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USAID Rethinks Who Gets Paid to Grow Food for Countries in Need

April 24, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, the debate over food aid sent abroad, who gets paid to grow it, ship it and deliver it.

Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER: American food aid goes to places where the need is dire, to Jordan, where thousands of Syrians have sought refuge from civil war, to Haiti, after the devastating 2010 earthquake, and to Pakistan that same year, when floods forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

The budget for what’s known as Food for Peace is $1.5 billion dollars a year, managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, or AID, and the Agriculture Department. The idea came from President Eisenhower nearly 60 years ago.

PRESIDENT DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER: It is — quoting — to explore anew with other surplus-producing nations all practical means of utilizing the various agricultural surpluses of each in the interests of reinforcing peace and well-being of free peoples throughout the world, in short, using food for peace.

MARGARET WARNER: Until now, the commodities have been bought from U.S. farmers and shipped overseas on U.S. vessels, to be donated to local governments and non-governmental organizations, or NGOs.

But President Obama’s new AID budget proposal calls for scaling back that system known as monetization. Instead, nearly half the money would be used instead to buy local bulk food in or near the countries that need it.

USAID administrator Rajiv Shah made the case for buying local at a U.S. Senate hearing today.

DR. RAJIV SHAH, United States Agency for International Development: A core part of our thinking is by using and partnering with those who represent real, local solutions, we can bring the cost of our work down and create the kind of institutional strength that can sustain these efforts and activities after American aid and assistance goes away.

MARGARET WARNER: As rumors of the proposed change surfaced in February, U.S. farmers, food and shipping companies and some NGOs objected in letters to lawmakers. And a bipartisan group of 21 senators from agricultural states protested in a letter to President Obama. The final decision rests with the relevant committees in Congress.