a little more on the ball than I :-). The protest is over and they pick me up to go back to Mufaqarah. My consolation is that I was able to examine a home-made grain thresher that someone in Susya must have built. Mahmoud tells me I abandoned him, and he almost got arrested. I tell him he deserted me in a foreign country where I can’t speak the language. We are both half serious.

A home made grain thresher
A home made grain thresher.

The next time we go to Susya there is a march organized to protest the harassment and planned destruction of the town.

No For Demolition

There are hundreds of people, with bus after bus coming from Israel and Palestine. The military tries to stop them, blocking the vehicles as they approach the village. People don’t turn around though, they get out of the busses and walk the rest of the way towards Susya. Continue reading