Tell the Senate to Support Food Aid That Helps, Not Hurts

Real aid should build communities up, not tear them down. Sadly, the current US food aid system sometimes hurts more than it helps.

When cheap food mostly purchased from US agribusinesses is dumped at below market costs in hunger-stricken countries, it drives local farmers off the land and out of work.

We need to change the current system that hurts small farmers' livelihoods at home and abroad, creates food aid dependency and only really helps the giant agribusinesses that serve as middle men for the deals.

Fortunately, the Senate is drafting language in the 2007 Farm Bill for a pilot program to purchase food from local and regional farmers in times of food crisis, which would help local farmers feed their families and communities and promote sustainable agricultural practices.

Tell the Senate to support cash for local and regional purchases of food aid!

Dear Senator,

I am writing you today because I am concerned about recurring food crises in many countries and how U.S. resources and policies can best be mobilized to confront these situations.

According to recent estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization, there are 850 million people in the developing world suffering from hunger. Just as the causes of hunger and recurring food crises are complex, I see the need for a complementary set of policies to stimulate the production of food around the world.

As you continue your discussions of the U.S. Farm Bill, I am asking you to:

  • Support local and regional purchases of food aid. Our current programs are outdated. The U.S. government no longer holds excess food stocks, and food aid is too small a percentage of total productions or exports to directly affect domestic farmgate prices or the interests of American farmers. The current system of shipping US commodities to countries experiencing food shortages is enormously inefficient, raising the cost of food between 30 and 50 percent over the cost of purchasing food nearby.

    In general, I support an increase in the authority to purchase food aid stocks at the local or regional level. This would enable food aid providers the ability to purchase food in the same or neighboring countries, and to deliver it quickly.

  • Increase funding for food aid and agricultural development strategies designed to reduce hunger. Over the past few decades, agricultural development funding has prioritized commercial agriculture and the promotion of cash crops for export. While I recognize the importance of exports for economic growth, too often these policies have undermined the developing country farmers' ability to feed their families and their communities. I support increased funding for agencies such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development that concentrate on improving developing country farmers' ability to feed their nations and to promote sustainable agricultural practices.
Access to food is an essential human right, recognized under the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The U.S. is a signatory to the ICESCR. While it has not ratified the treaty, I believe it should still be guided by the principles enshrined within it and seek "to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need."

I hope the coming debates on U.S. agricultural policy and the Farm Bill will be guided by this essential principle.

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