Foreign Policy Blogs

GAO identifies U.S. food aid inefficiencies

A new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the U.S. is overpaying for the purchasing and delivery of food aid that it donates to those in need, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.  Despite being the largest overall donor of food aid, the practice of buying food products from U.S. farmers and shipping them overseas on American ships costs the U.S. more and delays aid deliveries.

The practice of the U.S. government subsidizing U.S. farms by buying surplus food products for aid has been criticized in the past for keeping global food prices artificially low and preventing farmers in developing countries from earning enough from their crops to avoid poverty.

Some of the findings in the GAO report included:

  • Food aid purchased and shipped from the U.S. cost 29% to 34% more than if procured locally
  • International in-kind food aid deliveries averaged between 106 and 112 days longer to deliver than locally produced food aid
  • Local food procurement faces the dangers of being hampered by inefficient suppliers, poorer food standards, weak logistics and poor infrastructure

The report concludes with the call to make changes to current policy,

“the timely provision of food aid is critical in responding to humanitarian emergencies and food crises, and LRP [Local and Regional Procurement] has the potential to better meet the needs of hungry people by providing food aid in both a more timely and less costly manner. To fully realize this potential,however, challenges to its effective implementation must be addressed.”

Among some of the challenges that need to be addressed, the report recommended,

  • A gradual shift by the U.S. from exclusively offering internationally grown food aid to supporting locally grown food
  • Increasing food “market intelligence” to assist developing countries with gauging food prices and keeping locally grown crops competitive
  • Clarify the U.S. laws pertaining to food aid so that U.S. agencies dealing with food aid would be able to support LRP

A Kansas City Star article points out that any change in the policies on food aid purchases and shipping would fall under the responsibility of the House of Representative’s committees on agriculture and transportation.