The announcement of a major reform to U.S. food aid in President Obama's proposed 2014 budget has spawned considerable reaction, both praise and criticism.
From my perspective as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations agencies that provide food assistance and promote agricultural development, it is a welcome development long in the making. We live in a rapidly evolving world, one which requires us to evaluate and innovate constantly in order to respond effectively and efficiently to humanitarian crisis and those who need our help.
The United States has always been a humanitarian leader, the most generous contributor to food assistance in the world. The proposed changes to the way that U.S. food assistance is managed will enable us to feed an estimated two to four million more hungry people every year, with the same resources, and do it more quickly and efficiently.
For the past 50 years, much of the U.S. contribution to feeding the world has been provided through contributions of life-saving grains shipped from the United States and then distributed where needed by our UN partners such as the World Food Program, by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and by other humanitarian agencies. The lives of millions of people facing starvation were saved.
But the current system for reaching the poor and the starving needs to be modernized if it is to continue to be most effective in light of the evolving reality on the ground. We must take advantage of a variety of tools, so that we can react quickly and flexibly to hunger needs around the world.
The President's proposed reforms will allow humanitarian agencies to procure emergency food stocks from local markets where they are available. Purchasing food produced in or near a region facing an emergency allows us to get food to people in critical need as much as 14 weeks faster than shipping food across the ocean and is far more cost-effective. Additionally, bringing in food from the outside may stifle long-term development of these markets, by decreasing motivation for local producers to expand their capacity.
U.S. commodities also remain a vital tool, and we will continue to provide shipments of U.S. grains to alleviate scarcity where this is most appropriate. We will also continue to improve the nutritional value of the food aid we provide, by supporting the development of highly nutritious specialized foods.
As I have traveled throughout Africa, I have seen how these reforms will enable us to better meet changing circumstances. We must remain flexible and innovative, learn from our experiences and tailor our interventions based on evidence and the best that science and technology have to offer, so that we can end hunger and undernutrition and help meet the challenge of feeding a rapidly growing population in the future.