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Shah to food aid advocates: Lobby for Obama proposals

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah told a gathering of food aid and development advocates this morning that they should lobby Congress this week for changes the Obama administration has proposed to the U.S. food aid programs.

In his fiscal year 2014 budget proposal, President Barack Obama said that the Food for Peace program, known as P.L. 480, should be changed from one that buys U.S. commodities and ships them overseas into one that gives USAID cash to buy commodities nearer the poor countries and in some situations provide cash or vouchers to poor people and refugees to buy food.

USAID has said, however, that it would continue to buy 55 percent of the commodities in the United States.

Members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees and Agriculture Appropriations subcommittees have reacted negatively to the proposal, although some other legislators have shown an interest in it. The proposal would also shift control of food aid from the Agriculture appropriations subcommittees to the Foreign Operations subcommittees.

Rajiv Shah

Rajiv Shah
The Obama administration proposal would “modernize a six-decade old system of food aid” and reach 4 million more children without any increase in costs, Shah told food aid activists who were gathered in Washington by Bread for the World and Concern Worldwide USA for a conference called “Sustaining Political Commitments to Scaling Up Nutrition.”

“Spend this week to make sure your voice is heard in Washington,” Shah told the members and donors of a range of groups. “I disagree with those who say you speak softly. You are loud … you are persistent … you are pushy. Thank you for that deep and profound commitment.”

Decisions on food aid “may well be made this week,” Shah said, but he did not provide details of what decision-making process he was referring to.

The Senate is scheduled to vote later today on a farm bill that continues food aid mostly in its present form, but makes some changes including tighter rules on monetization — the sale of food aid with the proceeds used for development purposes — and increases local purchases of food aid from $40 million to $60 million per year.

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee approved the fiscal year 2014 Agriculture appropriations bill with no changes to the program. It is expected to come up soon in the full House Appropriations Committee and an amendment might be offered there to make some changes to food aid, but the committee has not announced a markup date.

The House is expected to take up the farm bill on the floor next week and food aid amendments are expected at that time.

The Alliance for Global Food Security, a group whose members distribute food aid and use it for development purposes, and major farm and commodity groups have opposed the Obama administration’s changes.

The Bread for the World-Concern Worldwide conference is taking place following a conference in London this weekend at which countries including the United States made additional commitments to nutrition spending and following the release of a series of reports in The Lancet, a British publication, about the negative effects of malnutrition.

Shah said today that he announced at the London conference that the U.S. government is providing more than $1 billion for nutrition-specific interventions and nearly $9 billion on nutrition-sensitive activities between 2012 and 2014.

He noted that the U.S. contribution is larger than any other single country and that the United States has nearly doubled nutrition-specific funding through global health programs and has tripled agriculture development funding since 2008.

Shah also said that USAID is carefully monitoring the effectiveness of its spending and will release a report later this month that will provide details on what is working and not working in Feed the Future, its signature agricultural development effort.

“To address the root causes of hunger and under-nutrition and get the most out of every development dollar invested, we cannot treat nutrition, global health, and food security as isolated priorities,” he said. “We must integrate our approach across sectors, forging high-impact partnerships and driving game-changing innovation from farms to markets to tables.”

“Feed the Future is doing just that, working with businesses, local communities, farmers’ organizations, and country leaders to not only reduce poverty and hunger but under-nutrition too,” he said.

“Last year, we reached 12 million children through nutrition programs that reduced anemia, supported community gardens, and treated malnutrition. This focus reflects the United States’ long history as the global leader in nutrition, from providing emergency food aid during crises to helping farmers and their families grow and consume more nutritious foods.”

Also in London, Shah and the United Kingdom Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening announced the launch of a Global Open Data Initiative for Agriculture and Nutrition, which will support international partners in their efforts to make agriculturally and nutritionally relevant data available for public global use, USAID said in a news release.

The Lancet series on Maternal and Child Nutrition describes the current state of nutrition globally, proposes specific interventions to address the immediate causes of malnutrition and suggests opportunities for both the public and private sectors to act.