The Farm Bill & International Food Aid: What You Need to Know

Photo By: USAID

The Senate and House have now both passed the farm bill, and President Obama is expected to sign it into law this week. This five-year bill, with wide-reaching domestic and international implications, includes key international food aid reforms. These reforms will enable U.S. food aid to go further – at no additional cost. Hundreds of thousands of additional children and families suffering from hunger and malnutrition worldwide will be reached as a result.

In a world where 842 million people are chronically hungry and millions more will be caught in emergency need because of drought or conflict, these are important reforms to programs that are key in the global fight against hunger.

Food for Peace Title II – one of the programs this bill authorizes – reached more than 32 million people worldwide with emergency food aid in 2012, and another 10.2 million people with efforts to combat underlying sources of chronic hunger. More than 7 million children in low-income countries participated in school feeding programs in 2013 thanks to McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition – another program authorized by the farm bill. For many of these children, the program provides what is their one full meal a day, giving them a chance to thrive.

The U.S. remains the largest donor of global food assistance, and it is imperative to maintain robust funding for global food aid programs. But we must also find ways to stretch that funding further and get more bang for the buck. That’s what the global food aid reforms in the new farm bill do.

What are these key cost- and time-saving changes in the law? In particular, several provisions in the 2014 farm bill, or Agricultural Act of 2014 (H.R. 2642), help ensure U.S.-funded international food aid programs have the flexibility to respond to famine and chronic food insecurity in the best way possible.

For example:

  • International food aid programs will now be authorized to use more food that is locally or regionally grown. The 2014 bill establishes a permanent program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for what is called local and regional procurement (LRP), and authorizes $80 million annually for this program, subject to annual appropriations.
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will now be able to open an additional facility overseas to strategically pre-position food aid commodities that can be used to respond to emergencies. These facilities are important for improving response times to famine, drought and natural disasters.
  • NGO partners that implement Food for Peace Title II programs now will have more flexibility around “monetization,” a practice where NGOs resell U.S. commodities shipped abroad in order to finance nonemergency programs – something that can be costly and burdensome. The new law reduces the need to monetize by allowing partners to use more Food for Peace funds on non-commodity expenses. 

In addition to these reforms, the bill also promotes transparency and improves evaluation efforts by requiring USAID to report on costs involved in program implementation, including overseas transportation and handling of commodities. Additional reporting is required on monetization transactions that fail to generate at least a 70 percent recovery rate – information that will help inform lawmakers about the effectiveness of monetization.

As we move forward, U.S. NGOs must work with Congress and the administration toward the implementation of these reforms and continue to fight for robust funding for these important programs. If we are to reach our collective goal of ending hunger in our lifetimes, we need to collectively ensure and maintain U.S. leadership in this global fight.

Katie Lee is an advocacy and policy coordinator for international development at InterAction.