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Unformatted text preview: Meal Ticket Farmers, Charities Join Forces To Block Famine - Relief Revamp Bush Administration VVanls To Purchase African Food; Lobby Says Buy American Proposal Is Stuck in Congress By Room: THUROW And SCOTT KILMAN American humanitarian groups, armed with food donated by the US. govv eminent, have fed millions of starving people around the world over the past hall~century. So Bush administration offi— cials figured the charities would support changes to America‘s food—aid program aimed at saving even more lives from famine. Starting next year, the White House wants to spend onequarter of its food—aid budget to buy overseas goods to feed . starving foreigners. Currently, it‘s re— quired to buy that produce from Ameri- can farmers. The administration says the change will cut the c0st of buying and shipping commodities and save 50,000 more lives a year. But in a twist that reveals the pecu- liar alliances behind international aid, the charities are opposing the shift, in particular its size. That‘s because. for years, their humanitarian mission has been bound in an alliance with the American farmers, millers. port opera- tors and shippers, who are paid by Uncle Sam to pro— duce food and haul it to hunger zones OVEI'SERS. American agri~ culture prizes the in4 come it earns from food aid andis a pow» erful constituency lobbying Congress to maintain the $1.2 billion program. Chari- ties fear that slashing funds spent on Us. commodities would erode the farm sec< tor's interest in food aid. They doubt they could win as much congressional support for their efforts solely on the principle that fighting famines is important. The aid groups also fear the transfer of funds is really a budget cut in dis- guise, shifting money away from their Andrew- S. Natsios long-term agriculture development projects and toward emergency feeding programs. Without the support of the cha ties or farmers, the proposal to overhaul food aid is languishing in Congress. An; drew S. Natsios. administrator of the US. Agency for International Develop- ment, which oversees the foodraid pro- gram, calls the opposition “morally inde— fensible.“ He asks: “If you can get more food for the money. why not do it? Just to protect the cartel?" The opposi— Feeding the System U.S. food-aid donations to non— governmental humanitarian groups, fiscal years 2000—2004, in metric tons: cam)“ Rim” 2.14 milllun Servrces World Vision - 1.07 Mercy Corps I Internationai 0'38 Save the Children I 0'27 Adventist Development and I 0.26 Relief AgenCy Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture tion from religiotis‘hascd charities is particularly gelling to the administra~ tion, which had assumed their support. Michael R. Wiest, the chief operating officer of Catholic Relief Services says the budget fight is, “the largest crisis in the history of the food-aid program." The “Food for Peace" program. as it is called. was signed into law by Fri-5r dent Eisenhower in 195-1. Since then. America‘s foodvaid effort has branched out to work with 48 charities and for— eign government organizations. Last year. the US. government donated 3.1 million metric tons of commodities to use as food aid in about 80 countries. The program is governed by a bundle of regulations that favor 11.8. agriculture. In all but the most exceptional cases, the US. government has to donate hoinev grown food for aid instead of sending cash or buying food overseas. In the 19.303. the idea was to help Whittle down large LES. crop surpluses generated by subsidizing American farmers. In addition, 75% of food aid must be shipped on vessels owned by US. come panies-a sop to that industry, which charges some of the steepest prices on the high seas. Much of the food can‘t be shipped by bulk, adding to its cost. Be, cause ports in many poor countries still unload ships by hand, the produce has to be put in 557 or llG-pound bags. which are also easier to distribute in land. The cost of freight for some Amer- ican commodities is nearly as much as the cost of the commodities themselves. While parts of Africa are routinely wracked by hunger, some countries of- ten produce surpluses of wheat and corn. In 2003. for instance. the {7.5. sent roughly 100,000 tons of American-grown grain to Uganda at a cost of $57 million to feed people in the country‘s north. Al the same time, Ugandan farmers else- where were producing surplus crops their government couldn‘t afford to buy Blocking Famine -Relief Revamp Cori/i'nucd From First Page and transport. John Magnay, chief exec- utive of Uganda Grain Traders Ltd., es- timates that the US. could have pur» chased more than twice as much grain if it had bought it locally. He calculates that USAID spent $447 per ton for U.S. corn delivered to his country. The cost for Ugandan corn: $180 per ton. This was the case Mr. Natsios brought to the foodaid community’s an- nual convention in Kansas City, Mo., where