Mercy Corps Director of Policy and Advocacy Jeremy Konyndyk today responded to the Farm Bill that was presented on Friday to the Senate Agriculture Committee by Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kan). The existing Farm Bill, the primary vehicle for the United States’ global food assistance, is due to expire in September 2012.
Mr. Konyndyk issued the following statement:
“The Stabenow-Roberts version of the bill takes a number of important steps towards increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of US food aid programs. These reforms are timely and critically important, and Mercy Corps thanks Senators Stabenow and Roberts for showing leadership on vital US efforts to combat global hunger. Unfortunately, the bill also rolls back protections for programs that address the causes of chronic hunger.
“One of the bill’s most commendable additions is a significant increase in funding for local and regional purchase (LRP) of food aid commodities. This represents a significant and welcome tool for American food assistance, which has historically consisted of US-grown commodities that are sent on US flag-bearing ships to developing countries. Under the proposed bill, LRP food aid will grow from very small pilot programs to $40 million per year.
“As one of the largest American organizations focused on alleviating hunger in the developing world, Mercy Corps has found that LRP is a critical tool, particularly in environments where shipping commodities from the US would be both slower and more expensive. An initial review of Mercy Corps’ LRP interventions found that locally-procured commodities are on average one-third less expensive, and arrive in communities two-thirds faster, than equivalent commodities shipped from the US.
“Mercy Corps also strongly supports the bill’s increase of cash resources within US food aid programs, which would reduce aid organizations’ dependence on monetization programs. Monetization forces aid groups to sell food commodities in a given country, and then use the acquired cash to fund related programs, such as nutrition and health. Directly receiving cash-based assistance is a much more efficient and flexible way to provide aid.
“By reducing the US Government’s reliance on using monetization to fund program expenses, these reforms would reduce the amount of money currently lost through the monetization process by roughly half. This will enable US taxpayers to get a far better bang for their food aid buck.
“Mercy Corps is also pleased to see the Committee’s focus on disaster resilience through the creation of a pilot program for the Horn of Africa. Investments in local mechanisms for coping with disasters are vital because they enable communities to bounce back from severe shocks like the 2011 drought in the Horn. Mercy Corps research in Ethiopia has demonstrated that increased resilience can reduce the need to resort to emergency relief aid.
“We have seen again and again in our global programs that this link between development investments and emergency relief needs is strong. That is why Mercy Corps is deeply concerned about the bill’s potential cuts to funding that combats chronic hunger. While we fully understand the desire to enable an appropriate balance between emergency and chronic needs – at a time when both needs exist in places like the Horn of Africa and the Sahel – the bill’s reduction of the minimum allocation for developmental food aid could mean that numerous countries will have their long-term hunger funds curtailed or terminated.
“Given that countries facing chronic hunger also tend to be the most vulnerable to new emergencies, reduced support would leave these countries even more vulnerable to major crises. Congress established the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, a reserve of food aid resources, decades ago to serve as a safety valve when emergency needs increase. Mercy Corps believes that the Trust, rather than development resources, should be tapped to meet unforeseen emergency food needs.
“Despite this concern, Mercy Corps does support many of the key provisions contained in the Senate draft and thanks Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts for their leadership on food aid reform.”
The Senate Agriculture Committee’s version of the Farm Bill is expected to go to the full Senate for a vote in May. When enacted, the new bill will govern US agriculture and food assistance policy for five years.