grainvmarketing executives in suits mingle with relief workers in blue jeans and T-shirts, as processors of eve erything from potatoes to buckwheat pitch their famine-fighting attributes. This May, nearly 800 people attended. An ocean-shipping firm organized a golf outing while a railroad helped to pro- vide breakfast. Experience With Hunger Mr. Natsios, 50 years old, grew up listening to stories of his family's expe- rience with hunger in Greece during World War II. A retired lieutenant colo- nel in the U.S. Army Reserves, he started pilblic life in 1975 as a Republr can state legislator in Massachusetts. where he served alongside Andrew H. Card, now President Bush's chief of staff. He served in the administration of George H.W. Bush at USAID, and then spent much of the Clinton adminis- tration as a vice president of World Vi- sion, a nondenominational Christian group. He took the reins of USAID in 2001. In a combative speech, Mr. Natsios laid out the administration‘s proposal to take $300 million from the $1.2 billion Food for Peace program and use it to buy food as close as possible to countries stricken by famine. Mr. Natsios pressed his plan bysuggest- ing how it could have saved lives in Ethio- pia during its 2003 famine. A bumper wheat harvest the previous year de- pressed local prices so sharply that farme ers were discouraged from planting. When drought hit in 2003, production was further slashed and a famine was born. Mr. Natsios said the U.S. should have bought Ethiopian wheat in 2002 to use as food relief. Such a move also would have stabilized prices and supported the local farm economy, Instead, in 2003, the U.S. rushed in 3:300 million of U.S. food to feed 13 million starving Ethiopians. The American food traveled on roads that ran right past lo» cal warehouses filled with the 2002 Ethio- pian harvest. Mr. Natsios suggested that humani- tarian groups didn’t need to align them- selves with the farm lobby, “The fact that U.S. farmers and shippers are able to benefit from the Food for Peace pro- gram is an important, but secondary benefit," he said, “The primary objec- tive is to save lives." The response to the speech was “hos tile," the USAID chief recalls. Says Rob- ert Zachritz, senior policy adviser at World Vision, which also distributes U.S. food aid: “He didn’t make friends." Relief officials at the conference were white buttons displaying a simple black That's two as in $2 billion~ the food-aid funding they’re seeking in the 2006 federal budget. They were in no mood for talk of shifting money from the food~aid budget at a time when Washington is scouring its ledgers for programs to cut. Most aid organizations acknowledge that buying food locally could help feed more people in times of emergency. But they‘re only willing to back Mr. Nat- sios‘s proposal if it's funded by addi- tional spending, rather than a cut in the funds spent on U.S. commodities. To preserve funding for the food-aid pro- gram, the charities believe they must take into account the financial interests of farmers at home. “These are tough choices and we ag- onize over them,“ says Peter D. Bell, president and chief executive officer of Care USA, a relief group based in At— lanta. “You could come out further be hind if you lose political support.“ While the group says it supports the local-purchase concept, it doesn‘t want to see cuts in Food for Peace’s budget for long-term development projects. Much of the food donated under Food for Peace is used by the relief organizations to pay poor villagers for work on agriculture improvement projects~such as digging irrigation ditches and building roads—or for long- term efforts such as school-feeding pro- grams. The aid groups also sometimes sell the donated commodities to finance these projects. USAID officials have already canni- balized such projects to muster food aid in response to hunger crises in Africa. “We’re being asked to endorse a further evisceration of the development pro- grams," says Mr. Wiest, who ran many of those projects during his two decades in Africa for Catholic Relief, Local purchase would also hit the charities themselves. Distributing U.S. wheat, corn and beans is an important operation of their activities abroad. For Catholic Relief, donations of commodi» ties and transport costs, which come largely from the U.S. government, to- taled $281 million, or just over 50% of its fiscal 2004 budget. Mr. Wiest denies that Catholic Re- lief‘s opposition is in defense of its own well-being. Every day, he passes a plaque in the charity's Baltimore head- quarters featuring the Gospel of St. Mat- thew: “For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink." He says: “I can say without blink- ing that our opposition to that proposal has nothing to do with an impact on our bottom line." Mr.’ Natsios says he had planned to approach legislators with this line: “The humanitarian people need this to save lives and fight famine." Instead, his pro- posal is mired in Congress. Neither the House nor Senate agriculture committees have included local purchase .money in their appropriations bills. The Bush ad- ministration hopes to insert the concept into the budget when the chambers recon- cile their bills. . Complicated Relationship President Bush has a complicated re- lationship with America’sfarmers. He signed the 2002 farm bill, which sweet- u.s.v 0 Houston Ordering In Instead of buying tood»aid commodities locally, the U.S. ships American produce to famine zones, incurring extra time and expense. Preparatlon JUNE JULY Shipping OCT, 10 OCT. 21 NOV 13 WWW”. .waumflfi “WNW. . ,/ Agriculture USDA awards 0 Sealift Inc's Advantage leaves 9 Advantage Department contracts to Ca! U.S. flag vessel With 22,000 slated to arrive officials compile Western Packaging Advantage arrives metric tons of in Sudan. requests for COrp. to supply in Houston. cornmeal, 9 It w,” men protects in Sudan, vegetable oil, cornesoy blend, travel to Ethiopia, Kenya LifeLine Foods to vegetable oil. supply cornmeal, and Northwest Pea 8. Bean Co. to supply split peas. and Uganda: they then inVite bids from food suppliers. Mombasa, Kenya. peas and lentils. Sources. U S Department of Agriculture Saw it inc ened federal farming handouts, but now he‘s trying to rein in those programs to shrink the budget deficit and smooth ne- gotiations at the World Trade Organiza- tion. Developing countries heavily depen- dent on agriculture complain that US. farm subsidies spur overproduction that depresses world prices. Even before the USAID proposal circu- lated earlier this year, Washington was under pressure to revamp the foodaid program. European Union nations say the US. uses it to dump surpluses and to get recipients hooked on the taste of U.S.-grown food. Mr. Natsios dismisses both accusations. The Europeans send cash instead of commodities. But farm programs, including the food-aid budget, are under the control of Congress‘s agriculture committees. Their main goal is promoting U.S. farin~ ing interests. Mr, Natsios’s plan "would deprive the U.S. agricultural community of their sense of pride and compassion,” testified John Lestingi, vice president of Rice Co., 21 Roseville, Calif, exporter, during a House hearing in June. “It is our right to provide aid in the form of food instead of cash," insisted Jim Madich, vice president of Horizon Milling. Horizon is a joint venture of Minneapolis commodity-processing gi- ant Cargill Inc. and CHS Inc, St. Paul, Minn. a big agricultural cooperative. Cargill and its venture have sold $1.00 billion of grain to the U.S. government for use in foreign food-aid programs since 1995, according to figures released by the US. Department of Agriculture in response to a request filed by The Wall Street Journal under the Freedom of Information Act. Cargill disputes that figure but wouldn't provide its own tally. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, warns that buy- ing food aid overseas would erode con- gressional support for faminefighting programs. “It must come from American farmers," says the Virginia Republican, so "it will circulate through the Ameri can economy." Out in that economy, opposition to the plan is solid. “If you start spending the food-aid money overseas, you start losing jobs here," says Dwayne Jordan, who fills bags with U.S.-grown grain at the Port of Lake Charles, La, which handles upward of 400,000 tons of food aid each year. After his appearance in Kansas City. Mr. Natsios summoned leaders of the aid agencies to his Washington office for a two-hour meeting. Other conversa- tions followed, some of which deterio- rated into shouting matches, according to participants. A coalition of humanitarian groups tried to cobble together a compromise that they presented to USAID and Con gress: a pilot program for local purchas- ing that would set aside of the food- aid budget, instead of USAID‘s proposed 25%. That was too little for Mr, Natsios and too much for agricultural business interests, As the spat intensified, some charity officials began to question whether the Natsios plan was actually intended to lessen criticism of Us. farm subsidies and food aid at the WTO. Others believe it's a backdoor attempt to cut the food- aid budget; cash earmarked for spending abroad is easier to slash than cash to buy U.S. commodities. “The perception was, is this a camel’s nose under the tent that could destroy Food for Peace?" says World Vision's Mr. Zachritz. Mr. Natsios says these suspicions are unfounded. “Humanitarian aid does a sig- nificantjob," he says, “but they get used to doing it one way." ...
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This note was uploaded on 02/19/2011 for the course AGEC 217 taught by Professor Deboer during the Fall '08 term at Purdue University-West Lafayette.

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meal ticket - Meal Ticket Farmers, Charities Join Forces To...

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